They made excellent unpaid pitchmen (and one pitchwoman) for the Hot Cheetos and Takis snack chips they like to devour. But can the preteen north Minneapolis rap stars formerly known as the Y.N.RichKids actually carry a national advertising campaign?
Kmart definitely thinks so. The chain-store giant enlisted the local YouTube sensations to star in its back-to-school promotions, featuring TV and Internet commercials that show the kids rapping to their tune “My Limo.”
The “limo” in this case is a big yellow school bus.
“I roll back to school with my cap on and my brim up,” goes the chorus.
Whether or not the commercials pay off for Kmart, they’ll amount to the first big payday for the pint-size rap giants, who now go by the name Da Rich Kidzz.
Their new moniker is even being emblazoned on some of Kmart’s clothes this season — almost like their own clothing line.
The seven- to eight-member group — many of them classmates from Nellie Stone Johnson Community School — skyrocketed to fame last summer when their video for the song “Hot Cheetos & Takis” became a viral hit, with 7 million views on YouTube. But they infamously have seen little money off their fluke of a success story.
“They made out all right in this deal, and we’ll be putting it away in those college funds,” happily reported Melissa Mercedes, the mom of Kidzz rapper Freeman “Frizzy Free” Hickman.
Ads filmed locally
Five different commercials shot around north Minneapolis and at Hopkins High School began airing nationally this week, featuring snippets from a full video for “My Limo” featured on YouTube.
For Kmart, which markets heavily to lower-income and minority families, the hip-hop-savvy Kidzz seem a perfect fit for back-to-school promotions.
“We know that kids help parents make the decision where to shop for back-to-school, so we loved the idea of featuring these talented group of kids” in the ads, said Kmart’s interim chief of marketing, Andrew Stein, who called the young stars “total professionals.”
Kmart treated the Kidzz as celebrity endorsers, company representatives said, and thus paid them accordingly. The Kidzz will see residual payments given to actors — they even had to get Screen Actors Guild union cards — as well as songwriting royalties for working with ad copywriters to create the lyrics.
Over the winter, parents of the Kidzz had voiced their complaints that the “Hot Cheetos” hitmakers never saw any of the money made off last summer’s hit, which should have included the tens of thousands of $1 downloads of the single and YouTube ad revenue.
New management for group
Some of the money went back to the North Community YMCA in north Minneapolis, whose Beats & Rhymes after-school program birthed the group. The dispute led to the “Hot Cheetos” stars dropping the original Y.N.RichKids name, and they started performing and recording under new management.
“This is a good, fresh start for their careers,” said Paul Bolen, a Twin Cities recording engineer and instructor who is part of the new management team.
While corporate advertising used to be looked down upon by many music stars, Bolen pointed to Jay Z — who released his new album through Samsung two weeks ago — as proof that “times have changed. You can’t rely on record labels anymore. Everybody has to find some other company like Kmart to get their names and their music out there.”
The relationship with Kmart could extend well beyond the current ads. Bolen said there are plans for the Kidzz to make appearances in stores around the country later this month, and there might even be a Da Rich Kidzz clothing line.
The Kidzz and their parents also hope the ad campaign will pay off by furthering their own original music careers.
“I’m already getting calls from as far away as Florida, Alabama and Detroit saying, ‘We saw the commercial!’ ” Mercedes said.
Once again, the Kidzz should have plenty to talk about as they head back to school and report on how they spent their summer vacations.