Rappers Kid ’n Play have been flirting with the mainstream since their first movie, House Party, filled theaters in 1990. Few performers are more instantly recognizable than Kid (born Christopher Reid), with his seven-inch vertical hairstyle and freckles, and Play (Christopher Martin), with his self-designed clothing and tidy mustache. The energetic Kid ’n Play have struck gold with their light, ironic, middle-class-oriented work, but their intentions are serious and their artistic goals substantial. Rolling Stone contributor David Wild called Kid ’n Play “two bright, young New Yorkers [who] want to be sure they’re taken seriously”—even when they make comic records and films.
Like DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and Salt-n-Pepa, Kid ’n Play have earned the approval of parents for their relatively clean act and comic capers. “It’s clear Kid ’n Play are entertainers,” wrote Jill Pearlman in Vogue. “Rather than shake a death rattle from the streets, they celebrate good times; they dance, mug, trade barbs and witticisms. They give the listener lots of big melodies, the ear candy that makes the charts…. All this, and they’re still, entirely, totally hip…. Kid ’n Play are about acting out the craziness most kids are too cool (that is, too intimidated) to try, about being the odd man out and putting that individual style to work.”
There is nothing particularly light or comic about the background of the two performers. Both were born in New York City and raised in its various boroughs. Both had unconventional families—Kid is the child of a black father and white mother; Play is the son of a former felon turned evangelical Christian minister. The latter’s childhood included rough times at home and on the streets: He experimented with drugs, ran with a gang, and dropped out of school several times. Kid, on the other hand, was a model student who worked his way through college and was planning to go to law school while helping his father run a shelter for homeless men.
Kid and Play met while rapping for rival groups. Kid had worked with the Royal Masters, the Mighty Three, and the Turnout Brothers, and Play had sung and rapped with Solar Connection, Blue Velvet, Galaxy, and Quicksilver and the Superlovers. When they found that they lived in the same part of Queens, the young men became fast friends and tied their fortunes together. Play told Vogue: “When I met Kid, he had these thick prescription glasses, this Afro, freckles, one of those Texas ties, and he wore a jacket from Key Food grocery store, where he worked. I was amused by him; he was a refreshing change. I was hanging out with some real bad people, for peer appeal. But with Kid I could be myself, let my hair down.”
While Kid attended Lehman College, Play buckled down and studied at Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts. Both had chosen alternate careers, but both also hoped for success in rap. At first they used the name Fresh Force for their act, changing it to Kid Cool Out and MC Playboy. They finally shortened the name to Kid ’n Play, adding DJ the Wizard M.E. as their scratcher. On the strength of their raps—most of which are written by Kid—they signed with Select Records, a small specialty label. By 1989 they had released a string of hit singles, including “Gittin’ Funky,” “Rollin’ with Kid ’n Play,” and “2 Hype.” Their first album, 2 Hype, went gold.
Pearlman claimed that Kid ’n Play “ushered in a new school. It’s rap that’s evocative of teen life, full of playful, saucy, sly innocence—in a way, what Motown was to grittier soul.” Innocent or not, the group found its niche among black listeners and cared little for the wealth to be reaped by appealing to pop audiences. Eventually, however, the sheer craziness of their act attracted the attention of Reginald Hudlin, a film producer. Hudlin cast the duo in House Party, the first movie to combine rap and comedy.
In House Party Kid sneaks out on his strict father in order to attend a wild bash at Play’s home. He makes it to the party, romances a female guest—which leads to a hilarious “safe sex” scene—and eventually winds up
Kid , born Christopher Reid, in the Bronx, N.Y.; son of a social worker and teacher; Play, born Christopher Martin, in Queens, N.Y.; son of a minister and church secretary. Education: Reid earned a B.A. from Herbert Lehman College; Martin attended the Manhattan School of Visual Arts.
Rappers, dancers, and actors. Formed group Kid Cool Out and MC Playboy, shortened name to Kid ’n Play. Currently perform with scratcher DJ the Wizard M.E. Signed with Select Records, c. 1988, released debut album, 2 Hype, 1988. Actors in feature films, including House Party, 1990; subjects of children’s television show.
in jail, an object of interest to some large and nasty criminals. Critics loved the film and were quick to label Kid ’n Play the Abbott and Costello of rap. The performers, however, were dismayed by that characterization and were quick to respond. “We don’t mind being comedians,” Kid told Rolling Stone, “but we sure as hell aren’t interested in being clowns. … We realize that pop success can be like the kiss of death to a rapper. Every time a rapper gains widespread pop appeal, black folks hate ’em…. Believe me, Play and I do not intend on messing things up.”
That philosophy is reflected in the group’s second album, Kid ’n Play’s Funhouse. The work has a harder edge and some frank language, enough to keep its cuts off the pop radio stations. Kid told Rolling Stone: “We didn’t make a nice poppy, sappy record that pop stations jumped on before black stations, and we didn’t make the kind of movie that white people liked before black people. They came to us.”
Nevertheless, it is likely that white, as well as black, audiences will continue to seek out Kid ’n Play, not because their work is less threatening, but because it is funny, daring, and ultimately optimistic. “All stories have to be told,” Play said in Vogue. “We say you can be responsible without being corny and still wear the gold chains, still drive a car as good as your local drug dealer’s, with a whole lot more security.” Kid added: “We teach people not to be afraid to be themselves, even if you look different or act different. Run with it.”
2 Hype, Select, 1988.
Kid ’n Play’s Funhouse, Select, 1990.
Also contributors to the film soundtrack House Party, 1990.
Philadelphia Inquirer, March 9, 1990.
Rolling Stone, May 17, 1990.
Vogue, July 1990.
—Anne Janette Johnson
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