The rappers are famous for their beats. The book Llama Llama Red Pajama is famous for its connection with kids. Put those together and you get freestyle raps that you won’t be able to get out of your head for days.
Los Angeles’ Power 106 host J Cruz is the mastermind behind the unlikely collaboration. Cruz regularly interviews hip-hop artists on his radio show and is always looking for new ways to keep things fresh.
Cruz was in Barnes & Noble a few months before the birth of his son when he saw the children’s book Llama Llama Red Pajama. “I started reading the book as if I was rapping and I thought this might be it,” Cruz said. “So, we started asking artists, ‘Hey can you read this on beat?’ and we just started having fun with it.”
“Having fun with it” is an understatement. People love watching watching artists like Ludacris, Migos, Jeezy and DJ Khaled freestyle a children’s book on the spot. Most of the artists really get into it. And the fact that they’re surprised and not given any prep time makes it truly entertaining.
It only took seconds for each member of Migos to fall into place when the music started. D.R.A.M did a sing-song version of the book, similar to his song Broccoli. He had to take breaks to let out his own laughs. Cruz offers the artists their own beats to rap the book to, but DJ Khaled wanted to do it a cappella.
While each version of the Llama Llama rap is a work of art, Ludacris’ version has hit an even bigger chord with its audience: “Hey! Llama Llama. Uh. Red pajama. Reads a story. With who? With his mama!”
J Cruz admitted that Ludacris’ freestyle was his favorite so far: “He killed it.” And Ludacris himself is surprised at the attention his version has gotten.
“I was surprised only because I know that so many other artists had done it before me. It's a humbling experience,” Ludacris tells Humankind. “I’m honored.”
Ludacris is a father himself and says that the Llama Llama book was on his radar, but he hadn’t read it to his children …yet. Now that his freestyle version has become so popular, it is a must-read in the Ludacris household. “Now we’re all over it,” he says.
Cruz says the segments have struck a chord in a way that was unexpected. “It shows the human side and the vulnerable and playful side of them,” he says. “A side that the audience doesn’t necessarily see or feel.”
What started as an idea on how to keep his radio show entertaining has grown into something that’s encouraging kids to read. For Cruz, that’s the most important part. “We’ve gotten emails from people who have said, ‘Our son didn’t like to read and this encouraged him to read more,’ ” says Cruz. “We even had a classroom tweet us a video of them singing Llama Llama."
That fifth grade Arkansas classroom didn’t do their own special version, they re-created the Ludacris version.
“It literally warmed my heart,” Ludacris says of their song. “The fact that they responded to it the way they did, it literally touched me because it’s like I planted a seed and they’re showing me that seed is growing in a way that I never deemed possible to grow.”
Parents have called for Ludacris to do his own children’s album, and it sounds like they may get their wish. “Something very much related to the hype behind Ludacris and doing something for kids is 100% in the works. I cannot give you the details, however, it’s going to be epic,” the rapper promises. “I am going to continue in this field of trying to give back and make things fun for children in the next generation.”
Will Ludacris show the world his Llama Llama skills on Sunday night during his hosting gig of the Billboard Music Awards? “I don’t think I’ll be doing Llama Llama freestyle, but we’ll see.”
Did you catch Atlanta Alive's Chesley McNeil's freestyle to 'Llama Llama'?
Sadly, the surprise element of the idea may be wearing off with every new artist who does Cruz’s show. “They see the book on their own and they’re like, ‘Yo, this is the book!’ ” says Cruz. “There are other Llama Llama books as well, but the plan is to continue doing it and hopefully it encourages kids to read and parents to sit down with their kids and read in a more fun way.”
So who can we look forward to seeing freestyle this children’s book in the near future? J Cruz hopes to book big-time artists such as Nicki Minaj and Kanye West. “Think about Kanye West and Llama Llama Red Pajama, that would be insane right? I think YG would kill it. Lil Yachty, we have to get Lil Yachty.”
No matter how many new versions we get, one thing is clear: Bedtime reading with kids will never be the same.