PODCAST: The Helper mixtape
Helper and hip hop?
Before Friday, that may have seemed like an odd pairing.
Not too different from what your favorite artist would do.
The project started as a bit of a joke, after a tweet from Helper’s Twitter account in 2014 suggested that Lefty was working on a mixtape. Fans of the brand responded enthusiastically to the idea.
That got the creative juices of the marketing team flowing, but Helper was still a long way from making a mixtape a reality.
The brand needed expertise. Authentic hip hop, with a not-so-serious approach.
The brand reached out directly to local rappers DEQUEXATRON X000 (Bobby Raps and DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip) through personal connections. They took on the project just as their own music careers were taking off (their song is “Feed The Streets”).
The team connected via Twitter with internet sensation Retro Spectro for an additional track (“Hamburger Helper”) and help building hype for the mixtape.
It was also a perfect project for the students at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, and video production students at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD).
“We went to the students because they are the experts in what’s coming up in hip hop. The chance to work with such talented young artists before they go big was awesome.” says Mark Skeba, senior manager, Brand Creative at General Mills. “The Helper brand is about helping people, and we thought it would be cool to create a platform to promote these students. ”
But there was some early skepticism at McNally Smith.
“At first, it was like, ‘Hell no!’” says Craig Rice, an award winning producer and director (Prince, etc.) who teaches at both McNally Smith and MCAD. “I thought they wanted this to be serious … but the fact they wanted to make it fun, I came around.”
Three of the tracks on Helper’s mixtape were written and produced by students at McNally Smith. Those three were chosen by the Helper team as the best of six songs that were made by several students who submitted tracks for consideration.
“To be honest, we weren’t sure what to expect after we briefed the students,” Mark says. “And when we first met to review the tracks with them, we were in this big stale conference room and I remember feeling so corporate. Then the beats kicked in, and the room just sort of transformed. The tracks were fun, creative and genuinely good hip hop. I kept playing them on loop in my car and thinking that this crazy mixtape idea might just work.”
“I think this was a very real world activity,” says Toki Wright, performer and head of the Hip Hop Studies program at McNally Smith. “Ultimately at the end of the day we want to make sure that it’s not corny. We’ve seen hip hop used in commercial promotion before and nine times out of ten it’s really corny … It’s very important that this be natural as much as it possibly can.”
Students at MCAD then produced music videos for two of the songs, titled “Crazy” and “In Love with the Glove.”
“The music videos were bigger unknown for me,” says Mark. “These videos were totally student led. They shared early concepts, but we gave them free reign. When we saw the rough cuts I was floored with the quality of the film work and the creativity. Craig and Toki were incredible at leading these students. The best thing we did was trust the artists and not try to meddle too much.”
Rice says both the music and film students had to learn how to understand what the Helper team wanted and how to collaborate.
“I think the opportunity to be involved in something like this is just incredible,” says Rice. “Having something as much fun as Helper has been really good because students weren’t restricted by having a specific corporate message, but to have more of a message that’s really geared toward their youth and their ideas and their perception of things. So that’s been great. I’m really happy and pleased by it.”
So the Helper mixtape is a reality, launched April 1, to the delight of the brand’s fans and all the people involved in the project at McNally Smith, MCAD and General Mills.
“To actually drop an album on a box dinner brand is without a doubt the coolest thing I’ve been a part of in my career.” says Mark. “Seeing Twitter blow up and the hip hop community’s response was what made this so incredible.”
DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip, who grew up near a General Mils plant in Minneapolis, told me the song he co-produced is all about making Helper for a meal. He was excited to take part in the project because it was different from most of his work.
“I think it’s good that Helper is trying to do something that’s innovative and do something that’s not on the beaten path of what’s been done before,” he says. “It means a lot to me because I’m a big advocate for hip hop, anything to keep it alive is a benefit to culture and the world. I think it’s some of the most beautiful music in the world … I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
For our “A Taste of General Mills” podcast this month, we share the story of the creation of Helper’s mixtape, highlighting the process through interviews with the students and instructors involved.
You’ll be able to:
-Listen in on the first feedback meeting for the two videos
-Hear from the music industry veterans – Craig Rice and Toki Wright – who guided the project
-Learn what inspired the students and what the opportunity means to their potential careers in the music industry
It’s easy to listen to our show when you’re on the go. Just listen on any podcast app on your mobile device (search for A Taste of General Mills) or through iTunes or right here on our blog, below.
SHOW NOTES – Episode 8: April 1, 2016
Song: “Crazy” by illwin and Theory
Video: “Crazy” (2:27)
Song: “In Love with the Glove” by Dan D
Video: “In Love with the Glove” (2:09)
Song: “Food For Your Soul” by GenReal
Song: “Hamburger Helper” by Retro Spectro
Song: “Feed the Streets” by DEQUEXATRON XOOO (Bobby Raps and DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip)
Link: Toki Wright
Link: Craig Rice
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