I know that the kids' music genre is flowering when less popular subgenres such as kids' hip-hop or kids' country are starting to bubble up. I especially know that that's the case when those genres start producing albums that aren't just "kids songs done in a [fill-in-genre-name] style," but fully realized albums on their own.
Case in point: Easy, the debut kids' CD from Asheville, North Carolina's Cactus. He spends a lot of time rapping and playing with the music collective GFE as Agent 23, but who adopts the cool-kids name Secret Agent 23 Skidoo.. From start to finish, the album is totally geared at kids in its subject matter but is not dumbed down one bit in the creativity of its beats and melody. On its strongest tracks (and there are a number of them), Cactus blends smooth rapping with occasionally eclectic instrumentation ("Luck" features nice banjo work) and an all-positive message.
Sometimes that message is a little more overt -- "Luck" raps about how we make our own luck by knowing what it is we want; "Gotta Be Me" is about how everyone should have their own style, and that's OK. If the message is a bit direct, it's delivered with precision and flowing words. (Even his 5-year-old daughter Saki gets in on the act, very smoothly trading lines with her dad on "Family Tree.")
Perhaps even better are his songs that take a more imaginary bent. "Hot Lava" so completely nails the 7-year-old feeling of pretending on the fly (don't touch the floor! -- it's hot lava! -- jump from couch to couch!) that I'm not sure there is a better kids' song about the power of imagination. Songs about dragons, mermaids, and robots feature in the mix, too. It's very much story-telling with a compelling musical background.
I'm going to peg the messages and stories here as geared primarily for kids ages 4 through 9. You can hear samples of a number of the songs at the album's CDBaby page.
The list of really good kids' hip-hop albums is very short. Not only does Easy go to the top of that list, it should find a lot of fans among people who don't consider themselves big hip-hop fans. It's a really good CD, period -- lots of fun and certainly worthy of repeated spins. Definitely recommended.