Young Blood: The Child Stars Who Lit Up Hip-Hop

Lil Wayne has been hustling practically since he was born. As eight-year-old Dwayne Carter, he left raps on Bryan “Baby” Williams’ answering machine until Williams signed him to Cash Money Records. By the time he was 15, Wayne was the youngest member of the crew Hot Boys, dropping rhymes with Juvenile, B.G., and Young Turk—they were like the Justin Biebers of rap, but with guns, bling, and a bad attitude. Herewith, a playlist of some other past, present, and future young stars who skip homework for hip-hop.


Hot Boys: “We On Fire”


The Hot Boys are straight thugging here. This is basically what they do every time they play hooky from high school: get chased by the ATF, ride around in white convertibles with giant bags of cash, get surrounded by armed guards in a stand off on an airstrip. Lil Wayne is barely pubescent in this video and already working with industry heavyweights like Juvenile of “Back That Ass Up” fame. What? You gonna give them extra detention?


Destiny’s Child feat. Wyclef Jean: “No, No, No”


Before she was Queen B, before even Destiny’s Child, a preteen Beyonce was in a group called Girl’s Tyme. In 1997, by the time she was 16, Beyonce was shaking her soon-to-be-internationally-famous booty to the beat of “No, No, No,” Destiny’s Child’s first official single. With Wyclef Jean championing a catchy remix—”all we need to do is drop a phat beat for the clubs”—this was a banger at proms across America.


Lil Bow Wow: “That’s My Name”


When he debuted at 13, Lil Bow Wow’s hormones were raging, as evidenced by his junior high school teacher’s music-video striptease. After being noticed by legends Jermaine Dupri and Snoop Dogg, Bow Wow officially joined the pack with his first album “Beware of the Dog.” After 50 Cent spat “I ride around with guns the size of Lil Bow Wow,” Wow focused on an acting career, appearing in Entourage and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Arf!


LL Cool J: “I Need Love”


Ladies loved cool James so much that he dropped out of high school to record his debut album “Radio” when he was 17. Instead of SAT prep, he followed up his success with “Bigger and Deffer” at 19 years old. Screaming crowds, champagne, limos, a fly girl by your side who represents Brooklyn: what more could a teenage B-boy from Queens want? So smooth.


Soulja Boy Tell’em feat. Sammie: “Kiss Me Thru the Phone”


Soulja Boy is the typical teenager: loud, obnoxious and obsessed with sex. But this kid has staying power and gangsta resilience that gave him viral swag long before “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” became a number one Billboard hit when he was 17 years old. Now Soulja is taking over the ghetto on a whole new level, teaming up with 50 Cent to make more menacing music. He doesn’t need to shave yet, so his razors are strictly for cutting people.


Willow: “21st Century Girl”


Love her or hate her, Willow Smith has the sticking power of acrylic ghetto nails. She is only 11 years old and has already hit #11 on the Billboard Top 100 with “Whip My Hair,” received a Young Artist Award, and signed to Jay-Z’s record label Roc Nation. With powerhouse parents (dad Will began his rise to the top at 17), it seems Willow is genetically wired to grab the future fame game—and not let go until she’s whipped her hair in Imax 3-D.