If you travel down memory lane, some of your fondest childhood memories can often be connected to your favorite cartoon series. From Fat Albert to The Jackson 5ive Cartoon and even Jem and The Holograms, they were shows that entertained but also taught important messages. Fast forward to today’s generation. Without many cartoons left to call their own, Aulsondro “Novelist” Hamilton and William “Dolla” Chapman II wanted to change that. The two animators created Da Jammies for Toon Farm Animation, then joined forces with producer Ralph Farquhar to bring the show the forefront. The result? A first of its kind 3D animation series on Netflix that combines hip-hop music, dance, and fashion.
Da Jammies follows five diverse tweens from the suburbs attending a performing arts middle school, who form a group in hopes of making it big. Novelist, Dolla, MoMo, Seven, and La La study their craft all while learning life lessons along the way. The show also features some familiar voices, including guest stars Darius McCrary, Kel Mitchell, Kurtis Blow, Yolanda ‘Yo-Yo’ Whitaker, Tiny Lister, Kyla Pratt, and the late James Avery.
SoulTrain.com: Both of you have a musical background, so how did animation come into play? What made you decide to go that route?
Dolla: I worked at an animation house in high school, so I have always had animation in my background. I also participated in an animation program for three years after I graduated high school. I have always been into animation and cartoons. It’s just an art form. Music is one form of art. You have graffiti art, spoken word, animation and on and on.
Novelist: I come from an animation family. My uncle was the first black animator at Disney. My cousin directed a project for BET and just won an NAACP Image Award a couple years ago. So in watching things on television we noticed that what was missing is that kids didn’t have anything that they could call their own. So, what we did was take what they were watching along with the music and fashions in order to incorporate it into something that they can call their own.
Dolla: To piggy back off that, one of the biggest things that we wanted to tackle when creating Da Jammies was the music. We were working on music for some other artists, and it got to a point where we realized as parents the lyrics and the production of the songs were no longer age appropriate. So we sat back and said why don’t we write and produce music for kids like we would do anyone else? That was the one of the biggest things we were trying to tackle was our animated music theory.
SoulTrain.com: What have been the joys and pitfalls of creating a show with characters of color?
Novelist: There were no real pitfalls. However, there are stereotypes that we come across in regards to how dark the characters should be and what their hair should and shouldn’t look like. For us, it was a matter of our background being so diverse, so we in turn made the characters diverse. I’m Puerto Rican and black, so I had to pay homage to the Puerto Rican side of me and the African American side of me. The same with Dolla; he’s African American and Indian. So for us, it was just a joy to be able to put those characters in with a diverse background that are from the suburbs.
Dolla: We really had a big learning curve. So if I had to say there was a pitfall it would be the language barrier. We went to Canada to get the animation done because of the cost. We sent the storyboards over and when we got the project back, it did not look familiar at all. The houses didn’t look right, the streets didn’t even look right. We were like, what is this? So we had to get on a plane and go to Canada and teach them in a week’s time about hip-hop. We gave them a crash course in hip-hop and once we did that, they were able to get across what we wanted.
SoulTrain.com: Was your plan always to get the series released via a streaming service like Netflix, or DVD or broadcast/cable television? How did you partner with Netflix?
Novelist: Netflix is the home of many progressive series that don’t have a home on television. If you look at our show, then look at what’s on television, you wonder where does it fit. On Nickelodeon and other channels it’s more anime. So with this urban 3D animated hip-hop cartoon, it just didn’t fit with those shows. With Netflix, we are helping them to further their commitment of having something for everyone. If you have looked through Netflix, we are pretty much the only African American cartoon with hip-hop outside of The Boondocks, which is more adult-based, but ours it the only one geared towards kids. So this was a great avenue for Da Jammies.
Dolla: Not to mention is that it’s on demand. One of the things that we were worried about when shopping Da Jammies around was if it would be marketed correctly. Netflix is a great place for it to be to catch on. The great thing about it is we just have to do our job of promoting it and driving traffic. People can access it on their phones, tablets, computer, streaming devices. I don’t think there’s an original series that isn’t a remake or reboot, or an old series that’s available like this.
SoulTrain.com: One of the things about the show is that it tackles several themes, from self-identity, to self-esteem, and even bullying. How did you guys decide that these issues were the ones you wanted to focus on?
Dolla: Those are topics that are ongoing. They aren’t new. There’s been bullying, there’re people that have been struggling with who they are and where to fit in for decades. What Novelist and I tried to do was tackle those topics in a way that made it relevant and relatable for kids today. Those topics are always touched on, but we wanted to do our best to touch on those topics in a different way.
Novelist: Not to mention that kids don’t like being preached to. Just like when we were younger we didn’t like being told what to do. So we decided to find ways to still get that message across, like by doing it via a rap battle instead of a fight. There’s a kid in the crew who’s homeless, so we wanted the characters to try to help. Our whole approach was creating and showing unity. We wanted to show that coming together is the only way to really get things done. That’s the whole idea of the show is being unified and tackling the issues together.
SoulTrain.com: You guys also released a soundtrack for the show. Where can people find the soundtrack for Da Jammies?
Novelist: We did the first ever animated hip-hop mix tape. We released it on AllHipHop.com with DJ Hustle. A lot of the songs that the kids like are not top 10 friendly for them. So we decided to take a 50 Cent or Jay-Z song and remix it for kids. We still kept the style aggressive but the content is kid friendly. We redid 50’s “Candy Shop.” Of course we know what the song is really about, but when Dolla is rapping he is talking about a real candy shop with all kinds of candy. We call them the reload, so we took the songs and reloaded them. Novelist has a song where he reloaded Jay-Z’s “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.” In the song he’s talking about how he’s brushing off things that happen at school. So that is what we made available for the kids, and we aren’t dumbing it down, we’re making them smarter so they can understand what Da Jammies is all about.
SoulTrain.com: What kind of advice do you have for those wanting to venture into animation?
Dolla: I would say the first step is to research. Research every single thing you can think of. After creating the show, Novelist and I fell in love with it. Then we shot so many holes in it and took a second to look at it from an objective standpoint to figure out what people would say about certain aspects of it. We had to tighten it up. So I would say do your research, especially on your property, and the avenue and audience that your property will reach.
Novelist: I would also add be a forward thinker. You have to understand that animation is going to change in the next five years, and going back to Dolla’s point, if you do the research, you’ll understand the evolution and be prepared for that. Most people get caught up in wanting to come out now and then next thing you know the animation changes and you have spent all that money to do what’s in now instead of being a forward thinker. My advice is to really understand your property and where it will fit in the marketplace, because that’s going to be your competition. Having a good story and all that is a must. However, you have to understand how the animation world works. I’d also say be sure to add merchandising to your project. You don’t get rich just off having a cartoon; you need that merchandising.
For more information on the series, check out the website.
Shameika Rene’ is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and writing for various websites such as Charlotte Five, Creative Loafing, Carolina Style Magazine, Uptown Magazine, Sheen Magazine, WEtv.com, or her own websites, www.themofochronicles.com and www.conversationswithmeik.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram @mofochronicles.