H3TV performs at Topeka's McCarter Elementary School
Imagine “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round” as sung by rapper Lil John.
That’s the essential aesthetic of H3TV, a Kansas City-based children’s hip-hop group that has reinvented itself as an educational technology startup and secured the support this year of local business backers. While the duo at the head of the outfit, Roy Scott and Reggie Gray, have shifted their focus from performing to tech, the message of the music remains the same: making healthy choices, learning and having fun.
And the quality of the music is still important, says Scott, who produces most of the songs drawing on his past as a more traditional rapper.
“It’s not like, kids bop, or a dumbed down version,” Scott said. “It’s the same beat.”
Scott’s pedigree in rap goes back to the early 2000s, when he performed under the name Macc James and recorded songs with Tech N9ne. But after growing up influenced by gangster rap, and then becoming a father, Scott suddenly changed direction.
“I sort of had my light bulb moment when I was in the car with my son and heard him repeating my lyrics,” Scott says. The words told of drugs, violence and degrading women. “That was the click to say, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ ”
So Scott shifted gears, and with Gray developed a brand of children’s music and educational materials that’s all about education, fitness, literacy and life lessons like treating others fairly. The pair donned blue and red track suits to perform in schools and still take the stage about 30 times a month. They see an opportunity to make the biggest impact at schools where kids are struggling both in class and at home.
“That’s what kind of makes the healthy hip-hop so unique,” Scott says. “We see the majority of our issues with the youth in the urban core. We see kids who struggle reading but can go word for word with Lil Wayne. We want to tap that as a positive resource.”
After a promising but ultimately unsuccessful taping of an episode of TV’s “Shark Tank” in 2015 — Scott says Mr. Wonderful made an offer on a stake in the company, but the deal never closed and the episode never aired — Scott and Gray shifted to developing a digital platform to distribute their content in schools. They attended education conferences, assembled an advisory board of educators and founded a nonprofit arm to help schools secure grants to buy H3TV products.
Already, Scott says, about 20,000 schools around the country are using H3TV’s digital platform, which operates as a kind of “YouTube for teachers.” The service features songs about learning and quick music videos — “Brain Breaks” — meant to motivate kids before taking on a new lesson.
Scott says he believes H3TV has plenty of room to grow, and it has secured local support to develop new products. Last month, H3TV was one of two firms picked for the Digital Sandbox KC program, which offers up to $25,000 in funding. Scott is also in the 2017 class of the Pipeline Entrepreneurial Fellowship program, and Gray was selected for ScaleUp KC’s newest cohort of entrepreneurs.
Next, H3TV is developing a mobile app to complement its online offerings and is rolling out a new accessory, the “Keep It Moving Mat,” which teaches through dancing in the style of the “Dance Dance Revolution” video game.
By 2018, Scott hopes to transition H3TV’s music library into a digital-first subscription model offering teachers access for about $10 a year.
“Right now, there’s so many free resources out there, we’re trying to make it as reasonable as possible and make it a no-brainer,” Scott says. “We knew that this business really had to have a technology component to really scale up.”
For more information about H3TV, visit h3tv.com.