10 Questions

10 Questions is a feature where we ask someone involved in the creation of Tell Me Who I Am ten questions.
So here's your chance to be the interviewer…for all you budding journalists out there! Submit your questions about the Tell Me Who I am series or other topic about children, media, education, life….whatever…and you may see your question in the next "10 Questions" blog.
Right now you can ask Thomas View and Cee Knowledge questions for the next two upcoming interviews.

You may submit a maximum of two questions. Click here to submit your Question.

Thomas View

Thomas View
"Songwriter
Tell Me Who I Am theme song"

Darryl Grayson

Darryl Grayson
"Why the Journey Continues"

Cee Knowledge

Cee Knowledge
"What Grammy-Winning Rapper of Tell Me Who I Am Theme Song is Doing Now "

We put ten questions to Thomas View, the executive producer of Tell Me Who I Am theme song 10 Questions is a feature where we ask someone involved in the creation of Tell Me Who I Am ten questions. Readers may send in questions via email. Click here to submit your Question.


1) How did you come to write the Tell Me Who I Am theme song?

The theme song we are currently using is actually the second version of the theme song. The first version has the same words but a different melody.  The version you hear now was written to tell the story of Tell Me Who I Am.  We knew that there were not many animated movies like Tell Me Who I Am and we wanted to make sure that parents and kids could see how much fun the series would be and how much there was to learn from the series. 


2) What were you doing before you got involved with Tell Me Who I Am?

I was and still am an attorney for Kid Positive.   


3) Who are your major musical influences?

My musical influences are my grandfather who studied classical piano at Howard University in the late 1930's, my father who taught classical and jazz guitar at the Bill Harris Studio and Dr. Wendel Logan, who founded the Jazz Studies program at Oberlin Conservatory of Music.  Each of these individuals shared with me the special importance of music in African American culture.  In addition to providing specific music instruction on bass, guitar, piano and composition, these teachers guided my understanding of the history and development of African American music and its role in culture, politics, entertainment and business.  There are a number of great musicians in my family including my uncle Millard (bass), cousins Milton, Robert, Jackie, Teressa (bass), sister Jenice (violin, bass and piano) brother (bass, drums trumpet), uncle Jerome (guitar for Duke Ellington and guitar and music director for Gladdys Knight and the Pips and numerous musicians in NYC). Outside of my family I would list John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Larry Graham, Stanley Clarke, Charles Mingus, Jaco Pastorious, Wes Montgomery, James Brown as influences. Although I don't sing or rap, I have been deeply touched by rap music of the 1990s. If you listen closely to the raps in the Tell Me Who I Am game songs, you can hear some of my rap influences. Can you name them?


4) What made you interested in Tell Me Who I Am in the first place?

I was working as an executive in an advertising agency that serviced the music industry.  At the time I had young children and I noticed that none of the projects that we worked on was appropriate for children.   I was always taught that if you don’t like the song on the radio or the movies in the theatre or the books in the library--rather than complain about them--create one you like better.  Thankfully, Tell Me Who I Am provided me with an opportunity to make such a contribution.


5) How would you describe the meaning and significance of the song?

The narrator in the intro portion of the song has lost his way. Like all of us from time to time, he wanders throughout the wilderness of life in the modern world confused.  He knows that the music and television shows and web sites--like candy and cookies--give him some satisfaction but sees that these things are not helping him to grow, develop or understand.  While he is told that he is the problem, his inner wisdom or light says otherwise. He senses his own light and is asking his parents, teachers and other trusted adults to show him who he actually is.  The narrator in the outro portion of the song has seen the light. He has been told who he is by ancestors and he feels wiser, smarter and happier about who he sees in the mirror.


6) Why do you think people, children in particular, are attracted to the song?

Children are smart. If you provide them with the dirty water or clean water, they will drink clean water.  I would like to think that the theme song is clean water.   What do you like about it?  I'm actually interested in what you would like to hear but do not.  Please write and tell me.


7) Explain the process of writing and producing the song.

You start with a main idea.  Then you figure out what story you are trying to tell to make that point.  Once the story is written, you have to figure out the music style that works. If the story mood is upbeat and festive then you pick something that suggests that.  If it is sad or serious, you need a style that matches that.  If the piece is scary, you need to figure all of that out before trying to write the song.  You can't try to be too clever.  You really have to let the idea and the music style that you envision speak to  you; you have to listen to your inner ear.  Your inner ear will suggest the melody and chords.  Then you use your musical training about chords, scales and rhythms to work out the precise articulation of the song.   

With lyrics, it’s the same process. You let the big idea drive the points that support the big idea and let your inner voice speak to you about words and phrases;  you try to match the melody to words and phrases.  If it is a good melody it has rhythm, cadence or flow.  The trick is matching the rhythm of the words, the sentence structure and rhyme scheme with the melody notes.  Again this is where a large vocabulary and skill with sentence structure helps.   The more words you know, the more choices you have when you need a word with a certain number of syllables or rhyme sound.  The better you are with sentence structure, the more ways you have to put forth an idea.  Jay Z says "faced with immeasurable odds still I gave straight bets". 

Say we needed to state that idea differently. We could write:

We grew up poor

 It was well understood

Where we from

chances were good that we'd amount to no good

For us kids from that hood

with hopes to be great

our only hope on this planet was

playing it straight

Depending on the drum/ bass beat, you might want to shift rhythms or elongate words or syllables around to match the beat.  Remember that--particularly in African American music-- the words carry a literal message, a symbolic message and a rhythmic message.  This is why it could take a month to write a 3 minute song.

Production is just the process of getting this song into a form that it can be shared and listened to.  It includes hiring the studio, performers  and engineers that collaborate to bring the song to life.   


8) Why did you get Cee Knowledge to do the rap on the song and did you consider other rappers?

We needed a very special MC for this project.  This was rap concerned with matters of time (future and present)  and space (earth and planets) with a particular emphasis on African origins of life on Earth.  Cee comes from a group called the Digable Planets, which is a part of long line of musicians who's music was concerned with space/ time travel using the African origins of civilization as a starting point.

Some of these groups are Sun Ra Arkestra, Earth Wind and Fire, Parliament-Funkadellic, Kool Mo Dee, Afrika Bambatta, Outkast and others.  


9) Who are the artists who actually did the singing?

The artists who sang on the theme song were young people in the Washington DC area.  For other songs we used performers in Los Angeles.


10) What were you thinking about trying to accomplish when you wrote the music?

I was hoping that the music would capture the attention of young people who could relate to feeling a little lost. I was hoping that the theme song would create interest in wanting to see the video. I wanted the listener to feel energized and ready to learn after hearing the theme song.


11) Do you think the theme song should ever be redone or do you think it should stay the same permanently as the series continues?  Why?

I think that the first law of the universe is that the universe is in a constant state of change. Seasons change, styles change, people change.  I'm already feeling changes for the next theme song.  What would you like to hear?

We put ten questions to Cee Knowledge, Grammy-winning artist and rapper on the Tell m Who I Am theme song. 10 Questions is a feature where we ask someone involved in the creation of Tell Me Who I Am ten questions. Readers may send in questions via email. Click here to submit your Question.


1) What made you want to create Tell Me Who I Am?

Darryl Grayson: I wanted to do something positive for children by combining entertainment and education. I wasn’t sure what, but one day as I was walking through Blockbuster with my daughter, Nia, we rented a series of educational videos called Tell Me Why. Then it clicked: Tell Me Who I Am, a video series to teach kids who they are from a historical perspective by using real ancestral role models. We then spent years developing the concept and script for the first episode.


2) Who is your favorite character? (from Tyson Smith, Gardena, California)

DG: I don’t really have a favorite. I like them all.


3) Do you have a family?

DG: Yes. I have a wife, Shawn, and three daughters: Nia - 14, Kinaya - 5 and Kita - 4.


4) Just what is a "fuzzwuzz" anyway? (from Allan Brathway, Washington, DC)

DG: Well, I’m not quite sure. Funzi has an interesting history. Several people have contributed to his creation. It started with my wife, Shawn. I asked her to draw different animals who could possibly fulfill the character’s role. Then Jay Hudson, an artist, took from several ideas she had and drew a bunch of other ideas. We ended up with—believe it or not—a caterpillar! Then we stood him upright, gave him some dreads, a necklace and a headband. He originally had these tentacles all over his body. But Jim, our director of animation, explained how difficult it would be to animate the tentacles, so we lost those. Butch, our writer/producer shaped him up a bit and came up with the idea to make his dreads magical. Then Jim smoothed him out, changed his facial structure and put on some finishing touches, and the current Funzi is what we ended up with. So what is he? A fuzzwuzz. He’s Nia’s pet, given to her by her father, Jamal. He has the information-storage capacity of a high-powered computer. But he’s still young and just coming to understand the value of this great gift.


5) Have you always wanted to be a producer?

DG: No. I never wanted to be a producer in the strict sense of the word. I wanted to be a creator, a teacher, someone who helps children learn, develop and have fun all at the same time. Professionally, I’ve always wanted to be involved in creating images through media that impact people’s lives. If that requires being a producer, so be it.


6) You created some of the songs in the show, did you ever want to be a musician?

DG: Not hardly. I just wanted to define the content of the message being delivered. So I wrote some of the original lyrics along with my wife, Shawn, our vice president, Thomas View and another KidPositive team member, Condi Foster. Then they put music to the words. Thomas and a team of producers both here in Washington, DC and in Los Angeles helped us further develop the songs, identify vocal performers and produce the final songs. We’re going to do a version of The Mighty Dogon song that is not currently on the video. The music on this version has more of a working-song chant feel to it as opposed to the urban rap version.


7) Where would you like to go if you had a Timeship? (from Tiffany Berry, Baltimore, Maryland)

DG: I would go to ancient Egypt. I am fascinated by the depth of knowledge from that time period. I would also go even further back to pre-historic times with the dinosaurs. Finally, I would go back to the 1960’s because I think that was such an important time in our history, an important transformation in cultural values.


8) Who do you like better Imhotep-Left or Imhotep-Right? (from Hope Spencer, London, England)

DG: Definitely Imhotep-Left. I’m a logic-type guy.


9) Will Tell Me Who I Am be in video stores soon?

DG: We are trying now to get it in all stores where videos are sold. We have to work through the perception by video buyers at the major retailers that only major feature movies and popular TV shows make for successful home video sales at retail. But we are pleased that many of the African American book stores have led the way in retail sales. Consumers should make sure Tell Me Who I Am is available wherever they spend their dollars.


10) When will we see the next episode?

DG: We are currently working on the next three episodes. The next one will be out in early 2000.

We put ten questions to Cee Knowledge, Grammy-winning artist and rapper on the Tell m Who I Am theme song. 10 Questions is a feature where we ask someone involved in the creation of Tell Me Who I Am ten questions. Readers may send in questions via email. Click here to submit your Question.

1) What made you want to write a rap for the Tell Me Who I Am theme song?

My business partner and friend Thomas View introduced me to his business partner and friend Darryl and the good people at KidPositive who were producing an animated series and they expressed interest in me working with them on the soundtrack. The concept and storyline of the cartoon piqued my interest so I began to work with Thomas in the studio putting together the lyrics and rap melodies for the theme song.


2) How did writing and performing that rap affect you as an artist?
As an artist I was intrigued by the creative storylines and song writing of the cartoon and was excited to have a first hand look at what it takes to build a cartoon from idea to a finished product.

 

3) What type of reaction do you get from people who hear the song and know it's you?
It gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment when people come up to me and recognize that it was me performing on the "Tell Me Who I Am" theme song...many parents have approached me saying that their kids love the DVD and play it all the time and can quote the lyrics I performed on the theme song and that always brings a smile to my face.

 

4) What was your thought process in writing the lyrics? For example, did you hear the music first and then write the lyrics?
All I could think about during the recording of the song was that I wanted to make sure I enunciate all the words without losing my personal rap flavor + flow because I thought that the message behind the song and the cartoon was so important for this generation to hear.

 

5) If there was a need for a new theme song, what do you think you would do differently with your part? How do you think it might need to be updated?
I think the theme song as is still sounds great, but if we did do a remake then I think we should beef up the track a little i.e. the drums and bass lines and definitely redo my verse to make it more current and representative of who I truly am as an artist nowadays.

 

6) What have you been up to since doing the theme song?
Since doing the theme song I have reunited with my former band mates in Digable Planets to tour the world for a few years performing our classics to the die hard fans until about 2010 when we stopped performing together...and then I began to tour and record songs with my band the Cosmic Funk Orchestra...new music and videos are available at www.cosmicfunkorchestra.com

 

7) How did it feel to win a Grammy?
Being nominated for 2 Grammies and winning one was a great honor and also opened a lot of doors in the music industry for my band mates and me.

 

8) Who are some of your major musical influences?
Some of my influences in music would be but not limited to Sun Ra, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, George Clinton, Earth Wind and Fire, Bob Marley, Run DMC, Stetsasonic, WuTang Clan, Rakim, De La Soul, ATCQ, Brand Nubian, PRT and Public Enemy.

 

9) Did you go to college and if so where?
Howard University

 

10) Where did you grow up?

 

I am from Philadelphia.