A History of Child Rappers, 1980-Present

Last week, Willow Smith — the 9-year-old daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith — dropped the video for her first single, the infectious jam “Whip My Hair.” Precocious as Willow is, she’s far from the first prepubescent rapper. In fact, there’s a fairly long history of up-and-comers who aren’t old enough to drink, vote, or drive. From the 1980s on, rappers, like gymnasts, start really early; they’re usually making beats before they are out of diapers. We present to you a brief, incomplete history of hip-hop artists under 18, after the jump.

LL Cool J

Growing up in Queens, James Todd Smith (his name comes from Ladies Love Cool James) began rapping when he was 9 to escape a troubled home life. He bought a turntable from Sears, and when he was 16, he produced and distributed a series of demos, landing a spot on Def Jam’s roster and dropping out of high school to record his first solo album. LL has been on the rap radar ever since, moving to a fairly successful acting career in the 2000s.