Munchin' on Lil' Romeo 

Snacks that "inner-city kids can relate to."

Hey, kids: What's bubbly, orange, and makes you want to slather yourself in Dijonnaise and squeeze through the bars of the Oakland Zoo at 3 a.m. to snog a bonobo chimp? It's Sparks!

Sparks? You know, that refreshing malt beverage fueled with caffeine and taurine!

Taurine? You know, that nonessential sulfur-containing amino acid that functions with glycine and gamma-aminobutyric acid as a neuroinhibitory transmitter!

Taurine is the much-hyped ingredient in Red Bull, whose makers probably included it in the concoction more for its prefix (taur, as in bull) than for its qualities as a stimulant. The human body already has this stuff in spades. What we don't have already, God bless us, is the wonderful fusion of B vitamins, sugar, and caffeine that the Bull offers in abundance. Sparks has all of that, minus the B vitamins, and, despite the fact that it's, you know, booze, grade-school children feel compelled to down it like Orange Crush and drive their razor scooters into the sides of their clubhouses.

Well, watch out, kids, because something even more dangerous is heading to our corner stores: Rap Snacks! This is the shit. Warren G, Lil' Romeo, Miss Toi, or whatever rapper Universal's pushing next all have their visages on each packet. And these chips have the flava. Check out "Bar-B-Quing with My Honey" and "Back at the Ranch." The reasoning behind the chips is simple, according to the company founder James Lindsay: "Inner-city kids didn't have a lot of snack foods they could relate to." After a long day of racism, shitty schools, and low job prospects, must even our junk food mock us? Why must each honkified Big Grab drop another 99 cents in the coffers of the Man?

Rap Snacks bags have made shadowy appearances in Oakland, most notably in section two, aisle three, midrow down at the Grocery Outlet. They aren't officially available on the West Coast yet, but like most things at the Gross-Out, the bags probably fell off a truck somewhere near Antioch. News of their arrival spread fast though, with a phalanx of culturally aware ironic T-shirt-wearers grabbing up the entire line toot-sweet. However, come autumn, Rap Snacks are expected to invade every corner market from here to San Leandro.

The whole operation began ten years ago in Philadelphia, when James Lindsay had a bag of potatoes and a dre-zeam. He also had great connections, and hooked up with Universal Music to cross- promote products. And he reeled in his friend Wise Intelligent of the Poor Righteous Teachers, who now serves as director of marketing and promotion. The company has grown 100 percent each year, and now sells more than three million bags a week. But they ain't no Caucasoid Frito-Lay mofos. These guys plan on giving back to the communities supporting them, not only by printing "Stay in School" on their bags, but by organizing trips for high schoolers to black colleges and teaching inner-city kids how to be wholesale distributors. Kids who go through their training sessions are promised as much as $3,000 a week in profits.

Rap Snacks may sound like a gimmick, but these guys really do seem dedicated, and Wise Intelligent is a very highly respected musician, not only for his music but for his moral stances. And yes, nine times out of ten a young kid is going to grab a package that has his hero on it instead of wack-ass rappers like Chester Cheetah.

"The one that's packaged to you is going to capture your attention," says Wise, explaining the "snack that inner-city kids can relate to" comment. "It has artists on it that come from their communities, people they understand, people they already know, people they listen to daily."

But what about accusations that they're exploiting the market, instead of energizing it? "This was a project that was started by inner-city youth," Wise says. "We can't exploit ourselves."

Good point.

"We are really grounded in the community," he continues. "We do a lot of things with the kids." How much have they given back? "Wow," he says. "It depends on if you are going to add time, education, free product, sponsorship ... I've stopped counting."

The fact of the matter is, these guys don't have to do diddly squat for anyone if they don't want to. It's a for-profit business. You don't see people riding Granny Goose's ass for not opening a Head Start program. The fact that Rap Snacks delivers anything at all is cool.

The real question, though, is when is the Old School line going to be unveiled? Surely the remaining Fat Boys will be interested. "We're going to do a breakdancing series," says Wise, whose own personal favorite would be a bag glorifying Pee Wee Dance from the Rock Steady Crew. He also seemed keen on Planet Clair's idea for Fila Fresh Chews.

Rap Snacks will be out here come fall with a big premiere party. There's no report yet on what chips will be served, but double-dippers who step up will get knocked down. Word.

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