April 12, 2021

Chandler Escobedo & Luis Rodriguez do one for the kids

Managing Editor


Photos by Hunter McNeeley

By now, it's accepted that rap, hip-hop, whatever you prefer to call the genre, has taken over the world. Started in the Bronx, New York, the influence of rap on today’s culture is as unlikely as it is undeniable. As the art form moves into its fifth decade it has become much more than rhymes and breakbeats. Hip-hop has taken over the world and a pair of Chicagoans used their free time in quarantine last year to find a way to introduce that world to the next generation with their new children’s book: A Children’s Guide To Rap.

The book came about by happenstance. Local artist Chandler Escobedo, known as rapper CHEBAKA, had been logging hours bartending at a Whole Foods in the city’s West Loop neighborhood when Luis Rodriguez, a teacher for Chicago Public Schools for 18 years began coming in to try new wines. After a few visits, the pair became familiar and an idea was born.

“We met while I was at the bar trying out wines and we just hit it off talking and I invited him to a children’s book event for a book I had written,” explained Rodriguez. “He told me he wanted to create a children’s book and was very detailed in the concept for it. I never had a co-author or reliable team before.”

To be sure, Rodriguez was well-versed in publishing by the time the two had met. Having written several children’s books in the past focusing on positivity and representation. This time however was different in that Escobedo became his co-author, supplying the rhymes and insight that came with a decade-plus in the Chicago music scene.


“I’d had this idea for a rap children’s book for a long time and had been like scribbling it out and drawing the pictures and ideas and stuff,” said Escobedo. “When I met Luis and went to his event and saw what he was capable of I knew life had thrown me an alley-oop and I had to take advantage of it. Because my artform is words I’ve never been able to see my work in person, and that's so cool.”

Together, they created a book that might well be the perfect starting point for a young person’s initial understanding of the genre while also building self-confidence and creativity. It has a good chance too. To date, the book has found support from around the city and beyond and the pair are in talks with CPS and local libraries to carry it as part of their curriculums, and it's hardly even seen the light of day.

The book itself is self-published and is suited for the 7 to 13-year-olds reading on their own. It includes stories of black and brown children that operate as almost hip-hop superheroes throughout, led by the main character, Lucha Lupe who encourages the characters to pursue their raps. It’s one part encouragement and another a small history lesson on Rap. With interactive pages as well, it operates as a vessel for kids to express themselves through the art form and learn it with some sort of structure.


The authenticity bleeds from the page as well. “The characters were all inspired by children in Luis and Chandler’s lives and the clothing they wear is all a nod to Chicago clothing boutique Jugrnaut, where Escobedo works as well. It was important to have characters that are representative of the diversity that exists in Rap and especially its origins while telling a positive story of expression and acceptance.

“I really love our characters,” said Escobedo. “It was really important for me to have a strong female lead for our rap book because Rap has always been a boys club and women have been under-represented so it was really cool to have a woman of color be the main character in it.”


They didn’t create the book alone though. After pitching the idea around their hometown with no luck from fellow artists, they turned to the website UpWork where they found Zhiyang Gao, an illustrator from New York that brought their vision to life on the page.

“We got rejected by several Chicago artists, we couldn’t score a Chicago artist to save our lives,” said Rodriguez. “Thankfully we ended up with Zhi. He was phenomenal, he went above and beyond, really cared-it was in his heart, he cared and it made all the difference.”

The whole ideation, creation, and printing of the book took place over the course of the last year and some change that we’ve been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. What began as a conversation at a bar has evolved into a book with a release party Tuesday, April 13.

“I’ve heard people say they wanted to do a children’s book, but a lot of times you never hear from them again or they flake out,” explained Rodriguez. I swear the next day Chandler had several pages done and I was like, ‘ok this is it.’ It all came together very organically and quickly.”


The book will release April 13 with a celebration at Chicago’s Goose Island Brewing Company, which is sponsoring the event alongside several other local eateries and breweries including Slice Factory. While they’re keeping the numbers low, it's a welcome and appropriate opportunity to bring attention to the project.

Available on Amazon, the book represents an interesting new chapter in Rap where ideals and aspects of the artform are being passed from one generation to the next in a way that speaks to culture as a whole. The full title of the book is A Children’s Guide To Rap and Possibly Saving The World. I can’t say whether or not Rap has saved the world to date, but perhaps this book can be the catalyst.

“There was a distinct lack of representation of black and brown kids in children’s books and we were able to do that while also telling this story, which was such a win for us,” said Rodriguez. “We had a determination to get this done because we felt like it mattered and this project has just been a blessing.