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McNally Smith Hip-Hop Students’ Original Music Reaches Millions Through Successful Helper Campaign

April Fool’s Day presents a golden opportunity for brands to gain the attention of the masses through clever social media campaigns. This year, none did it better than General Mills’ brand Helper (formerly Hamburger Helper), which, with the help of some talented McNally Smith College of Music Hip-Hop students, dropped a five-song mixtape that instantly went viral and became a top-trending topic on Twitter.

As Soundcloud streams for Watch The Stove quickly grew into the millions, major media outlets like Billboard, Bloomberg and Mashable praised the campaign’s effectiveness and lauded the quality and authenticity of the music, which was crafted by McNally Smith students Nicholas Trahan (GeNreal), Tyler Henry (Theory), Daniel Davis (@itsdandy), and Dwayne Holt (illWIN), as well as Twin Cities hip-hop artists DEQUEXATRON X000 (Bobby Raps and DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip) and internet sensation Retro Specrtro.

In recent years, Helper has been retooling its image to appeal to younger buyers. “We always think of the mom crowd as Hamburger Helper customers,” says Liana Miller, a marketing communications planner for General Mills who worked on the campaign. “But on Twitter, our following is a young, urban, millennial guy making Hamburger Helper in his dorm room.”

“We went to the students because they are the experts in what’s coming up in hip-hop,” says Mark Skeba, senior manager, Brand Creative at General Mills. “The chance to work with such talented young artists before they go big was awesome. The Helper brand is about helping people, and we thought it would be cool to create a platform to promote these students.”

Listen to General Mills’ podcast on the making of the Helper Mixtape. 

Helper-mixtape-1-700x525Toki Wright, Nicholas Trahan (GenReal), Tyler Henry (Theory), Dwayne Holt (illwin) and Daniel Davis (@itsdandy)

The Helper project underscores McNally Smith’s increased efforts to facilitate creative collaborations between the College and area companies, leading to opportunities for students to create professional-grade work to include in their portfolios. Recently, McNally Smith students have also contributed original music compositions to TPT’s MN Original documentary series and engineered podcasts for the St. Paul Camber Orchestra’s Liquid Music Series.

“This was a very real world activity,” says Toki Wright, Rhymesayers recording artist and head of McNally Smith’s Hip-Hop Studies diploma program — the first of it’s kind in the nation. “Ultimately at the end of the day we wanted to make sure that it wasn’t corny. We’ve seen hip-hop used in commercial promotion before and nine times out of ten it’s really corny. It was very important to us that this be natural as possible.”

“I saw this as an opportunity from the jump,” adds Henry. “I recognized the importance of giving 100%, so I quickly began writing. I wanted to come up with something that worked for the company, but I also wanted to make sure I came up with something I was genuinely proud of.”

Longtime McNally Smith Business faculty Craig Rice was at the center of the creative collaboration, which also included another college at which he teaches, Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD). MCAD Film students shot music videos for two of the mixtape’s tracks, “In Love With The Glove” and “Crazy” — the latter of which stars Henry and Holt.

“I think the opportunity to be involved in something like this is just incredible,” says Rice. “Having something as much fun as Helper has been really good because students weren’t restricted by having a specific corporate message, but to have more of a message that’s really geared toward their youth and their ideas and their perception of things. So that’s been great. I’m really happy and pleased by it.”