The rap album of the year is an advertisement for a box of seasoning, and it was made by a half-dozen unheard of college students from Minnesota in the board room of the General Mills building.
Really. Just ask The Root, who wrote this headline only a little bit in jest: “Hamburger Helper Just Released the Best Mixtape of the Year.”
It’s hard to prove to you that this April Fools joke by one of the “Top 5 Fad Foods of the 1970s” is, in fact, actually good, but it is. The album, dubbed “Watch The Stove” in a nod to Jay-Z and Kanye, is the No. 2 trend on Twitter at publication time. Rap critics and rappers alike took to Twitter to lend this thing—an advertisement for a casserole mix—real life credibility.
“What do you do when you’re She Who Shall Not Be Named [Iggy Azalea] and a rapping Hamburger Helper glove has better flow than you?” asked MTV Senior Writer Ira Madison III.
So how the hell did this happen?
“They came to us last year around September. They wanted us to submit some songs to them. It ended up being a dope experience. They were super cool about it,” Illwin, who produced and rapped on arguably the best song on the album, called “Crazy,” told The Daily Beast.
“We shot some cool videos. We even went to General Mills.”
“Yeah, they sent us to General Mills. They had a presentation for us and everything. We were all in a room and they were going through a slideshow.”
Illwin goes to McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, Minnesota, where local rap legend Toki Wright runs the Hip-Hop Department. Wright set up some of his best students with the opportunity.
And it’s Toki, Illwin says, who made it so this album about a spice packet is not just a dumb April Fools joke—but instead something that could launch some careers.
“We had to audition to get into our school. He wouldn’t just let trash through,” he said. “He wouldn’t let that happen.”
So Illwin and a few others put together a few sample tracks. The first one, he remembers, he struggled to finish. It was only sort of about hamburgers. How could I rap about Hamburger Helper without being corny?, he thought.
Then he just embraced the thing. And it worked.
The hook on “Crazy” is a legitimately good rap hook. And then there’s this lyric: “That burger gon’ go ham.” Stupid branded advertisement or not, that is a funny as hell sentence.
It’s since opened up a dialogue on Twitter, too: Rap hasn’t been this fun and self-effacing for years and years, since the days of Skee-Lo and his rabbit and his hat and his bat and his ’64 Impala.
If you don’t like this stunt, remember: This, too, shall pass. It’s not really the album of the year. But, as Illwin says, it’s a nice reminder.
“You can have fun. That’s what I try to do. I made that beat, and I wrote the lyrics, too—I took that part seriously, too. But, otherwise, I was like, ‘Why not? It’s fun. Let’s enjoy this.”
When The Daily Beast reached out to Illwin, he had no idea anybody important had even listened to his song. He was rushing to get to work for his job at the Mall of America’s Nickelodeon Universe shop.
“Hopefully they’ll treat me nicer now,” he said. “I’m a trending topic.”
Now, Illwin is going to push up the release of a single—a song called “Pretty Penny”—from his upcoming album to sometime this weekend. The song is hamburger-free.