Alicia Keys’ two-year-old son, Egypt, inspired way more than new lullabies from the Grammy-award winning singer. “I had just recently given birth, and I was like, ‘I really want to get into the children’s space,’” Keys told EW.com. “I was seeing the different things that I wanted to bring into his life — different DVDs or different TV shows that were on — I was realizing how cool it would bring to bring multifaceted, multicultural music and stories into his world. How cool could that be?”
Along with her colleague DJ Walton and his wife Jessica Walton, who had created original stories for their own kids, Keys envisioned The Journals of Mama Mae and LeeLee. The animated app centers around a young New York City girl’s relationship with her wise grandmother — loosely based on Key’s own childhood relationship with her Nana — in an interactive format that encourages exploration through music, storytelling, writing, and games.
Through the hub of the app, LeeLee’s 3-D animated bedroom, users can play her piano, write in her journal (“I’m a journal nut!” Keys admits), open her music box, which is populated with a playlist, and read stories off of her bookshelf that aim to challenge users with true-to-life obstacles and encourage children to unearth their love for adventure and discovery. “The first story is called ‘Blue Moon’ and it brings you into a Native American culture,” Keys explains. “You go on this whole journey with this girl, which is really amazing. We were able to use this River King flute that’s native to their culture and you start to feel the drum rhythms that are native to that space.”
Keys produced the app’s music, including the first book’s track, “Follow the Moon” that she said, “Egypt and I wrote together.” Her son was also the muse for the entire app’s theme, “Unlock Yourself.” “He was still in a bouncer. I put him by the piano and I was like ‘Alright E, you ready?’ and it just came. I said ‘You know, it’s because you’re here with me that this is happening.’ It’s his spirit and the nature of a child’s spirit that you can kind of connect with it and get closer to the purity of what you’re talking about.”
The new app has already been a hit in the singer’s household, which she shares with her husband, producer Swizz Beatz, and his two sons from a previous marriage. Keys says she’s careful about what her pop-culture her kids consumer, preferring “things where they’re talking about something, you’re learning something, it’s not just kind of mindless.”
Sesame Street is also a big in her house and mom is a fan of “Your Baby Can Read” and “Baby Signing Time” DVDs for Egypt. “The signing, he really gets it! He picked it up from early age. From six months he was doing different signs,” she says.
Soon enough, he’ll be able to chime in on the additional story packs for The Journals of Mama Mae & LeeLee, which will be released within the app’s bookshelf in the future on a regular basis.
“The Journals of Mama Mae & LeeLee” is currently available for $3.99 through the Apple iTunes Store for the iPad, iPhone and iTouch.