Andre "3000" Benjamin wasn't looking to produce a cartoon series.
He was busy enough working as a Grammy-Award winning artist (he's one half of the hip-hop duo OutKast) and starring in feature films like "Idlewild" and the upcoming "Charlotte's Web" where he voices Elwyn the crow.
But when the Cartoon Network came calling, Benjamin couldn't resist the thought of creating and starring in a semi-autobiographical children's series based in his hometown of Atlanta. That show, "Class of 3000," debuts Friday night at 8, with a big slap at the music business.
One of the lead characters, a drummer named Li'l D, will literally sell his soul to the devil in exchange for a recording contract. The boy will shoot music videos in a spooky building haunted by ghosts. He'll get a makeover in a marketing and research department that looks suspiciously like hell.
The character Benjamin voices -- a famous recording artist who gives up his career to teach junior high school music -- will save Li'l D by selling his soul instead, and then outsmarting the devil.
"I hope people don't take it as kind of like bitter to the music industry," Benjamin said in a recent media conference call. "I totally understand how the music industry goes, and it is a business....What you see in the cartoon is I guess an exaggerated example of what everybody thinks of the music industry."
"Class of 3000," which is targeting 6- to 11-year-olds, will not just hammer at the ways of record labels each week. The coming-of-age series, which features six children in a music class taught by Benjamin's character Sunny Bridges, will mostly teach life lessons through comedy.
"It won't be as overtly educational as 'Fat Albert, ' " said Cartoon Network's senior vice president of programming and development Michael Ouweleen. "This will be infused with a slight mentoring aspect that's not too heavy handed. Mostly, we want to make people laugh and dance."
The series will have a Southern flare, thanks to the heavy accent of Eddie, who is voiced by Tom Kenny -- famous for his voice work as "SpongeBob SquarePants." Tom Lynch, who produces Nickelodeon's hip-hop sitcom "Romeo!" , is a co-creator and co-producer on the show.
Benjamin -- whose comedic interludes on his 2003 "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" album caught the attention of Cartoon Network executives -- will write an original song for each episode which will be incorporated into story lines. His hope is to educate viewers about different types of music at a time when music programs are being cut back in schools.
"The only thing [kids] are hearing is kind of like this electric kind of beat thing on the radio," Benjamin said. "So maybe this Christmas, you'll have a kid who looks up to Li'l D and says, 'Mom, I want a drumstick.' "
About Viewer Discretion
ContributorsKatie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.
Sarah Rodman is a TV and music critic for the Boston Globe.
Meghan Colloton is a Things to Do and Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.
Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.