Commercial Hip-Hop Part 1

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Forged out of the gritty streets of the South Bronx, Hip-Hop was a new culture that served as the soundtrack to the streets that painted vivid pictures of everyday life through the eyes of misplaced youth. This new culture provided an escape to allow these youth to express themselves through DJing, beat-boxing, break-dancing, graffiti, a pen and a pad.  It gave them a way out the ghetto other than slanging rock or having a wicked jump shot, and allowed them to see parts of the world they never thought they would see. Hip-Hop gave them inspiration and hope when they felt that everyone had forgotten about their very existence.

As the popularity of this new culture grew from the streets of the South Bronx and spread to the farthest reaches of the globe, so did the awareness of its potential to corporate America. As rap artist became more financially empowered they were able to acquire things that they only could dream of growing up.

Whether it is clothes, cars, jewelry or even liquor, rappers are now able to afford and even promote things that they prefer in life and in some cases, get paid for doing so. Some artists promote certain brands because of their love and admiration of a certain company, while some artists only do so for financial reasons. So one question I ask is… “Should Hip-Hop artists that contribute to a brand knowingly or unknowingly be compensated for it?

As the dynamics of Hip-Hop have changed over the years, we see more and more artist only becoming artist for financial gain rather than expressing themselves musically. It’s almost as if Hip-Hop is becoming more of an advertisement than music. We know this for the fact that we see more rappers in commercials, promoting products and brands in their music, to even having their own shoe lines through other companies.

When a company contracts with an artist they have countless possibilities to promote their product to a market that was once unreachable. On March 19, 1994 Snoop Dogg made an appearance on Saturday Night Live wearing a sweater from then new designer Tommy Hilfiger. As a result of that appearance, Tommy Hilfiger was catapulted into the Hip-Hop culture.

Soon after Snoop Dogg’s appearance, you began seeing Tommy Hilfiger in music videos, hearing about the brand in rap lyrics; you even saw some rappers model the clothing line. I’m almost definite that Snoop had no idea that he would inspire such a trend in the culture and if he did, would he have gotten into a contract agreement with the clothing line?

I think in Snoop’s case, he saw a shirt he liked and wore it. In Trick Daddy’s hit single “Nann Nigga” he made a reference to Polo Ralph Lauren, a clothing line that mainly was geared to individuals sporting the “Preppy” look. In an interview Trick Daddy did with XXL magazine in January of 2007, he explained that due to the song’s success, he went to Polo Ralph Lauren stating the he didn’t want any money, but wanted to know if he could get some exclusive garments from the company. He states the company denied his offer remarking “they not interested in nothing like that and they would appreciate if I didn’t even say they name in my rap.”

Jay-Z’s encounter with well renowned champagne company Cristal is similar in story. Even before Jay-Z’s first critically acclaimed album ‘Reasonable Doubt’, Jay-Z has been rapping about his esteem for then practically unknown, in the Hip-Hop world, champagne Cristal. Jay-Z sparked a trend in the Hip-Hop culture driving the sell and production of Cristal through the roof. For roughly 10 years, Jay-Z was providing free publicity to the company without a share in the company’s stock, a check for his contribution in the sales of the champagne, or a simple thank you; but Jay-Z was greeted with criticism from the company’s managing director saying that he viewed the attention from rappers with “curiosity and serenity”. And when asked if he thought the association would harm the brand, the director replied, “that’s a good question, but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Pérignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.”

In the cases of both Snoop and Jay-Z, they weren’t looking for a paycheck for increasing sales and population with a company, they just wanted to promote something they liked and perhaps receive some sort of appreciation from the company they freely promoted. From the company’s standpoint, the company may feel that the unwanted attention could harm sales and discourage their target audience. The image a particular artist may put out, as well as the type of lyrics that would be associated with the product may be reason for a company not wanting to associate with certain artist.

On the flip-side, you have artists that only promote a company’s product for some type of financial reason. In today’s music, you hear artists promoting products in their verses and videos; you even see artists in television commercials.

In 2002, Busta Rhymes made a whole song encouraging club goers to “Pass The Courvoisier”. The single peaked at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the highest charting single off Busta Rhymes fifth studio album Genesis.

Ironically in the video, although viewers saw the distinct Courvoisier bottle, there were no labels on the bottles or were there any notification, other than the fact that its name was in the title as well as in the chorus, that Courvoisier permitted Busta to do the song. Did Busta Rhymes do the song for his love of the beverage or did he have an alternative motive?

Now it seems that music videos are becoming more of a 3 minute commercial for products and less about artistic creativity. Over the past few years I have seen an influx of videos promoting products such as Nuvo, Reebok, various cars and the ever-popular clothing companies. Companies have come to the realization that the Hip-Hop culture influences those that are in the culture, and can even influence individuals in other cultures. By Hip-Hop being so influential, when a person sees their favorite artist drinking a particular alcoholic beverage or wearing a certain designer, that person will more than likely buy what that artist is promoting. Companies are now incorporating artists into their business structure to drive sales and promote new products into the market.

It has almost become taboo not to promote a company in rap lyrics now-a-days. The dollar signs that spawn from rap have gotten to a point where they’re too large to ignore. It seems every rapper at one point in time knowingly or unknowingly promotes a company – sometimes it’s haphazard, other times it’s premeditated.

In my honest opinion, before an artist writes about certain brands or products looking to get some type of payment or special treatment, they should first see if that action is worth taking. Contact the company beforehand to see if they want the attention and if both parties can benefit. If you’re doing it for the love of the product, then leave it that.


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