This mix-CD is brought to you by Essential Entertainment & Media, Bad Boy Records, Sean John, the New Era Cap Company, Mars Incorporated, and XXL magazine. With that much sponsor backing, it seems only right they’re giving this one away for free. In return, you will be treated to a multitude of name brand drops by various performers.
On the “Twix Jumpoff”, singer Muhammad has to re-assure himself that he “ain’t got no problem singin’ for that Twix,” while Kardinal Offishall is just one of several rappers claiming to be “all up in the mix like Twix,” but he’s the only one to blatantly ask for recompensation: “Yo Diddy, gimme a Sean John fix!” Curtains calls out “these cats talkin’ that hardcore galore / when they really softer than Sean John velour,” the Hood Fellaz “hop out the 2-seater” in their “Sean John wifebeater,” Shells is “the kid on a mission, black Expedition / Sean John sweat suit, I’m the hottest kid spittin’,” while Jin drops his words for his sponsors over Justin Timberlake’s “Like I Love You”:
“I treat these chicks like Twix, ain’t nothin’ new
I’m sayin’ two for me, none for you
Now these words ain’t meant to offend you, boo
it’s Entertainment, and your love is Essential
24HourMC, but if you know me
I go another 48 like Nolte
Slide through in a coupe, you can stare at that
Sean Jean velour suit, New Era Cap”
Makes you think about the pros and cons of rap as a promotional tool. Clearly, the precedent for today’s endorsement deals some rappers have been able to sign, was Run-DMC’s “My Adidas”. The song itself may not have been written with an endorsement deal in mind, but all it needed was a clever businessman like Russell Simmons to realize its full potential. After “My Adidas”, other rappers jumped on the bandwagon and started mentioning their favorite sneaker brands, but none was able to match the impact of the legendary trio from Queens, New York. Then came a phase when the adertising industry used virtual nobodies to rap about their products. Obviously, the response was considerably fainter.
But things really took off when sneakers went out of style and Timberlands became everybody’s footwear of choice. Ironically, even though the Timberland brand was immensely popular among hip-hop circles, the company seemed to object against being associated with the ‘urban market’. In the meantime, black-owned fashion labels such as Cross Colours or Karl Kani began to emerge, catering to the audience that traditional manufacturers like Timberland shied away from, often using hip-hop stars as models. A few years later, these kinds of relationships grew stronger, as several rappers began to associate themselves even closer with certain fashion labels: Public Enemy came out with Rapp Style, LL Cool J supported FUBU, the Wu-Tang Clan eastablished Wu-Wear, and finally Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs introduced Sean John. Today, the successful rappers all have their clothing line, from Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Wear to Nelly’s Vokal. And they make sure they give their brand a mention in their rhymes.
If you’re an avid hip-hop listener, you’re used to hearing rappers mention brand names. Among the most popular products that are being quasi-endorsed are alcoholic beverages, cars, firearms, and clothes (two of which are likely to be hazardous to your health, by the way). The Brooklyn-based duo Smif-N-Wessun even named themselves after a gun manufacturer (Smith & Wesson, who quickly prohibited the use of the name). There are various reasons behind all this, but a major one is that rap is firmly rooted in reality. It talks about things that really exist. Things you’ve seen, things you’ve felt. Things you have, things you want. Some of these objects we can relate to, because we’re rocking khakis and Chuck T’s too, some we have trouble relating to, because we can’t afford $200 bottles and $200’000 cars. But by calling things by their name, rappers enable us to relate to what they’re saying period, whether it’s something we’re familiar with or not. And if the material world is also a very materialistic world, then that’s what rap will reflect. It makes rap contemporary, and real.
Admittedly, there are a number of negative aspects to rap’s infatuation with material objects and the urge to drop names. Firstly, there’s no way a rap can be called an expression of artistic freedom when it also serves as a platform for product placement. What’s going on right now in rap, people mentioning brand names in hopes to get something out of it, goes way beyond the simple event sponsoring that we have come accustomed to in the music industry. It has the potential to corrupt the entire artform. Secondly, the class of his alleged possessions says nothing about the class of the MC. If all a newcomer is worried about is mentioning the right brand names, he’s clearly fooling himself as to what it takes to make it in this rap game. Let’s also not forget that Pepsi recently pulled a spot featuring Ludacris after conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly criticised the partnership.
So to the listeners of this mix-CD, be aware that you’re witnessing an all-out promotional tool, from the various Bad Boy (Loon, Faith Evans, P. Diddy, Hood Fellaz, Bristal), Ruff Ryders (Jin, Keema, Infa Red, Cross), Def Jam (Foxy Brown, LL Cool J), Jive (Nivea, Justin Timberlake) and Star Trak (Kelis, Clipse) song snippets to the statements in favor of the products mentioned above. Ironically, the most credible drop of all comes from the Wally Champ himself, the Wu’s Ghostface, who doesn’t have to rhyme to express his admiration for Diddy’s clothing line.
Okay now, who remembers “The Jazzy Jeff Breakdown”? “First you grab the hat – then you grip the hat – then you flip the hat – make sure it’s a Starter hat – then you raise the hat – then you slam the hat – then you twist the hat – then you turn the hat – then you spin the hat – then you smooth the hat.” Now that was a convincing commercial. I still never bought a Starter cap.