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Goin' Off: Dollaz and Sense

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AUGUST 22, 2012

Don’t drink 8 ball / cause St. Ides is givin’ ends.” It’s short. It’s simple. It’s Ice Cube. It also sold St. Ides Malt Liquor to countless impressionable youths with fake IDs.

To put it another way, your favorite commercial MC is probably compromised. They’re getting paper for advertising, for product placement, for just about anything to do with a name brand. That’s why I said commercial.

It began with three dudes from Hollis, Queens. Run-D.M.C. released their hit-single “My Adidas”— allegedly inspired by the once dusted mind of Russell Simmons — in 1986. Not long after, Simmons and Lyor Cohen brokered the group’s historic 1$ million contract with the German brand, in addition to launching their own Adidas clothing line. Hip-hop would never be the same.

The future Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Will Smith) hooked up with French sporting goods company Le Coq Sportif, LL Cool J probably saw some residuals from rocking that red Kangol, or at least from his deal with Bronx-based brand Troop, Heavy D repped Nike, and the brothers Beastie rocked their suede Gazelles from stage to stage. Hip-hop and corporate America were in love. The green-eyed tryst has continued ever since.

In the ‘90s, beverage companies began to jump on the hip-hop band wagon. St. Ides spent loads of cash — that or they gave away a ton of free malt liquor — in order to get rappers/groups like Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang Clan, The Notorious B.I.G., EPMD, and Rakim (that list goes on) to market their product. There were TV spots, print ads, and even songs. Some were good. Some were hilarious. Either way it sold some liquor. And Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth, along with Nas and AZ,  were tapped for their own Sprite commercials as part of the company’s “Obey Your Thirst” campaign. The rhymes may have been ad-libbed, but the promotion was carefully planned.

In 2002, Reebok launched a “street-inspired” brand within their company by shortening their name to RBK. Then, only a year later Jay-Z’s “S Carter” collection was born and 50 Cent launched his G-Unit line. Coincidence? I think not.

Reebok spent some money, but they made even more. Jay-Z went from name dropping Nike (“All I Need” 2001) to the “S. Dots on [his] feet” completing his cipher (“Change Clothes,” 2003). And those “G-G-G-Unit” chants in 50’s raps sounded like gold coins in the bank to Reebok execs.

Today, Big Sean and Nicki Minaj are the face of Adidas, Swizz Beatz, Ricky Bawse Rozay and Tyga all rock Reeboks in the public eye. Ice Cube is now sipping on Coors Light while splitting time between searching for the game’s “coldest MC” and creating TV shows on TBS. Drake obeys his carbonated lemon-lime sponsor. Snoop has his own brand of cigarillos. Curren$y and the immaculately stoned rappers in his corner go on tours sponsored by Raw (they make rolling papers). And Jay-Z — as if he was desperate for Benjamins to ensure that Blue Ivy, her children and her children’s children will never have to work again — is doing Duracell Powermat ads and getting that all-American Budweiser bread.

So now you know. Whether it’s a backdoor deal — only Busta Rhymes and Courvoisier know who agreed to what — or the artist is officially the spokesperson, the name-dropping will never stop. It is an integral part of the genre and the music business in general. But who cares?

I mind it a little, but only when it becomes excessive. The impetus for the name-dropping, for the ads, is all I ever really take issue with.

As far as I know, Xzibit has never received a dollar from Hennessy, though he can still drink a whole fifth of it in one sitting and will keep repping the brand until his liver throws in the towel. Aesop Rock didn’t get any money for “Fryerstarter,” his ode to San Francisco’s Bob’s Donuts, though you can still probably catch him there on a late night. And the late Elliott Smith, though he didn’t make hip-hop music, probably wasn’t backed by Crooked I when he dropped “St. Ide’s Heaven” in the mid-’90s.

If the endorsement is heartfelt, that’s what it’s all about. If you’re about it, you’re about it. If they pay you for it, then get your paper, son.

Ultimately, hip-hop and name brands will forever be in bed together. They make uber-profitable spawn. But on the flip side, here’s one last thought. The Bard was commissioned to write poetry and was paid for his plays.

The question, then, will always remain the same. If it doesn’t make dollars, does it make sense?

Contact James Bell at 


AUGUST 22, 2012

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