The Power of Hip-Hop: Liquor Brands
Alcohol is gawd when it comes to the elements of a good party and we all know Hip-hop started in the local parties in NYC (The Bronx). So when these two entities come together, it makes for some interesting times. In the history of humans no other genre has done more for the Spirits industry than hip-hop. Hip-hop has changed the way companies in the beer, liquor and champagne industries market their brands. Just a mention of a brand and their sales goes way up. Last year saw the rise of Remy Martin sales from 1.64m cases in 2014 to 1.90 in 2015 and Martell went from 1.93m in 2014 to 2.20m in 2015. Those companies benefitted by lying in bed with Hip-hop (although they wont publicly admit it), but Fetty Wap certainly helped Remy Martin and The Roots helped Martell. Countless other brands have been helped by hip-hop (Patron, Grey Goose, Belvedere etc.), so lets take a look of the history of liquor in hip-hop.
In the mid to late 80s, malt liquor was king but it wasn’t until the early 90s when liquor started to dominate the narrative. From Snoop with Gin and Juice to both Nas and Biggie talking about Remy, Hennessy, Alize and Moet, as hip-hop became more successful, the drinks became more apart of the culture. Drinking became such a big part of hip hop that in their 1995 classic album The Infamous, Mobb Deep made a song Drink Away The Pain where both Havoc and Prodigy rapped about drinks like it was their girlfriend, Prodigy “I used to be in love with this bi*** named E&J Don't f*** with her no more now I f*** with Tanqueray”.. Havoc “My man P put me on to the shorty Henn Rock, Now Henn Rock is strong enough to make your heartbeat stop, One sip I thought the bi*** was a f***ing warlock The more she started giving me the stronger I got” (lyrics via Genius.com). Havoc is referring to Hennessy when talking about ‘Henn Rock’, but this goes to show how deeply invested rappers were into their favorite drinks.
As the decade progressed, brands started to take notice of hip-hop’s power, and this was when certain brands started to take notice, the first major brand to invest in the culture was the ever-popular Hpnotiq liqueur. Hpnotiq is a blue liqueur made from a blend of cognac, vodka and tropical fruit juices. NY natives Raphael Yakoby and Nick Storm (former music industry veteran) took the drink to the urban masses and created one the best liquor runs in history. Everyone from Diddy, Fabolous, and Lil Kim were popping the blue drink, and when you combined Hpnotiq with Cognac, you got one of the first hip-hop based cocktails called the Incredible Hulk; it was called that because of the drink’s green color. Soon after, Dame Dash and Rocafella had Armadale Vodka, which was featured in all their videos and lyrics. Around this time Diddy, the Neptunes and Busta Rhymes released probably the biggest record devoted to a drink called Pass the Courvoisier, Part II. Pass the Courvoisier reportedly boosted sales up to 30% for the brand; unfortunately this did not translate into endorsement deals.
The lack of endorsements forced artist to create their own brands or partner up with people who are friends of the culture, Armadale, Hpnotiq and Nuvo were perfect examples. After Hpnotiq started to decline, Nuvo a similar drink to Hpnotiq but pink became the talk of the town. Rappers and models alike endorsed the drink, which was featured in all the major clubs, videos and songs. The fall of Nuvo brought the rise of Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs Ciroc vodka. The partnership between Ciroc and Diddy was the first time a foreign spirit brand endorsed a rapper publicly. Diddy made Ciroc the unofficial drink of hip hop and had everyone drinking vodka in space where no one cared much about clear liquor outside of Grey Goose and Patron or champagne. Diddy influence has spread to other rappers including, Ludacris, Timbaland, Cam’Ron, Jayz, Pharrell, Rick Ross, 50 Cent, Baby (Cash Money), Lil Flip, Drake and Jermaine Dupri.
Today, artists can have their own liquor brand or align themselves with an existing brand like Young Jeezy with Avion. There’s a dirty secret in the liquor industry where they wont publicly promote a rapper or give them or the culture credit for sales. This wont stop artist from mentioning top tier brands, especially luxury drinks like Louis XIII, or Ace of Spades. Thankfully brands are more aware of the power of hip hop, than they were in the 1990s and early 2000s but there is more work to do, as the relationship between rappers and spirit brands has to become more mutually beneficial and less exploitation i.e. Fetty Wap.