Rappers sell their lyrics (and their souls) to the highest corporate bids

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The Sugar Hill Gang started it back in the early Eighties when they chanted about the "hotel, motel, Holiday Inn" in the hit "Rapper's Delight". A quarter of a century later, rappers are still name-checking brands from Cristal champagne to Jello in their music - and the practice is proving to be lucrative.

The Sugar Hill Gang started it back in the early Eighties when they chanted about the "hotel, motel, Holiday Inn" in the hit "Rapper's Delight". A quarter of a century later, rappers are still name-checking brands from Cristal champagne to Jello in their music - and the practice is proving to be lucrative.

The fast-food giant McDonald's is the latest firm to hitch a ride on the hip-hop promotional bandwagon, reportedly offering rap artists a fee of up to $5 (£2.80) for every time a song mentioning the Big Mac is played on radio.

According to the US magazine Advertising Age , McDonald's has hired the marketing firm Maven Strategies to approach record labels and artists and encourage them to write lyrics referring to the Big Mac, although the company will retain final approval to ensure the burger is mentioned "in an appropriate setting". The strategy ties in with McDonald's two-year-old worldwide "i'm lovin' it" [ sic ] advertising campaign, aimed at 18- to 34-year-olds.

Maven last year succeeded in persuading five hip-hop artists, including Kanye West and Petey Pablo, to mention Seagram gin in songs.

Maven's president and chief executive Tony Rome told Advertising Age : "At the end of the day, this has to work for the brands ... The risk involved for upfront payment is all eliminated. If an artist isn't able to deliver, there's no out-of-pocket cost to the client. You pay for performance."

References to drinks, cars and sportswear are an established part of hip-hop culture, but some in the music industry have expressed concern at the cynicism of the attempt by McDonald's to gain credibility with young people.

But the decision to base payments on the amount of airplay, which minimises the risk for McDonald's while placing the onus on the artist to come up with a hit single, has provoked anger.

Ty, the British rapper whose album Upwards was Mercury-nominated, said: "It's quite a poisonous concept, because they are paying rappers to mention the Big Mac, but they are not investing in the culture of hip-hop music. It definitely says a lot about how mainstream corporations view hip-hop music dismissively."

1Xtra DJ Semtex agrees: "With hip-hop culture you're rapping about your environment and a lot of it has been specific product placement, but I think McDonald's is taking it a step too far. The artist isn't getting paid up front. You're only going to get a certain amount of money depending on airplay. That's a total insult to artistic integrity."

Tim Burrowes, the editor of Mediaweek , said: "It's a good strategy for McDonald's, but what does it do for the credibility of the artist, when their fans discover they're being paid to talk about it?"

Busta Rhymes and Puff Daddy proved how effective name checking can be with their 2002 hit "Pass the Courvoisier", which resulted in a massive sales boost for the cognac. And Courvoisier is not the only expensive tipple to benefit from incorporation in rap lyrics; Jay-Z, Damon Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke liked Scotland's Armadale vodka so much that they not only sang about it, they bought the brand from the distillers William Grant and Sons.

According to the website Americanbrandstand.com, which tracks product placements in hip-hop songs, Cadillac was the brand that received the most mentions in 2004, followed by Hennessey, Mercedes, Rolls Royce and Gucci.

Product placement is not a new concept in rap music. In 1986, Run DMC received $1.5m for endorsing sneakers in their song "My Adidas", while in the 1990s, MC Hammer promoted KFC and Taco Bell.

Raw-T, a Manchester rap group signed to Tony Wilson's F4 label, have pre-empted McDonald's with their song "Where We Live", which includes the line "I pack a Big Mac". Whether they will be rewarded for the name check remains to be seen.

SHOP THIS WAY...

Run DMC

Adidas

"My Adidas cuts the sand of a foreign land/ with mic in hand I cold took command/ my Adidas and me both askin' P/ we make a good team my Adidas and me."

My Adidas

50 Cent

Dom Perignon/ Hennessy

"You mix a little Coke with a little Dom Perignon/ And a little Hennessy/ You know we fine to carry on."

Disco Inferno

Busta Rhymes and Puff Daddy

Courvoisier

"Give me the Henny, you can give me the Cris/ You can pass me the Remi, but pass the Courvoisier."

Pass The Courvoisier

Ciara, featuring Missy Elliott

Jello

"I shake it like Jello/ And make the boys go hello/ Cos they know I'm rocking the beat."

1,2 Step

Comments