Cristal and the Buying Power of Hip-Hop

Commentator Todd Boyd shares his thoughts on the controversy over Cristal, and the economic strength of hip-hop. Boyd is a professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ED GORDON, host:

It's reported that champagne giant Cristal wishes to exclude a group from what has otherwise been a very profitable niche market - the hip-hop audience.

Commentator Todd Boyd says that the makers of Cristal are acting like money made from the hip-hop community isn't really green. He says hip-hop's got to pass the Cristal and endorse products that endorse hip-hop.

Professor TODD BOYD (Professor of Critical Studies, University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television): Anyone who has listened to hip-hop music over the last ten years has undoubtedly heard references to Cristal champagne so many times that it would be hard to quantify now.

Mentions of the vintage bubbly have become so common in hip-hop circles that the brand name Cristal has often come to stand in for the very word champagne itself. At this point, to call Cristal ubiquitous in hip-hop would be an understatement.

None of this seemed to matter, though, to Frédéric Rouzaud, the managing director of Cristal, when a recent interview in the Economist magazine suggested that he was less than thrilled with hip-hop's embrace of his product. Rouzaud even committed the ultimate capitalist sin when he said that though this company can't prevent people from buying Cristal, that he was sure that his competitors would love to have hip-hop's business.

Interestingly enough, in spite of Rouzaud's discomfort around hip-hop's embrace of his brand, he has yet to return any of the money earned from hip-hop's endorsement.

In response to these comments, Jay-Z, who, along with the late, great, Notorious B.I.G., endorsed Cristal unequivocally over the years with numerous mentions in his many hit songs, was correct in saying that anything less than a thank you from Rouzaud for the business that hip-hop has sent their way is simply racist.

Hip-hop, which has long been a prominent tastemaker, first in the urban community, and now throughout the culture at large, has given a lot of endorsements over the years by mentioning various brand names in rap lyrics. From Run-DMC's My Adidas back in the day, to something like Busta's Pass the Courvoisier more recently, hip-hop artists have been able to make their personal favorites the choice of the masses just by referencing the product in their music.

Yet on several occasions now some of these unsolicited endorsements were thrown back in the culture's face. Companies like Timberland and Tommy Hilfiger, for example, were associated with similar controversies in the '90s. As hip-hop culture becomes more and more conscious and in control of its own marketing muscle, this will inevitably lead to people being more selective about which products they choose to endorse.

Hip-hop needs to study the way that they do product placement in Hollywood, and then start forcing the brands to pay hip-hop directly for endorsing their products as opposed to simply passing out free advertisements through rap lyrics. It's like Ice Cube once said: stop giving juice to the Raiders, because Al Davis never paid us.

The bottom line is that hip-hop should be very careful from now on as to who and what it endorses. Because at the end of the day not everyone that hip-hop endorses, endorses hip-hop.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man (Singer): (Singing) Cash rules everything around me. (Unintelligible) get the money. Dollar, dollar bill, ya'll. Cash rules everything around me. (unintelligible) Get the money. Dollar, dollar bill, ya'll.

GORDON: Todd Boyd is a professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television.

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