ED GORDON, host:
Black marketing power translates beyond African-American consumers. Commentator Todd Boyd says Madison Avenue has learned the value of street cred.
When Jay-Z, the gifted rapper-turned-music mogul, said, `We didn't cross over; we brought the suburbs to the hood,' he made a statement with profound implications for the culture. Although the story of hip-hop's rise from the margins to the mainstream is getting to be an old one, there is no clearer indication of Jay-Z's claims than the current Chrysler ads featuring the automaker's former CEO Lee Iacocca and hip-hop icon Snoop Dogg.
(Soundbite of Chrysler ad)
Mr. LEE IACOCCA: Nice ride.
SNOOP DOGG: Thank you, Mocha Cocca. Chrysler and G came up with beaucoup awards, and Dodge trucks last as long as the D-O-Double G.
BOYD: When one of the bedrocks of corporate America turns to hip-hop to help sell its products, it's definitely worth taking note.
Iacocca appeared in his first Chrysler commercial back in 1979. This just happened to be the same year that the Sugarhill Gang dropped hip-hop's first national hit "Rapper's Delight." That record represented hip-hop's ability to move beyond New York's five boroughs into the consciousness of a nation. Back then, there were no Chrysler commercials for hip-hop, no big-budget music videos, no bling or 24-inch rims, no Time magazine covers and no Sean John stores on Fifth Avenue, either. Hip-hop--or rap, as we called it back in a day--was simply a new form of creative cultural expression on a come-up.
Chrysler, on the other hand, was in dire financial straits when Iacocca made his first ad. Were it not for a huge government bailout by the Reagan administration, a rescue some of the time referred to as corporate welfare, then Iacocca would have never become the revered titan of corporate America. The ubiquity of those famous commercials helped that image.
The pairing of Iacocca and Snoop is inspired. Aside from the immediate comic effect of these two opposites sharing a golf cart and conversing in two different languages, the commercial is significant for the importance it place's on Snoop's presence. Snoop's appeal--and, by extension, hip-hop itself--is at the core of this marketing strategy. Lee Iacocca is just along for the ride. In today's marketplace, hip-hop moves units; in this case cars. Anytime you have a hand in influencing the way people spend money in this country, you are in quite a powerful position. As Barzini says in "The Godfather," `After all, we're not Communists.' Or should I say, `If the ride is mo' fly, than you must buy'?
GORDON: Todd Boyd, aka the Notorious PhD, is an author, media commentator and professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.