human being on Wed, 9 Apr 2003 04:59:28 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Re: <nettime> Who Owns Language - the "Hip-hop" issue

> by Davey D

  I saw this article and- it not being fiction- decided to
  forward it. though of course branding is ubiquitous
  in entertainment (movies, tv, music, etc) so it is un-
  clear if this is a more interactive marketing strategy...

What Would Jay-Z Drive?
Tracking rappers' favorite cars and clothes.
By Rob Walker
Posted  Friday, April 4, 2003, at 9:12 AM PT

Mind-Benzing product placement
If you pay even casual attention to popular music, you are no doubt 
aware that hip-hop radio (and thus Top 40 radio) is awash in brand 
names—not just during the commercial breaks, but within the actual 
songs. But which brands are mentioned most often and for what sorts of 
products? Well, in the songs occupying the Top 20 slots on Billboard's 
Hot 100, brands are mentioned 47 times; 21 of those mentions refer to 
cars, 12 to clothing lines, and nine to drinks—most, but not all, 
alcoholic drinks. (The remaining brands are Magnum condoms, Burger 
King, the G2 private jet, Playboy magazine, and Barbie dolls.)

This information comes courtesy of Lucian James, a 33-year-old brand 
strategist in San Francisco who recently began tracking pop brand 
mentions for his site, American Brandstand. Although he's been doing 
this for only a couple of months, a leader has already emerged from the 
pack—since the start of the year, Mercedes has racked up 29 mentions, 
well ahead of runner-up Burberry at 20. On the current chart, the 
luxury car makes cameos in 50 Cent's "In Da Club" ("When I pull up 
front, ya see the Benz on the dubs"), another 50 Cent tune called "21 
Questions" ("If I went back to a hoopty from a Benz."); Jay-Z's "Excuse 
Me Miss" ("She sees more than the Benz wagon"), and Lil' Kim's 
brand-packed "The Jump Off" ("This is for my peeps with the Bentleys, 
the Hummers, the Benz").

Before we plunge into the obvious question—why Mercedes?—let's pause to 
acknowledge that James is definitely onto something here. This project 
came about simply because he noticed that more and more brand names 
were getting musical mentions and decided that there might be value in 
totting them up. (He does the research—tracking down lyrics and 
counting mentions—himself.) He's already fielded a couple of calls from 
auto makers (he asked me not to mention which ones) wanting to know how 
the hip-hop audience perceives their brands, why they weren't mentioned 
in more songs, what it meant when they were, how they could make it 
into the Top 20, and so on.

Are advertisers nuts for thinking about this sort of thing? Not at all. 
Some liquor companies and clothiers learned how much impact a hit song 
can have faster than you can say "Pass the Courvoisier." Last year, the 
Village Voice pointed out how some marketers angle for lyrical product 
placement in what is widely seen as the most the most authentic form of 
cultural expression going. "There is genuine brand endorsement inspired 
by an affinity for a product," that piece notes. "And then there's 
name-dropping with the hopes that a marketing director will come 
bearing free goods—or a check."

On the other hand, James points out, brands also need to worry about 
being "hijacked"—that is, getting shout-outs they don't particularly 
want. The high-end fashion firm Burberry, for example, has not exactly 
embraced hip-hop fans with open arms. And sometimes a brand comes up in 
a context that may not have been a company's first choice, like when 
Lil' Kim brags about skill at—well, when she raps, "Let me show you 
what I'm all about/ How I make a Sprite can disappear in my mouth." Yet 
any company would invite a firestorm if it explicitly discouraged 
rappers' praise.

James figures that when you're talking about a brand as big as Sprite 
or Nike, a rap mention probably doesn't have all that much impact. And 
that may be the case with Mercedes. But that brings us back to the 
question: Why has the Benz rolled out to such a big early lead in 
James' tabulations?

Part of the reason, no doubt, is simple bling bling: Mercedes is a 
classic example of a brand that broadcasts high-end success and money 
to burn, a theme that rappers never seem to tire of. I also suspect 
that it enjoys a syllabic advantage: Benz is a nice-sounding, compact 
word. Plus it's malleable as a rhyme—it's paired with "rims" and 
"Timbs" (Timberlands) in that Lil' Kim track, which mentions no fewer 
than 15 brands.

And if you can remember all the way back to the 1988 N.W.A. album 
Straight Outta Compton, one of rhymes I always enjoyed was, "Me and 
Lorenzo, rollin' in a Benz-o." Actually, the Mercedes-Benz is mentioned 
in two songs on that record. Maybe this suggests another reason that 
the Mercedes is so often mentioned in lyrics today: It's not a trend, 
it's a tradition.

James figures his project will get more interesting as time goes on and 
his data set grows, and he plans to issue periodic reports. One of the 
things to keep an eye on is whether non-rap popsters will get more 
comfortable with brand-drops. (James points to a lyric in the current 
Madonna single: "I drive a Mini Cooper/ And I'm feeling super-duper.") 
And meanwhile, as more rappers branch out into other businesses, we'll 
see how their own brands fare on the charts. There's one example on the 
current American Brandstand lineup in the lyric, "Snoop Dogg Clothing, 
that's what I'm groomed in." The endorser? Snoop Dogg himself, of 

Thanks to Lucian James, who welcomes e-mail at

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: