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Is it love or commerce that keep rappers serving up alcohol-heavy hooks?

by Caletha Crawford

With “Blame It (On the Alcohol)” Jamie Foxx had the longest running No. 1 song of any male to top Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart.  But was the song just a fun track or a commercial for Patron and Grey Goose?

Brand names have long saturated hip-hop lyrics and videos, sometimes making it tough to distinguish between a single and a jingle.  But today these shout-outs are often part of calculated deals between artists and corporations.

It’s quaint to recall Notorious B.I.G. in 1997 rapping about DKNY, Versace, Moschino, Coogi and Lexus in the song “Hypnotize.”  Back then, spouting name brands was about showing off how you spend your money. Nowadays these product placements are a key part of an entertainer’s strategy to make money.  If they mention anything — purses, clothes, cars or liquor – listeners can safely assume that it’s not just because they love the brand.

Up-and-comers are focused on spinning their records into gold — parlaying their success, name and reputation into product endorsements, clothing lines and television shows.  In short, everyone wants to be a mogul.  Liquor companies are happy to indulge the desire to diversify. Name an artist, and he probably has a deal.

Diddy fronts, and has a stake in, Ciroc Vodka.  Ludacris is the face of Conjure Cognac.  Young Jeezy promotes Belvedere Vodka.  Rick Ross is tight with 1800 Tequila.  And these just represent associations that are publicized.  Insiders speculate many more are kept under wraps; leading one to wonder, upon hearing songs like “Pass the Courvoisier” or “One More Drink,” where the artistry ends and commerce begins.

To Jake Jamison, editor of the blog, these associations make perfect sense.  “It started with [musicians] talking about what they’re interested in. Then liquor companies got savvy,” he said of the evolution.  “It’s like athletes sponsoring shoes. The name checks get the brand name out there.”

Rap, in particular, has long been a booze-infused medium (Digital Underground drank a bottle of Hennessy in the 1989 hit “The Humpty Dance,” after all), and with each passing year the songs are only becoming more spirited.

According to a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, rap contains the most references to alcohol, marijuana and non-specific drug use of any musical genre.

Researchers looked at 279 songs that made it on Billboard’s chart in 2005 and found that 80 percent of rap songs contained these references, while only 20 percent of hip-hop/R&B and 14 percent of rock songs had this distinction.

A 2005 study by the School of Public Heath at the University of California, Berkeley points out how this trend has grown.  The sobering findings show that 8 percent of rap songs had references to alcohol in 1979, but by 1997, 44 mentioned booze.  During the same period, the number of songs featuring brand names rose from 46 percent to 71 percent.  The study goes on to conclude “that rap music has been profoundly affected by commercial forces and the marketing of alcoholic beverages.”

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