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Posted by Robert
Rap News Network
4/6/2004 10:06:33 AM

Tags and topics realted to this article include P. Diddy, 50 Cent, Russell Simmons, Nelly and Chuck D.

Is hip hop for sale? What relationship does the genre have with the liquor industry? Are rappers intentionally writing lyrics that will land them advertising deals?

These are some of the questions raised in Rhyme Pays: Hip Hop And The Marketing Of Cool, a Marketplace special airing on CBC-TV tonight at 8.

Over eight months, host Clifton Joseph travelled from Toronto to New York and France to explore the proliferation of product placement in hip hop.

He found few were willing to discuss the phenomenon that occurs on two fronts: the positioning of consumer items, such as cellphones and pagers, in music videos; and the referencing of brand names in rap lyrics.

And those who did talk didn't add much clarity.

Take hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, for instance. On camera, he opined that rapper Busta Rhymes was likely inspired to write his 2002 hit "Pass The Courvoisier" with fellow hip-hop star Sean "P. Diddy" Combs after attending a Courvoisier-sponsored showing of Simmons's Phat Farm clothing line. Only after the song became popular, he noted, did the rapper receive money from the French cognac company.

However, in a separate interview, Courvoisier people said they never paid Busta Rhymes, merely sponsored a few of his events once the song took off.

Busta Rhymes wasn't available to answer Joseph's questions about remuneration and possible motivation for the tune.

"Busta has said that he's really a Hennessy drinker and that he used Courvoisier (in the song) because it rhymes better," said Joseph, also a well-known Toronto dub poet.

"My question is ... better than what? Because in the song `Pass The Courvoisier' is not rhyming with anything, it's the chorus.

"We found it suspicious that Russell Simmons's advertising agency dRush had been working for Courvoisier for a year or two before the actual tune was released."

One thing is clear: On the heels of that song, sales of the pricey drink jumped more than 20 per cent worldwide.

The Marketplace special depicts the increase in demand for the cognac at Toronto bars and nightclubs, as well as how influential hip-hop videos are helping to determine how Canadian teens shell out the $25 billion in spending money at their disposal annually.

And while rappers Nelly and 50 Cent are shilling for Nike and iPod, respectively, in their music and videos, other artists are using their power to tout in-house goods. Jay-Z owns U.S. rights to the Scottish vodka Armadale as well as the Roca Wear clothing line, and both appear in the rapper's videos.

Ownership is of little comfort, said Joseph.

"You can admire some elements of them taking charge, but when you're dealing with a genre of music that has prided itself on coming from the streets and being real and (on) its history of political-social consciousness and you look at what's happening now — you can clearly see that they've turned mainstreet rap into a marketing tool," he posited.

"As materialism and getting paid have moved so much to the forefront of the music, it has de-emphasized politics and culture.

"What does it benefit this so called hip-hop generation if a small number of rappers get hugely rich?"

While product placement has become rife in entertainment since the use of Reese's Pieces in the film E.T. in 1982, (think Samsung cellphones in the Matrix films and Pepsi in Charlie's Angels), hip hop is more vulnerable to the temptation than other types of music, said Joseph.

"Although you'll see Sting in ads for Jaguar and Céline Dion selling Chrysler, their music remains separate," Joseph explained.

"But hip hop is laced in product shout outs. And while the genre is expanding outwards and a lot of money is being made, the music itself is watering down almost to a level of irrelevance.

"This is the music that was supposed to be different. (Veteran rap

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