For designer brands, no such thing as a bad rap

Megan Angelo

Companies hang on to the hope that it will happen to them. And it could. Just ask the advertising executives of Pirelli tires or Magnum condoms.

Surely, neither company expected to land on the list of products plugged by star rappers. The lyrical publicity is usually reserved for formidable designer brand like Cristal champagne and Dolce & Gabbana couture. But 50 Cent, in a track from his 2002 release “Get Rich or Die Tryin,” claims that a new set of Pirellis would look “mean” on his 22-inch rims. And in his recent single, “Can’t Let You Go,” Fabolous worries that his “wifey” will find a Magnum wrapper somewhere other than the couple’s own bedroom.

While some artists still draw from personal experiences or from social issues to crank out chart toppers, many of the most visible rappers have traded baring their souls for showcasing their “bling.”

The implications of this trend are obvious. If a rapper praises a product in a song that dominates radio and television airwaves, the brand gets a seal of fashion approval. But TRL heavyweights like Beyonce, who drop the names of nine different brands in her remix of 50 Cent’s “In Da Club,” hardly need to negotiate product-placement deals to pay the bills.

In fact, it seems that the publicity these companies get from rappers is random, unwarranted and free. In an article on, Roc-A-Fella records co-founder Damon Dash points out that “once you get that powerful that someone wants to pay me to do something, [you] don’t need it.” Business executives do not have the capital to buy rappers’ endorsements – when Beyonce can hardly catch her breath between mentions of Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, Zinati’s Diamonds, Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Pucci, Chanel, Bailey Banks and Biddle and Bailey’s Irish Cream, she’s just showing off.

From Courvoisier to Escalades, rappers really do own all the elements of posh culture, and in bulk. But, like many celebrities, extravagantly successful rappers function in an atmosphere billions of dollars away from the world in which most of their fans live.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, rap music replaced pop music as the second most popular genre in the country last year. The 13.8 percent of music buyers who chose rap in 2002 included young people, urban people and middle-class people.

For the most part, the people who are buying and listening to rap music are not the people who are purchasing luxury goods. The advertising executives of companies like Prada and Cadillac don’t bother to target anyone besides the economic elite, so why do rappers choose to promote the most expensive products on the market to their audience?

The frequent appearance of brand names in rap represents the complete turnaround that music’s role in society has made over the past few decades. Politics and other social issues were the main subjects of musical messages throughout the ’60s and into the ’70s. Above all, the most popular artists of the era strove to be relevant to the feelings of an excited population and the zeitgeist of a changing culture. But the evolution towards materialism that rap reveals shows that while music continues to preach to the majority, it caters only to the minority. But the minority – namely, the richest people in the country – isn’t listening.

Admittedly, rappers have not sold fewer albums because they wax poetic about a lifestyle that is out of their audience’s reach. Though the music may not have much to do with them, people will not abandon it. But one thing is undeniable: no matter what an artist says at the awards show podium, music is no longer exclusively made for the fans.