Shots & Bottles: The Marriage of Hip-Hop and Liquor

Legendary West Coast MC, Snoop, poses with a 40 oz of Old English, aka Old Gold. Image from Pinterest.

To emphasize how widespread an influence hip-hop is, Buddhist monks in Japan at one point were actually singing chants like raps and opening up drink bars to attain a larger following. I’m not a monk, but I used to be a bartender here in the U.S. So, when it comes to the subject of alcohol I’m somewhat of a rule pusher.

In some places, though, alcohol can be enjoyed way before age 21. For example, in Italy the legal age to purchase it is 16. Unlike the teenagers in my country, those young adults actually get to enjoy a little wine at dinner with their parents. In fact, teens in Italy frown on their peers that drink too much.

Many people are beginning to believe that this is the right way to do things, that if teenagers are already used to drinking they won’t be so infatuated with alcohol when they go off to college or hear different brands of it in songs (a University of Pittsburgh and Dartmouth study shows that teenagers hear at least three references to alcohol every hour they listen to hip hop).

Many successful rappers have humble beginnings. Most of them grew up in places that are similar to where I did — poor, low income neighborhoods. These parts of the city have a liquor store on almost every corner, so it’s no surprise that when it comes time to flip some money MC’s and producers think of alcohol, especially since over the years it’s been so lucrative of an investment for many other recording artists.

Two legends, Tupac and E-40, enjoy some Alize in the 1990's. Image from Urban Drinks website.

Alcohol itself is a depressant that doesn’t allow you to waste time thinking about what you want to say, you just say it. When someone’s drinking and has an idea, they don’t go through the normal thought process before speaking that they usually do when they’re sober. It’s like Mobb Deep said on their song “Got It Twisted”: “That liquor’s up in ya, you charged/That truth comes out when you drunk…”

Some hip hop artists use their alcohol loosened tongues to their benefit. Of course, rappers themselves didn’t invent this method of inspiration; neither did Miles Davis or Picasso. It’s just something that many creative folks in many genres in and out of music do. As long as people are old enough, drink responsibly, and don’t hurt themselves or anyone else, I personally have nothing against alcohol consumption.

Hip-Hop & Malt Liquor

Hip hop and drinking have been connected for years. Back in 1993, Ice Cube had a commercial where he got out of a helicopter, jumped in a Porsche, and sped home just to grab a cold 40oz St. Ides out of the fridge. I believe he was trying to show his fans that he would always be loyal to what he really likes to drink, no matter how much money he makes.

Hip-Hop legend Ice Cube in a 1993 St. Ides Malt Liquor Commercial. Video from YouTube.

The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, and the Wu-Tang Clan were all artists that helped endorse malt liquor, making sales increase about 25% in 1991. Four Loko (also known as ‘blackout in a can’) became very popular at one point. DJ Khalid is sipping some in the “I’m On One” music video, but the drink has gotten such a bad rap that the chances of MC’s endorsing it are slim.

I don’t think that many artists nowadays with their more expensive tastes would even do a malt liquor commercial (the average bottle only costs around $2.00), unless they are old school rappers themselves. Snoop Dogg once teamed up with Colt 45 to promote the malt beverage “Blast”. It’s a fruit tasting drink in a 23-ounce can that contains 12% alcohol.

Of course you know, someone just had to start with the criticism, claiming that the colors of the can and the flavors (like grape, watermelon, and strawberry lemonade) made it seem like they were targeting a younger crowd. Everyone always tries to blame hip hop artists or the company associated with a product for what their kids hear or consume, when the real blame is often just bad parenting.

Gin & Hip-Hop

We all thought that Snoop (whose real name is Calvin Braudus) was gonna come out with a gin line after mentioning Tanqueray and Seagram’s on his classic song “Gin and Juice”, but he’s obviously decided to market other drinks instead.

Snoop’s classic song, ‘Gin & Juice’. Video from YouTube.

Seagram’s was also given a shout-out by Petey Pablo on his classic club banger “Freak-a-Leak”. In it, the North Carolina native openly states “Now I gotta give a shout out to Seagram’s Gin, ’cause I drink it, and they’re paying me for it.” And, although many black critics took it the wrong way when an Administrative Meeting of the Michigan Control Commission approved promotional packaging of Seagram’s Extra Dry to be sold with Du-Rags, the bottles still flew off the shelves of liquor stores everywhere.

Petey Pablo. Freak a Leak. Video from YouTube.

Hip-Hop & Cognac

Atlanta MC Ludacris helped develop a cognac called “Cojure” and called it “A Hustler’s Spirit”. Going back to Snoop (an artist who’s practically been known to drink and smoke his whole career), he also once partnered with a cognac company. It’s called “Landy”, and can be expensive depending on what type of it you buy.

Legendary Atlanta MC Ludarcris poses with a bottle of Conjure. Image from Chilled Magazine.

Approx. 60% of cognac drinkers are African Americans located in the U.S., and 85% of the total market is made up of four kinds: Courvoisier, Hennessy, Remy Martin, and Martin & Martell. Cognac itself is frequently referred to as a healing drink, since it’s been known to widen veins and reduce headaches.

Speaking of cognac (or “Yack” for short), who could forget about Busta Rhymes, Diddy (Sean Combs) and Pharrell Williams on the classic “Pass the Courvoisier”? When the song was in constant rotation sales for the drink rose 30%.

At that time, Henny and Remy were the main two cognac’s mentioned in hip hop, and Busta (real name Trevor Smith) caught everyone off guard with a song that featured this historical drink. It’s said that Napoleon drank Courvoisier and loved it; the cognac was also served at the opening of the Eiffel Tower. Beam Global Spirits & Wine Inc. (the world’s 4th largest premium spirits company) owns the brand today.

Legendary East Flatbush MC Busta Rhymes on the CD Cover for hit hit ‘Pass the Courvoisier’. Image from eBay.

There’s actually a female MC who calls herself Remy Martin (her real name is Remy Smith), and it’s a cognac that will always be loved by hip hop. A winegrower bearing the name started his business in 1724 in France. Today, the drink still goes through the traditional fine distillation process, and 80% of it that’s shipped from the region (which is named Cognac) is made by Remy Martin.

The most popular cognac mentioned in hip hop songs by far, though, is Hennessy. Tupac mixed some with Alize and called it “Thug Passion”, club goers swirl it around in glasses with Hypnotic to create “The Incredible Hulk”, and guys use it to make drinks like Nuvo manlier. Alvin Joiner (aka west coast rapper Xzibit) even has a Hennessy logo on his arm. Hennessy began delivering to the U.S. in 1794, and in 1813 the name “Jas Hennessy & Co.” was adopted. In 1971 the company merged with Moet & Chandon, and today has record breaking sales worldwide.

The late great Tupac Shakur, sipping a drink he has long known to be the creator of in Hip-Hop culture, Thug Passion. It’s part Hennessy, part Alize. Image from Pinterest.

Tequila & Hip-Hop

In the past decade, tequila has become the drink of choice for many hip hop lovers. Patron (which means “the good boss” in Spanish) is high quality tequila that was created by Martin Crowley and John Paul DeJoria. DeJoria actually has a 1927 train car called “The Patron Express” named after the drink. Lining the car’s inside walls is art that’s hundreds of years old, with a lift up movie theater behind all of it. “We think it’s the finest car ever in the world”, the billionaire told ABC News.

Image from the Official Patron Tequila website.

Introduced in 1989, Patron is now among the top selling tequilas in the world. It tastes outstanding, though it’s a little pricier than a lot of nine-to-fiver’s can afford. It’s OK to splurge a little from time to time, but don’t go spend all of your rent money then blame your favorite song when you’re broke and trying to explain why to your landlord the next day.

Innovative Drinks by Hip-Hop Artists

There have been some very innovative artists to invest in alcohol in the past, one of them being Pharell Williams from The Neptunes. He once came out with a beverage called “Qream” that came in strawberry and peach flavors. Partnered with Diageo Spirits, this product was made specifically for women.

Another deal that was successful because of out-of-the-box thinking was the alliance of Jonathan Smith (Lil’ John of Lil’ John & The Eastside Boys) and winemaker Allison Crowe. The creation of the Little Jonathan Winery Wines label was a totally unexpected move in a culture flooded with hard liquor contracts. The Atlanta producer’s wine actually won a Silver Medal at the 2009 Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Awards.

Crunk Atlanta producer and rapper Lil’ Jon with his Award-Winning Cabernet Sauvignon. Image from Vinum Vine website.

Something many club goers don’t really pay a lot of attention to is the amount of calories in their alcohol (for example, an 80 proof shot of vodka has 100 calories). Super producer Jermaine Dupri came out with “3 Vodka” a while back, which has no carbs — it’s distilled from soy. Armando Christian Perez, also known as Pitbull, took advantage of becoming an owner of a brand of vodka called “Voli”. It’s between 25%-40% lower in calories than leading brands, and comes in flavors like original lyte, lemon, and espresso vanilla.

Vodka & Hip-Hop

Vodka will always be mentioned in hip hop. Clifford Smith (aka Method Man from the Wu-Tang Clan) has made one of my favorite references to it on his old school hit “Bring The Pain”: “When I’m drinking 90 proof vodka, no OJ, no straw/ when you give it to me, hey, give it to me raw/I’ve learned that when you drink Absolut straight it burns/enough to give my chest hairs a perm…”. L.O. Smith registered the brand name Absolut in 1879, and the Swedish company started exporting vodka to the U.S. 100 years later.

In addition to singing on the song ‘Blame It’ with T-Pain, the mulit-talented Jamie Foxx also hosted a series called ‘Off Script’, a Grey Goose production.

Eric Bishop and Faheem Rasheed Najm (aka Jamie Foxx and T-Pain) have one of the most famous lines for Grey Goose vodka ever on their hit “Blame It”: “Blame it on the goose, got you feeling loose/Blame it on Patron, got you in the zone”. According to the Chicago Beverage Testing Institute, Grey Goose (or Goose for short) is “The World’s Best Tasting Vodka”. It’s named after the geese that are celebrated in the Cognac, France region.

Ciroc vodka was thought to be the product that would make Diddy hip hop’s first billionaire. There were 120,000 cases of it moved in 2007 when the hip hop mogul and the alcohol conglomerate first teamed up, but more than one million cases were predicted to sell over the next several years.

Diddy poses with a bottle of his vodka, Ciroc. Image from Fortune.

Unlike Diageo (the maker of Ciroc), President of Belvedere vodka Charles Gibbs believes that brands are better off when they are focused on more than just one person. R&B singer Usher Raymond was once the new face of a social cause campaign by Belvedere to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa, where half the profits were donated from a special batch of red bottles that had the message “Helps Save Lives”.

Hip-Hop & Champagne

With all the liquor deals in the past, how did so many references to bubbly go into rapper’s microphones over the years? When it comes to champagne, Branson Belchie (better known as Branson B) was the sommelier who introduced Dom Perignon and Cristal to people like Biggie and Puff Daddy in the late 1980’s. Since then, Belchie’s name has been mentioned in over 50 rap songs by artists like Redman and LL Cool J, and he’s also teamed up with Guy Charlemagne to create the label “Guy Charlemagne Selected by Branson B”.

One song that Belchie’s name wasn’t mentioned in was Chris Rock’s “No Sex in the Champagne Room. Gerald Levert (R.I.P.) sang the hook on this hilarious song (I won’t mess it up for you…you just gotta hear it for yourself).

Jay-Z and Diddy enjoy a serving of Armand de Brignac champagne brand aka Ace of Spades. Image from Forbes.

I don’t think anyone has represented champagne (particularly Cristal) in hip hop more than Shawn Carter (Jay-Z). Still, he eventually snatched the gold bottles from the shelves of his 40/40 Club and doesn’t drink the bubbly anymore.

Why? Well, he made it clear on his track “On To the Next One” that he felt the comments from Frederick Rouzaud were racist. Rouzard, the managing director of Louis Roederer (the company that makes Cristal) had this to say about hip hop culture buying his product: “We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.”

Jay-Z later bought the company of a champagne that he’d long been a fan of, Armand de Brignac brand. Or, as he likes to call it, “Ace of Spades.

Dom Perignon (or Dom P for short) has also been mentioned frequently by MC’s over the years. They once released a new bottle through multi platinum producer Kasseem Dean (aka Swizz Beats) called “Luminous”. The bottle had a button that made the crest glow in the dark. The launch of it was held in a private NYC loft in Soho.

In Closing…

I just wanted to say that the marriage of hip-hip and liquor will never end in divorce. They’ll definitely be together forever. This article was a historical account of their relationship. And, since we are seeing many more deals now in 2020 (and will see even more in the future), I will do a part-two of this article very soon.

Until then, to all my Hip-Hop & Liquor lovers out there, please drink and party responsibly. One Love, ya’ll.

* * *

I, Limus Woods, and the Original Author of this article. I first got it published on a new website called Tastemaker Collective Media on July 25th, 2020.

Curiosity drives me, but I’m mostly interested in researching and writing about urban news, music, and health topics. A lil’ politics, too. Sometimes.

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