Since Run-DMC’s relationship with Adidas,
endorsement deals between hip-hop artists and major companies has been very common in the game. An obvious win/win situation for both parties; the hip-hop artists receive million dollar deals from these big companies, and these big companies now have a way to market to the “urban” world. Seems fair, but most recently we have seen artists like Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, and Tyler, The Creator lose big deals, as a result of their creative content. Why do companies like Reebok, and PepsiCo think it’s okay to treat our artists like they are disposable? Could this be the beginning of the end for endorsements in hip-hop?
Nothing proves how influential a hip-hop artist has become like a lucrative endorsement deal. But what’s alarming is that nothing proves how disposable a hip-hop artist is to a major brand like being fired for the same reasons they are hired. Brands like Reebok and PepsiCo know of the rawness of the genre before they hire their hip-hop faces. Why turn your backs on your brand ambassadors after a little uproar? Both Lil Wayne and Tyler, The Creator had their Mountain Dew ads pulled in the past few weeks due to “creative differences.” Although Lil Wayne’s “Beat the p*ssy up like Emmett Till” bar has been removed from Future’s “Karate Chop (Remix)” by Epic Records, the Till family did not stop there. Lil Wayne’s unapologetic statement started a war for Weezy to loose his profitable DEWeezy ad campaign. “Don’t Dew the Do” was the slogan used by the Till family to boycott Mountain Dew. PepsiCo could not take the chances of losing costumers and eventually folded. Professing: “Offensive reference to a revered civil rights icon does not reflect the values of our brand.” as well as “We do not plan any additional work with Lil Wayne moving forward.” While the Till’s had every right to boycott Pepsi to stand behind the legacy of a Civil Rights martyr, PepsiCo should have stood by Tunechi and his creative liberties. Imaginably, PepsiCo did not care about protecting the legacy of Emmett Till, until the Till family took direct shots at their Mountain Dew brand. Let’s take a closer look at the actions of PepsiCo. Tyler, The Creator was allowed to direct his own commercial for Mountain Dew. In a recent live interview with Elliott Wilson, he stated how excited he was that the company readily allowed him to share his unorthodox vision. But once a Syracuse University professor proclaimed the commercial as racist “due to the appeal of the black demographic,” Mountain Dew pulled the internet ads, stating: “We apologize for this video and take full responsibility.“ What is most interesting about the choices of PepsiCo, is the similarities between Tyler’s online ad’s and his Adult Swim show Loiter Squad, where Tyler and the Odd Future crew perform in various skits that arguably perpetuate many stereotypes. One that may come to mind when watching the ads is the “Young, N*gga“ skit that uses the character Young N*gga, portrayed by Tyler himself, to poke fun at typical rappers. Before PepsiCo decided to use Tyler’s vision, did they not take a look at Loiter Squad? If so wouldn’t they be able to take into consideration what direction he might go with the Mountain Dew commercials? I believe they did, and thought it was the perfect way to market Mountain Dew, until the complaints of the Syracuse professor came in. Proving PepsiCo could care less about Civil Rights icons, the image of black men in the media, or artist creativity. Instead it affirms that when things get tough they easily blow the knowingly complicated genre of hip-hop off, diminishing pieces of the culture.
Tyler, The Creator and Weezy are not the only rappers suffering for their creativity. Rozay’s rape insinuation has done some damage
to his pockets as well. It seemed as though Reebok were standing by the side of Rick Ross, until rape victims and supporters rightfully decided to boycott not only The Boss, but the brand that he once stated he would die for: Reebok. Like PepsiCo, Reebok decided it was best to drop Rick Ross. Not a surprising business move for the company, but for sure a clear sign that the idea of hip-hop artist becoming the face of American companies are slowly declining. Major companies must not begin business relationships with hip-hop artists if they are going to ditch them at the first sign of turbulence. This has caused rappers like Snoop Lion and Noreaga to speak out against this form of corporate abuse, but the most passionate response has come from Rick Ross’ fellow MMG rapper Meek Mill, who blatantly said “F*ck Reebok.” While this seems like the typical angry rapper response, he continues to give great insight on the injustice: “I do not agree with no companies dib and dabbling with our culture.”
The abandonment of hip-hop artist by America’s most popular businesses is certainly not a new phenomenon. PepsiCo letting Ludacris go in 2002 due to hip-hop’s biggest enemy Bill O’Reilly easily comes to people’s minds. The obvious assumption is every time a rap artist offends a particular group they are immediately pulled from their ad campaign. Except for the curious case of Slim Shady. What everyone must wonder is what keeps rapper Eminem’s endorsements? He raps about rape and murder, and uses homophobic slurs, causing him to be protested against by groups like GLAAD. Yet he still manages to gain and keep big endorsements from brands like Brisk and Chrysler. One justification of this maybe that the context of the crimes in his lyrics can be considered exaggerated and far-fetched. The truth is you have to be a complete sicko to mimic what Marshall Mathers raps about. This shouldn’t matter though because he has still offended masses. Perhaps, the reason is Slim Shady represents a larger part of America than the latter rappers, but is still able to market to the urban hip-hop audience; he is the perfect face for American products. This is because being a White American plus one of the greatest rappers of all-time gives him an advantage most hip-hop artist lack. While Eminem is the obvious exception, other rappers unfairly lose out, becoming exploited by America’s largest companies, and posing the question – are hip-hop artists and endorsement deals here to stay?
While I do believe that artists must take full responsibility if they displease their fans, I also believe it is unfair for these companies to continue to use hip-hop. Granted the nature of businesses are to keep consumers happy, but how should their prospective hip-hop consumers feel when they decide to jump ship? Offended to say the least! A musical genre that has quickly become a major part of American culture and a multi-million dollar business certainly has room for it’s artist to become the face of companies; but there is no future in endorsements and hip-hop, if these companies continue to abandon and subsequently embarrass our culture.