Hip hop lyricism has always been dense with references, MCs filling their verses with the people, places and things that define their environment. From very early on, that has included the consumer brands and pop culture properties that exist as their own copyrighted phrases and commercial entities. D.C. Comics was probably wise not to acknowledge “Rapper’s Delight,” and its lyrical tangent about Lois Lane and “super sperm,” but Adidas cashed in big from Run DMC’s endorsement.
In more recent times, the lines have blurred between MCs namechecking brands in the name of lyrical specificity or for the expressed purpose of getting money and freebies from corporations. Jay-Z took a check to say “Motorola 2-way page me” in a hit song. But he freely endorsed Cristal with no compensation for years – at least, until an executive from the brand’s manufacturer made comments about being less than thrilled by the champagne’s association with hip hop culture. In classic Shawn Carter fashion, Hov used the incident as an opportunity to both make a political statement and benefit himself financially, denouncing Cristal as racist while plugging another brand, Ace of Spades, which he directly profited from sales of.
Luxury brands have continued to appeal to hip hop’s aspirational side, and most recently the Atlanta trio Migos blew up with a little song called “Versace.” The Italian fashion house had no official response to the song, but they showed affection for the Migos track by recently playing it while models walked the runway during a fashion show in Milan. The group’s follow-up single, “Hannah Montana,” played off another famous brand a bit more subversively – using the name of the popular Disney Channel series, and its star Miley Cyrus, as a “white girl” euphemism for cocaine.