Jay-Z to Luxury Brands: Don’t Bite the Hip-Hop Hand That Feeds You


Jay-Z has made himself into an entertainment powerhouse on the back of his talent with words. Now he has some choice ones for luxury brands on the powerful influence of hip-hop.

Time recently excerpted a part of the rapper-turned-multimedia-mogul’s new book, Decoded, in which Jay-Z lays it down for luxury brands who are dismissive of their connection with the hip-hop world. He tells the story of a Cristal executive who, when asked by The Economist what he thought about Cristal Champagne’s relationship with hip-hop, said, “What can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it.”[more]

In the book, Jay-Z (originally Shawn Carter) writes: “That was like a slap in the face … Why not just say thank you and keep it moving? You would think the person who runs the company would be most interested in selling his product, not in criticizing — or accepting criticisms of — the people buying it.” At the time, the hip-hop artist issued a statement saying he would in no way support or promote Cristal ever again.

Hip-hop artists, Jay-Z goes on, have long been unpaid promoters of brands, creating a narrative, cachet and an audience of consumers for products with absolutely no effort on the brands’ part.

With Cristal, for example, he says, “Cristal, before hip-hop, had a nice story attached to it; it was a quality, premium, luxury brand known to connoisseurs. But hip-hop gave it a deeper meaning. Suddenly, Cristal didn’t just signify the good life but the good life laced with hip-hop’s values: subversive, self-made, audacious, even a little dangerous. The word itself — Cristal — took on a new dimension.”

These ideas pose some interesting question for brands: What if brands like Cristal don’t want to be “dangerous?” Who should have control over a brand’s image: the company or the people who want to buy it? If a new customer segment appears that might alienate the previous core customer base, should a brand just “say thank you and keep it moving?” And if people are buying, which is supposedly the whole point, does it matter?

Jay-Z has certainly been successful with his own personal brand. Other brands might just want to take a listen.