Joe-Budden-state-of-the-culture-revolt-tv-copy-1536170442
Revolt TV

Joe Budden Talks Creative Beefs With Diddy And Leaving Rap Behind

In a candid conversation with VIBE, Joe Budden talks about leaving rap behind and spats with Diddy.

The rap game ain’t based on sympathy, and Joe Budden knows this firsthand. Despite his eponymous 2003 debut album spurring the hit song “Pump It Up,” label politics ended up getting his sophomore Def Jam LP shelved. He’s beefed with the likes of 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Prodigy, and The Game. And Slaughterhouse, his supergroup with Royce Da 5’9”, Crooked I and Joell Ortiz, was relatively short-lived after only releasing one album with Eminem’s Shady Records that fans felt grasped too hard for radio spins.

But the Jersey City representative has never felt bad for himself, and he has always been a self-starter. He harnessed his pain into the cult classic Mood Muzik mixtape series, which embraced the Internet-friendly indie route before many other artists figured it out, and predated much of the vulnerability that rap would mature into in the later aughts. He also began to foster a career as a media personality. He co-hosted a morning show on Hot 97 early in his 20s and jumped into Internet content early with his Joe Budden TV YouTube series. The latter series built more interest in Budden and his relationship with ex-girlfriend Tahiry, landing them a spot on Love and Hip Hop: New York in 2013. And in February 2015, he debuted the first episode of I'll Name This Podcast Later (now known as The Joe Budden Podcast) which would eventually allow him and his cohosts to tour around the country. But he truly showed his media prowess on Everyday Struggle, a digital-only show with Complex that brought the fiery debate format of ESPN's First Take to hip-hop. Alongside co-hosts DJ Akademiks and Nadeska Alexis, Budden gave industry commentary while sparking contentious viral moments with Lil Yachty and Migos, racking up millions of views. In January 2018, he left the show, leaving some wondering about his next moves: he had already announced his retirement from rap with his 2016 album Rage And The Machine, and there was no telling where his media career would go next.

But Budden had a plan, and now his seeds are beginning to sprout. He announced in May 2018 that he was launching a show with Diddy’s network Revolt TV called State of the Culture, and last month, announced that his Joe Budden Podcast would be joining the Spotify network while increasing their output to two episodes per week. State of the Culture, co-hosted by Scottie Beam and Remy Ma, is scheduled to premiere digitally on Monday, Sept. 10 at 5 p.m., and on the TV channel on Tuesday, Sept. 11 at 10 p.m. After years of toiling in the recording studio, he's arguably working harder now than ever, producing three shows a week between all of his endeavors.

He jovially visited the VIBE offices last week in a polo shirt and fedora, with the same open book approach that has garnered him such a loyal fan base. But days later, Eminem, offended by his signee’s comments about his music last year, would diss him by name on his surprise album Kamikaze–released on Budden's 38th birthday. A fitting gift for one of hip-hop’s firestarters. In a candid conversation with VIBE, Joe Budden talks about leaving rap behind, creative beefs with Diddy, and how he convinced his new business partners that he isn’t crazy.

---

VIBE: You dedicated so much of your life to rapping. When did you first become comfortable with the idea of leaving music behind?

Joe Budden: I don't know if I was ever comfortable with the idea. I had to condition myself to even pretend to appear comfortable. Early on, it was real tough for me to stick to my guns and say "I'm retired, I'm not rapping, don't ask me for nothing." But I had to do that because I love rapping and I love music, so if I don't do that, you can't be halfway in it and halfway out. If you're in it and you love it, you're right back in it. That took a lot, I can't say that I was ever really comfortable doing it. I don't know if I was ever comfortable with the way it sounded when it rolled off my tongue. People didn't really understand my vision of where I was trying to go, and now people understand in hindsight, but that comfort comes with time.

Do you ever write on your own at home, even if you don't put it out?

No. I've written enough in my professional career, which was part of the reason I decided to retire. You put your blood, sweat, and tears into an album and you think that's where it ends, but no–when you go on tour you're still carrying the life of that album and the life of those songs until you put your next project out. I was writing sh*t down that I was feeling with all my soul and I was living it for the next year and a half to two years, it wasn't very pleasant. So today, when I have those type of thoughts, no, I'm not in a rush to go write them. I kind of enjoy the fact that I don't have to write anything. For so long, we had to write to pay a bill, we had to write in many instances where maybe you weren't even inspired to write because it was your job. That's how passion, creativity, and love gets killed. I kind of re-gained love in retirement, if that makes any sense.

In our last interview, you said that you can't say all of these things about what artists need and what the industry needs to do, and still remain in the industry when you see it going away from that.

You just gotta lead by example. I've always had something to say about the state of the culture and it always boils down to what are you doing to fix it? Throughout my entire career, I can find pockets where I've attempted to do things differently to contribute. It wasn't until I was able to really retire and let go. They say if you love something you gotta let it go, and it just sounds like bullsh*t. But once you actually do it, once it became a selfless act, once I wasn't angry and bitter about my time in music–how can I help everyone else? Sh*t was so fu**ed up for me and goddamn, I fought the fight all of these years, and I relate to you young ni**as. I'm coming off angry ‘cause I’ve never done this before, and I'm passionate, but boy do I relate to y'all. Y'all don't have no information. Y'all getting all this f***ing money and y'all getting robbed without a gun right in front of your face, with all of the tools to do something different. It’s my responsibility, it's my duty ‘til I die. That's the mission. It's going to always be the mission, just in what tool we’re using.

"Puff just needed to know that I was not as psycho as he had read in the past."

Does it feel weird for you to be contributing to the culture from outside of it as opposed to being an artist?

I don't look at it like I'm outside of it. I look at it like I'm running right next to it from outside of it, so yeah, you’re right. But I guess I don't look at it from outside, because the good fight that I'm fighting for musicians and streaming is just musicians rights. Podcasts are streams, so I'm still fighting for the rights of entertainers. It feels different being received the way I'm being received and the way the things I say are perceived today, that feels different. For me, I'm doing the same things that I've always done. I've always been outspoken. I've always been honest. I've always said things that maybe other people were afraid to say. That's been constant through my entire career–it just so happens that the people are behaving like we need it today more than ever, so they're receptive to it.

"‍You know I ain't never really fu**ed with Joe Budden's music like that but we need this sh*t, like you might be the most important n***a out here. I'm gonna keep it a buck." Nothing flatters me more than that. It's the most unbiased, honest critique that you can say. "That thing that you thought you are excellent at, to me, is the worst thing in the world, you didn't add to my life in that. But I see value in you somewhere else." Wow. For a ni**a like me who always hung his hat on MCing, I'm humbled to the highest degree. My mom always said, “whatever attracts them to you is just what attracts them to you. Some people like you ‘cause you’re cute. Some people like you cause you’re funny. Some people like you ‘cause you got money. Welcome them all." So I welcome all these ni**as today.

It’s one thing to just shoot the sh*t with your friends in front of a microphone. But what has the process been like of creating shows and segments from the ground up?

That was practice and experience, probably. That was me at Hot 97 doing the morning show as a 23-year-old falling asleep during a commercial break. That was me sitting in my room doing some internet show called "This Is My Fu**ing Show." This was 2009-2011, I was selling it on iTunes for 99 cents–we didn't know what a podcast was, but that was a podcast. It was being at Complex and learning how to be on camera, Love and Hip Hop learning how to be on camera, and I just bring all that to the podcast and somehow it works. Rory & Mal don't give a f**k about none of that. They’re two ni**as. They’re thinkin' that we kickin' it. It's my job to try to at least simulate some form of structure, that’s where the fun part comes in for me.

How do I apply all of the things I've learned over the years to this show and take what I think broadcasting is to the next level? We’re calling it a podcast but is it a podcast? No, this is broadcasting, my ni**a. We’re reaching Africa. We reaching Egypt. We reaching people all over the fu**ing universe. That’s not a pod. [With] a pod, you think of something tight and very small. Broad means big. I'd like to think that I'm probably the broadest caster. You can plug Joe Budden in anywhere and it's going to work. Reality TV, scripted, unscripted, radio, studio, rap, podcasts, digital, YouTube—where you wanna go? Tell me what you want to do, I’ma find a way to make it work.

You've spoken previously about some of the rappers you look up to. Are there any journalists or media personalities who you look up to?

All of 'em. I look up to Angie, I look up to Clue, I look up to Flex, I look up to Charlamagne. I'm inspired by all of 'em. That's how creativity goes further. You have to pull from all of these different geniuses. But I still want to be myself, I still want to be distinctive in how I deliver, execute and broadcast.

It's interesting because often artists seem to see journalists as wanna be artists outside of the culture.

I can't identify with that because I've never looked at it like that at all. But I see what you mean, I guess in sports, people sh*t on Skip Bayless, like, "You ain't never played, ni**a shut up." I understand what you’re saying there, but I've never looked at it like that. It's what do you have to say, and how do we say it? Period. I've never looked at journalists that way ever. Y'all are really important, which is why y'all have a huge responsibility on y’all as well. The pen is mightier than the sword; I believe that I'm a wordsmith. So when journalists aren’t responsible and take that for granted, then they have a hard day with me.

As a rapper, you’ve had your share of tiffs with other artists. How do you handle pissing off an artist musically versus pissing off an artist as a media personality?

In music, it's a very competitive thing so you never really give a f**k if you pissed somebody off. Just go write a verse. I'm the better rapper, [so] let's prove it. In media, that isn’t the goal. I'm not here to offend people. I'm not here to disrespect people. I'm not here to hurt feelings so if I ever do that, I'll apologize. I'd like to think that I'm armed enough to voice my opinion without just flipping somebody the bird. We can have discourse if that's what the person wants to do. If they don't want to do that, then I don't really feel like we should have an interview in the first place, so it's going to always work out.

When I read about the Spotify and Revolt deals I thought to myself, “Joe doesn't care if he says something that's going to destroy a relationship as he is being his most honest self”–

That's correct. If I'm doing something that could be deemed as ruining a relationship. In Joe's eyes that relationship has been ruined, so there's never really much to salvage there.

But Puff has a lot of relationships.

That's why Puff is Puff, and that's why Joe is Joe. So [you’re asking] how are we going to balance me being the a**hole and a non-social person around Puff who has all of these amazing industry relationships with people I may or may not get along with, yes?

Yes, but it's not just Puff. Spotify has relationships with artists, too. Do you have any fears of there being a clash in that situation?

No. My relationships today are all based on my relationship with that person or entity. It's no longer based on how I respond to other people. That was how I had to deal as a rapper. I couldn't really say nothing bad about you if you were cool with him, and I was cool with him because we're rappers. But post-rap? … I want people to have all the relationships they want and I have my own relationships. Don't get it f**ked up. I'm not like a renegade out here. How I conduct my relationships is very different from how other people conduct theirs. I'm not I guess what you would say "industry." I've never called somebody to play my record. I've never asked somebody to play a record. I'm not massaging a relationship so you could do something for me. I don't give two fu**s about none of that sh*t. I'm here to get the work done and, fortunately, I've built my work to a place where I could do exactly what I want to do and deliver. That's how I was brought on as a partner at Spotify. That's how I was brought on as a partner with Revolt. Puff just needed to know that I was not as psycho as he had read in the past, and I assured him of that.

How did you assure him of that?

Because that's a gift. That's a talent when you see Joe Budden on camera just looking like veins are popping out of his head or looking like he’s uncontrolled or just talking with a lot of conviction. That's an on switch. Once I'm walking off the set, I'm fine. We can kick it. You need to understand that balance if you're going to develop some trust and in any relationship, you need trust–business, personal, romantic. I think in the meetings that I had with Puff, he was able to see that he can trust me. The Spotify deal doesn't get done if they're not able to trust me. I've been in this business for a long time. I've seen how relationships go when you're not to be trusted, when you're viewed as a liar, when you're viewed differently. Remember: I'm the guy that's been viewed differently, so I've been on both sides of the spectrum. So I get it, I understand it all. I don't take none of this sh*t for granted.

You and Diddy are both used to steering your own ships. What was it like to have a situation with two people who are both used to making all the decisions on their own?

I spent all of this past Friday cursing Puffy out. In my head, of course, because I have too much respect for Puff to ever disrespect him. But my point is we had a creative spat all Friday. Friday night around 11:30, we FaceTimed each other and I flipped him the bird like this and he said, "Come on, give it to me. Say it. Say 'f**k you.'" I said, "Yeah, f**k you." He smiled and laughed and he said, “I love you. I want us to be able to fight. I want us to be able to have these types of talks. We’re not gonna always agree, but we have to continue to move forward.” That's what it's like. You need that. I'm a firm believer in that creativity can't live anywhere where you can't fight, where you can't argue, where you can't disagree, where you can't debate, where I can't call you names, where I can't get up and flip this f**king table over. I might want to storm out. "Hey, I'm not talking to you this week, I'll hit you back next week." That's how great sh*t is birthed.

That wasn't happening at Complex. There were a lot of people there who were scared to speak. All the creators felt oppressed, they felt like they weren't really getting the bang for their buck. So to get to Revolt and to fight with Puff for the greater good of something we both care greatly about, I couldn't script it better. Tell me another mogul exec as accomplished as him that's in the mud. This is the mud. I left Complex in December 2017, we're premiering the show in September 2018. That's eight months of me and Puff and Robyn (Lattaker-Johnson, Revolt TV’s head of content) and John and Andre Harrell and whoever having creative differences. We could have written something out. Complex wrote 20 shows out since I left there; ask me about them. Or better yet, I'll ask you about them. You can't tell me the name; they're going to fail, they're really bad. That's what happens when you rush things. We weren't in a rush. It's going to look like we weren't in a rush.

A lot of your best work has stemmed from pain, but now you seem pretty happy: you have a partner, a new child, and you’re now working on your own terms. When Royce Da 5’9” stopped drinking, he said he had to convince himself that he could create without alcohol. Did you have to convince yourself that you could create while being happy?

Good question. After my album, All Love Lost, my good friend Emanny moved to LA. He's been my vocalist for a lot of years. We write music together, so that was a big blow to me when he left because I had to convince myself I could write music without my guy. We come up with melodies, he's my singer, he's my vocalist. Today, rap is all about melodies. "Wow, my melody guy is leaving, sh*t." I was stuck with that at one point. Then I got in there and I said, “You know what? I'm a rapper. I'm good at rap, [the] f**k are you talking about? Go rap.” I went on Rage & The Machine, and that's why every beat just sounded like a different ni**a rapping, flow-wise. I was like, “All right, what I’ma do? We’re not rapping about pain, we wanna be happy. We’re not trying to be sad and depressed and my vocalist was gone, what’s up?” And boy, I loved it. Loved the experience, loved how it came out.

I ain't even attempt to rhyme a word since that album, so it's been a few years. I've been happy and the universe has been responding to me, and they're cheapening the value of music every day. When I just look at things in totality, it's like why would I rap? Is it for the money? No. Is it to prove something? No, I've done that. Is it to give my fans another project? No, I’ve got 16. Is it to show the young people I can rap? No. What do you have to say? Have you said everything you want to say for today? Yeah. For today, my mission is greater.

I can't just be responsible for the 50,000 people that are gonna buy my album. I have to be responsible for the 2 million people that listen to a podcast a week like it's a much greater responsibility to the world. I'll be 40 years old in two years, but my birthday is Friday (August 31). Like, enough. For what? Yeah, no. God is good. Now because God is good and because the universe is so great and because we're full of so much gratitude, maybe one day down the line I’ll sit at home in a rocking chair. I'll pull a pen out and I'll say, "You know what, man? Let me just fu**ing write 12 bars and see if I still got it." And I'll toss it out there just because I can. But I can't predict that. I may have too much fun.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Ian Reid

Let Jacquees Tell It, He’s The Jodeci Of This R&B Game

Rodriquez Jacquees Broadnax doesn’t want to be the bad guy of R&B. He says this with a sinister, yet warm smile. With year-end debates taking over social circles, Jacquees wants all the flowers for his glowing debut, 4275. “I ain't never had a year like this, I got one of those careers and lives that keep going like this,” he says, as he raises his iced out wrist to draw his progression. “It keeps going up, my sh*t just keeps going up.”

At 24 years old, the singer knows a thing or two about the ever-changing genre. Nearly half of his life has been dedicated to music, specifically to quiet storm-like sounds that now take on new meaning in our adult love lives. He’s hibernated under the radar for some time with his 2014 debut EP 19 and released gentle falsettos and big name features with Chris Brown, Ty Dolla $ign and Trey Songz along the way.

But between his accolades, he’s been condemned for his favorable “Quemix” of Ella Mai’s “Trip” and now, his self-proclaimed status of “The King of R&B” for his generation.

"I just wanna let everybody know that I'm the king of R&B right now," Jacquees said in an Instagram post on Sunday (Dec. 9). "For this generation, I understand who done came and who done did that and that and that, but now it's my time. Jacquees, the king of R&B.”

R&B artists like J. Holiday and Pleasure P shared their two cents on the matter while the game’s most elite like Tank, Tyrese and Eric Bellinger dropping stacks of knowledge on the gift of consistency, respect, and talent. But Jacquees has these things and then some with legends like Jon B., Donell Jones and Jermaine Dupri in his corner. Despite quick reactions from his peers, Jacquees is confident in nature and proud of his space in the game.

“I think I'm the leader though, as far as males go, I think I'm the number one,” he tells VIBE, just days before his “King of R&B” comments went viral. “You're talking about R&B young dudes who understand who goin’ [at] it, [but] who are they going to put in the front? I believe everyone will say Jacquees.”

Jacquees’ music is just a branch of what R&B has evolved into. Over the years, artists like SZA, H.E.R., Daniel Caesar, The Internet, Miguel and many more have flipped the genre on its head by churning out music that not only speaks to the soul, but to their vocal abilities. Successful R&B records aren’t confined to rap guest verses and traditional instruments now take center stage. But Jacquees sits in an interesting space seeing as his style caters to a grey area of folks who just heard their first Monica album yesterday and now appreciate a good nayhoo like the rest of us.

With hopes to release his sophomore album in February 2019, Jacquees chats with VIBE about his confidence, making 7275 and why he’s the perfect leader for R&B today.

__

What have you learned about yourself as a human and an artist in 2018?

Jac

quees: This was my biggest year. I made the most money I’ve ever made. I dropped my album and was able to take care of my family. I ain’t never had a year like this and I thank God for that. I got one of those careers and lives that keep going like this, (slowly raises a hand to the ceiling) It keeps going up, my sh*t just keeps going up.

I think I learned about my whole self in 2018. Being that it was my biggest year, I went through a lot of stuff personally, but I think the biggest thing for me was listening to other people but also trusting myself. I have a strong mind so more of listening to myself helped.

Do you think you're the good guy or the bad guy in R&B?

Who do you think I am?

I think you’re a sweetie.

I don’t wanna be the bad guy, I’m a good guy. I’m easy to deal with. I’m a sweetie, but ain’t sh*t sweet though. (Laughs)

You have a lot of ‘90s and 2000s influence in your music. Do you ever feel you might sound dated, or do you think you’re bringing new sounds into the genre?

I just think I'm bringing a whole new sound. When I was younger, someone told me if you switch up what you’re doing, someone else is going to do it and you’re going to be pissed off. Just stick with it. When I was 14, everyone was telling me I needed to make club records but I didn’t want to do it. I remember CEOs saying, “Just let Jacquees do that [what he wants,]” because it’s a clock.

I figured out how to get my records at the club without changing who I was. I remember making “B.E.D.” and finding my flow on my project 19, you know? That’s when I got my swag.

What does love look like to you right now?

I think about a family. I think about me, a girl, a kid or something, like a whole family. One day I’m going to have it. I’ll still be in the game but I’ll say, “Yeah, that’s my wife over there with our son and daughter.” I'm getting older, too. I’ve been in the game for 10 years for real, but I’ll be 25 next year and soon they’ll be a little Jacquees.

There are a lot of layers in today’s R&B, especially in the mainstream resurgence it’s had. In that, there aren’t as many young male black vocalists being pushed to the forefront. I want to know your thoughts on where you exist in the genre today.

I think there's a big wave coming back right now because even if R&B didn't die down they weren’t promoting it that heavy. Artists were making songs, they just weren’t being acknowledged on a mainstream level. I think the game is really putting R&B back on top. You know, you’ve got artists like me, Tory [Lanez], Ella Mai, H.E.R., so many people, you know what I’m saying? Of course, you had Chris [Brown], Trey [Songz], all of them but that’s when we were in school. It’s a new time, ain’t no big male R&B singers.

I think I'm the leader though, as far as males go, I think I'm the number one. You're talking about R&B young dudes who understand who goin’ [at] it, [but] who are they going to put in the front? I believe everyone will say Jacquees. They’re not rugged like me. You’ve got Jodeci and Boyz II Men. I’m Jodeci, they’re all Boyz II Men. I’m street, they’re not street like me. You can hear it in their voice. There’s a difference.

It’s no disrespect to nobody because they’re all my friends, but I still wanna be number one. If we’re playing the game and I lose, I’ll be mad as hell but I’m still a good person. I just want to win.

As you should. Everyone wants to make the best music they can–

But I ain’t no hater either. The game is like a sport. The game is like high school. I remember being at this year’s BET Awards and seeing certain singers and thinking, ‘Oh, they’re seniors.’ I knew I was a freshman, but I saw Meek and all of them thought, “He’s a senior.’ You know how it is when you walk through school in the first year. Then the second you’re like, “I’m the ni**a now.”

When I did the Soul Train Awards in November, I felt like a sophomore that everybody knew. They knew me from my freshman year, but this time I’m playing varsity.

You’ve said before you want to do this for a long time–

Yeah, I want to make music forever and it’s my choice. I want to make enough money for me to turn down shows because now, I have to take everything I get. I always tell artists, you got this much time to make this much money. Because after that, sh*t’s closed. I've seen it happen.

For me, I know I got longevity in this game because I'm an R&B singer and a lot of R&B singers have longevity if you take care of yourself, you know what I'm saying? Even rappers, you know what I'm saying? You keep that flow going, don't do no lame sh*t, you know you’re stick around.

How do you take care of yourself?

You gotta take care of your health. That's number one. Your mind and your health is your biggest thing. Keeping good people around you...stay in good spirits with me. I like to keep good people around me. I like people around me [who] make me laugh. Smile, I don't really like people around me that I got to be like, “What's going on?” I just like people who are themselves.

Stream 4275 below.

READ MORE: Tyrese, Usher And Others Reacts To Jacquees' Claim That He's The King Of R&B

Continue Reading
Adger Cowans/Getty Images

Music Sermon: The Groundbreaking Sprite and St. Ides Hip-Hop Campaigns

Today, rap music is used to sell everything from electronics to tax filing services to nut butter grinding machines at Whole Foods. We understand that hip-hop culture is essentially the root of everything cool and hip in culture, period, and it’s been commodified and appropriated within an inch of its life. But in the early ‘90s, the genre was far from Madison Avenue-friendly. Aside from the groundbreaking deal between Adidas and RUN DMC, brands didn’t yet see full value and impact of hip-hop…except in the food and beverage industry.

Beverage companies centering campaigns for the urban demo around black music was nothing new; Coca-Cola had ads featuring artists such as New Edition and Anita Baker singing their hearts out for the cola in the ‘80s, and Schlitz Malt Liquor had a legendary – and hilarious - run of spots featuring The Commodores, The Four Tops, Teddy Pendergrass and more through the ‘70s and early ‘80s. However, in the early ‘90s two brands put their entire business on hip-hop’s back, by not only building their brands but spring-boarding the recognition of the music and artists as a marketing and advertising tool: Sprite soda and St. Ides malt liquor.

In the ‘80s, Sprite was languishing behind competitor 7Up when parent company Coca-Cola decided to focus on the youth market, and the quickly growing hip-hop culture was part of the strategy. African-American ad agency Burrell Communications tagged hip-hop acts for a series of spots that began a long-standing marriage between the brand and the culture, starting with Kurtis Blow in 1986. It was one of the first national TV ads to feature a rapper.

KURTIS BLOW - 1986

In 1990, the brand kicked off the “I Like the Sprite in You” campaign, using rap acts that matched the soft drink’s bubbly energy, starting with Heavy D & the Boyz before partnering with Kid ’n Play the following year. The ads featured the artists clad in lemon-lime fare, rhymin’ about lymon.

HEAVY D - 1990 KID’N PLAY – 1991

With Kris Kross, they turned it up a notch and had us crunk inside the Sprite can. Edgy. Also, this was catchy as hell.

KRIS KROSS - 1993

Then in 1994, a young brand manager from Clark Atlanta University named Darryl Cobbin had an idea for a new direction: Gen X was about authenticity and independence of thought, not following the hype. Sprite ditched the pop-friendly crossover acts and identified more “authentic” rap artists – lyricists with street and cultural cred – to rep the brand. “Lymon” was also out of the window, as they moved away from marketing taste and towards marketing attitude. (Cobbin later spearheaded the iconic, yet grammatically questionable, Boost Mobile “Where You At?” campaign.)

Gone were the bright yellow and green sets, because while the new slogan said, “Image is nothing,” it was all about image. Bright and shiny was traded for dark and gritty. Now we were in the studio; a fly on the wall for freestyle sessions. In the first spot of the series with Grand Puba and Large Professor, Puba closes with “First thing’s first, obey your thirst.” It’s legend even within Coca-Cola that Puba ad-libbed the phrase that then became the brand’s tagline that remains to this day.

GRAND PUBA & LARGE PROFESSOR - 1994 PETE ROCK & CL SMOOTH – 1994 A TRIBE CALLED QUEST – 1994

The “Obey Your Thirst” spots also took us the street corner, the club, and inside the ring when Sprite resurrected the legendary KRS One vs. MC Shan battle.

KRS ONE & MC SHAN - 1996 NAS & AZ – 1997 THE LOST BOYS – 1997

By the late ‘90s Sprite had spent roughly $70M on the “Obey Your Thirst” campaign, tripled sales, and commanded a majority market share of the citrus category (which also included 7Up, Sierra Mist, and Mountain Dew).

Sprite had also succeeded in becoming an official and established part of the culture. They were family. The brand further expanded into urban youth culture through a partnership with the NBA, while continuing to evolve the creative of the rap campaigns.

KOBE BRYANT, TIM DUNCAN & MISSY ELLIOTT – 1998

Near the end of the decade, Sprite explored the overlap between hip-hop culture, comics and martial arts with a series of posse spots based on Voltron (representing all hip-hop regions) and the 5 Deadly Venoms (with all female emcees).

VOLTRON SERIES - 1998 5 DEADLY VENOMS SERIES – 1999

Over the years, Sprite has continued to be one of the most consistent brands in hip-hop. We’ve grown accustomed to spotting the logo everywhere from music festivals and shows to the background of BET’s hip-hop cyphers. They revitalized the “Obey Your Thirst” campaign with Drake in 2010 and paid homage to the greatest lyricists in rap with the “Obey Your Verse” campaign featuring iconic rappers and cans with classic lyrics in 2015.

SPRITE "Obey Your Verse - Cooler" (starring Rakim) from SHOUT IT OUT LOUD MUSIC on Vimeo.

St. Ides’ run with hip-hop doesn’t have the same happy ending as Sprite’s. The brand’s usage of rap petered out in the mid-90s after wide backlash and a series of lawsuits.

For St. Ides, hip-hop was the brand campaign. It’s how they built their business. The brand was introduced in 1987 and their rap campaigns launched in 1988. The malt liquor 40 oz., with significantly higher alcohol content than beer at around a $2 price point, was already a staple in lower-income neighborhoods and hip-hop culture. The “Crooked I” capitalized on that.

Parent company McKenzie River secured Ice Cube as their anchor spokesperson and tapped West Coast producer DJ Pooh to spearhead advertising creative. Pooh lined up a veritable who’s who of additional West Coast rappers over the years, including Geto Boys, Cypress Hill, Warren G, Snoop and Tupac; plus the thorough-est from the East, including Eric B and Rakim, Wu-Tang Clan, Biggie and EPMD.

EPMD & ICE CUBE - 1991 GETO BOYS & ICE CUBE – 1992 ERIC B & RAKIM - 1992

Unlike Sprite’s campaigns which were first jingles and still felt like commercials, even when elevated to trading hot bars for Obey Your Thirst. St. Ides spots, however, looked and felt like straight up music videos with album-worthy production and flow.

ICE CUBE – 1993 MC EIHT – 1994 NOTORIOUS B.I.G. – 1995

Complex even named Wu-Tang’s St. Ides spot “Shaolin Brew” as one of the collective’s 100 best songs! (But at least it’s ranked near the bottom; #97.)

WU-TANG CLAN - 1995

In fact, in 1994, the brand did turn the hottest of the joints into an album, with the St. Ides promotional mixtape dropping at your neighborhood liquor store. It featured full-length songs about getting twisted off the malt liquor from Ice Cube, Wu-Tang Clan, Scarface, MC Eiht, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Nate Dogg.

The Snoop and Nate track is low key a jam, still. Homegirl in the background starting at the 10-second mark is a whole mood.

This blatant marketing of malt liquor directly to black and brown youth wasn’t going to go unchecked indefinitely. It was all irresponsible, even while being genius for the demo. In 1991, the Wall Street Journal listed the St. Ides ad campaign among one of the worst of the year, which probably didn’t matter at the time since WSJ readers weren’t St. Ides’ base.

In 1991, Public Enemy released Apocalypse ’91: The Empire Strikes Back. The album featured “100 Bottle Bags,” a direct criticism against malt liquor companies marketing specifically to urban communities “…but they don’t sell that sh*t in the white neighborhoods.” Shortly after the release, St. Ides found itself in Chuck D’s crosshairs, and he fired the first in a series of big shots against the brand, marking the beginning of the end of their love affair with hip-hop. An 80-second radio spot featuring Cube used a sample of Chuck’s voice without his permission. The ad had already aired over 500 times on rap radio shows when Chuck sued St. Ides parent company McKenzie River for five million dollars (they settled out of court).

Then, St. Ides and McKenzie River fell under legal scrutiny from the New York State Attorney General in 1992 for using verbiage like Cube’s lyric “Get your girl in the mood quicker, make your jimmy thicker…St. Ides.” to suggest the malt liquor increased sexual prowess. Can you imagine the think pieces if that spot ran today?

They were later in hot water with the New York AG’s office again, along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco (the ATF) for advertising perceived to the be targeted towards minors, with complaints that it glamorized gang affiliation and promoted sex. After having production completely shut down for a short while and getting hit with heavy fines, St. Ides tried to clean up its act, adding “drink responsibly” messaging into the spots.

By ’96 the run was over. Hip-hop was growing up, getting money and moving towards more sophisticated alcoholic beverage choices. Alizé and Hennessy, anyone?

The relationship between hip-hop and alcohol never ended, of course, but has continued to evolve to match the evolution of the lifestyle. We don’t go to the corner store no more, homie (save a brief return in the early aughts of Four Loko). We’re toasting to the good life with premium brands, some of which are now owned by the artists.

We can look back now with the wizened, woke eyes of maturity and possibly scrutinize our artists selling out at the expense of the community, but for the young and burgeoning hip-hop culture, both the St. Ides campaigns and the Sprite campaigns opened the door for the power and commodification of hip-hop and consumer brands. For better or for worse.

Continue Reading
Getty Images

J.Cole, Teyana Taylor And Other Snubs Of The 2019 Grammy Nominations

It's that time of year again when inner circles and strangers on the Internet debate who's up for a gramophone.

On Friday (Dec. 7), the nominees for 2019's Grammy Awards (Feb. 10) were announced to a span of hot takes, early but informed predictions, and a wall of confusion as to why certain artists were overlooked. While some entertainers excitedly received the good news (Cardi B discovered her nods while leaving a courthouse), others were left scratching their heads.

Here's a look at why those who were snubbed by the Recording Academy deserved to be nominated.

READ MORE: Drake, Kendrick Lamar, And Cardi B Lead 2019 Grammys Nominations

__

Continue Reading

Top Stories