MTV Video Music Awards 2009 - Arrivals - New York MTV Video Music Awards 2009 - Arrivals - New York
Musician Kanye West and Amber Rose arrive at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, held at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City, NY, USA. (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

7 Problems With Music Award Shows And How To Fix Them

When did award shows become so mundane and out of touch? VIBE pinpoints seven problems with music award shows, and how to fix them.

When Eminem walked down Sixth Avenue towards Radio City Music Hall during the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards, it was both a performance that captured the carefree, rebellious nature of those pre-9/11 times and one that would likely be met with serious backlash and controversy today thanks to its racial undertones and today’s on-edge, Trump-fueled political climate. Hundreds of young, white men with bleached blonde hair being led by their leader Eminem through the streets of New York draws uncomfortable parallels to today’s battle between the left and right (and far right), but it’s exactly that type of society-shaking performance that is missing from the awards shows of today.

At the time though, it was just cool, creative and really what we had come to expect from the MTV VMAs: a show that consistently pushed the boundaries and was as much must-see television as you could get during the ‘90s and early 2000s. Which begs the question: what the hell happened? Not just to the VMAs, but music awards shows as a whole. When did they become so mundane and out of touch with the current state of music? Awards shows have all but lost their strong social and political stances communicated through defiant performances and quite frankly, a tendency to go “off-script.” Here, we take a look at seven problems with music award shows and give suggestions on how to fix them.

1.  New Artist Awards Don’t Award “New Artists”

Chance the Rapper won The Grammys’ Best New Artist award at the February 2017 ceremony. The same year, Forbes included Chance the Rapper on its top-earning celebrities list with a take of some $33 million USD (that’s a lot of coloring books). And while the Grammys have changed the eligibility requirements for its Best New Artist award, it’s still a baffling moment each year. Another example comes from 2018 where Alessia Cara, already a massive star with several hit singles, won the award. The win was met with backlash, and with good reason. Cara was anything but a “new artist” and had already cemented a career.

HOW TO FIX IT: The eligibility period for the 2019 Grammy Awards runs from Oct 1, 2017 through September 30, 2018. If the Grammys are going to be a true reflection of the musical landscape during that time frame and award the “best new artist” this year, it should go to someone like a  6ix 9ine. The controversial NYC rapper will go into the 2019 ceremony on the strength of several gold and platinum singles along with a gold mixtape for his ‘Day69’ release. The point here is the award should be capturing the relevancy of the previous eligibility period and going to an artist who actually is “new” (or close to it), and not be based upon whether or not a label or manager submits someone for consideration too late and then retrieves accolades that should have been given years prior (like in Alessia Cara’s case). If the award is going to continue to be given out to already established artists, it will detract from the relevancy of the award, and the crop of artists being submitted for it will continue to decline. In hindsight, in the streaming era, what is even a “new artist” anyway? When songs are being discovered a year after their release (“Boo’d Up,” anyone?) and artists are “blowing up” multiple years after their debut, maybe the whole notion of this award has gotten stale and irrelevant.

2. Too Much Bad Comedy And Poor Hosts

Here’s the thing about comedy: most of the best comedic performances, whether in film or in a comedy club, have the element of improv attached to them. When comedy is constrained by a script of subpar jokes written by writers who a) the host is not familiar with, and b) wouldn’t know good comedy if hit them in the face with a hot mic, it comes across as unnatural and simply unfunny. Whether it was Chelsea Handler’s brutal turn as VMA host in 2010 or Katy Perry doing whatever Katy Perry did in 2017, forcing people to be funny is never funny.

HOW TO FIX IT: It doesn’t matter if it’s the BET Awards or The Grammy Awards, the best nights of the year on Twitter are typically awards show nights. Everyone from well-known media personalities like Desus of Desus & Mero to your average music fan gets in on the action of tweeting hilarious memes and comments as the show rolls along. For example, here are some gems of awards shows past:


Producers take note – for 2019 this is what we’re doing. No more bad comedians, awkward celebrities, or has-been musicians hosting these shows. No, it’s almost 2020 and we need to take this to where everyone wants this to go anyways—when Twitter hosts the award show. Run a contest leading up to the show or mine Twitter data for the funniest of the bunch and have these personalities (and hilarious everyday music fans) hosting the show via their Tweets. Hell, we already pay more attention to the timeline than the show, anyways.

3. Award Shows Aren’t Actually Capturing the Popular Music Landscape

In 2017, rap music passed rock to become the most popular musical genre. And even before rap had officially taken the lead, the influence of the music and hip-hop culture as a whole had driven popular culture for years with a grip on the charts and radio. So why is it then that whenever the musical line-up for an awards show is announced, whether it’s the AMAs, The Grammys or the VM’s, hip-hop, while sometimes represented, is typically represented the least. Let’s look at the list of performers for the 2018 iteration of the American Music Awards (airing Oct. 9) as an example: Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello, Taylor Swift, Panic! At the Disco, Dua Lipa, Ciara with Missy Elliott, Cardi B, Benny Blanco, Mariah Carey, Post Malone with Ty Dolla Sign, and Carrie Underwood.

If we look at the 11 performers announced thus far, we have two main hip-hop act performers in Cardi and Post Malone, with a guest spot by Missy. This isn’t to suggest that artists like Camila Cabello and Carrie Underwood don’t deserve their spot on the show, but one has to ask whether it’s necessary to have Shawn Mendes on every single award show and whether Mariah Carey’s spot could be better filled with a rap artist of relevancy.

HOW TO FIX IT: This is one of the easier issues to fix—start reflecting popular music. Isn’t that what awards shows are now? Isn’t that what they’ve always been? Why is it now that rap is the most popular musical genre that the shows hold on to the old? Sure, Panic! At The Disco is a great group but outside of their core fanbase, are they relevant? Are people demanding a Mariah Carey performance in 2018? Pop and rock should be the exception, not the rule anymore.

4. There Is No Controversy Anymore

The image of Kanye West standing on the red carpet, Henny bottle in hand, and with Amber Rose by his side at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards foreshadowed that something special was about to happen. Now cemented in awards show history, as Taylor Swift accepted her award for “Best Female Video,” Kanye West, obliterated off that aforementioned cognac bottle, stormed the stage arguing that Beyonce had the “greatest video of all-time” and should have won the award.

Looking back now, it pales in comparison to Mr. West’s current campaign in support of Donald Trump. But at the time it was a truly shocking, viral moment. It even shocked Beyonce herself. Or how about the time Ol’ Dirty Bastard, fresh off throwing on his Superman cape and saving a young girl trapped under a car, jumped on the Grammys stage to proclaim that Puffy was good but Wu-Tang was for the children?

As outlandish as these moments were, they were unscripted and raw.

HOW TO FIX IT: A simple way to fix this would be to have Hennessy sponsor every award show, providing all attendees with mini bottles of the “yack” as they enter the show, and let the fun begin. But if we’re being realistic and politically correct, simply let the shows flow more naturally. Be less structured. Sit foes next to each other. Give open mics to the likes of Kanye West. Bring controversial figures to the show. Hell, we currently have a President that can’t turn down a camera and microphone. Could you imagine if the American Music Awards or VMAs announced that Donald Trump would be a presenter? Don’t pretend your a** wouldn’t be glued to your television with your finger on the tweet button. Or maybe, instead of more useless presenter banter or a forgettable music performance, we have a live version of the Joe Budden Podcast interviewing Eminem.

5. Nobody Cares About The Awards Themselves… Except Maybe Album Of The Year

Who won Collaboration of the Year at the 2017 American Music Awards? How about Best Male R&B/Pop Artist at the 2016 BET Awards? Who won Song of the Year at the 2018 Grammy Awards? The point here is that many of the awards given out on music award shows are largely forgettable. There is no denying that the Grammy for Album of the Year is one that still holds high esteem and much debate. No one will ever forget how Eminem lost out on the award in 2001 to veteran rockers Steely Dan. Or how Taylor Swift beat out Kendrick’s modern masterpiece To Pimp A Butterfly, or how Beyonce has continually been shut out from the award despite her revolutionary surprise self-titled album in 2013. So, if awards don’t matter, what are awards shows really?

HOW TO FIX IT: Embrace what award shows really are. People tune in to awards show to watch the red carpet, see once-in-a-lifetime (or at least once-in-a-year) performances, and hope for a stage fall or controversial moment to talk about on social media. In some ways, award shows are really just concerts. When you go to a concert, you hope to see some good openers (i.e. the red carpet), your favorite artist perform a song they haven’t in a long time, or a surprise collaboration (i.e. what Drake’s OVO Fest was), and you have your camera out hoping to catch a viral moment (i.e. the equivalent of your dual screen watching when awards shows are on). The positioning of awards shows needs to change.

6. The Shows Are Too (Damn) Long

In 2018, people are busy and have many entertainment options. With the advent of streaming and all-you-can-consume media services, the notion that people will devote three hours (or more in the case of the Grammy Awards) to a music awards show is laughable. The old adage of “less is more” almost applies universally. Food, sports, and TV have all been affected (and modified) to free up time for people and speed up the end of the event or program. Look at baseball; Major League Baseball continues to implement new rules and enhancements to speed up the game because they know the 18-34 demographic (and older for that matter) have other things to do. Why haven’t music awards shows caught on to this notion? It’s like they try to cram the shows with as much content as possible hoping for that one viral moment or something that will catch viewers' attention over the course of an exhausting three-plus hour marathon.

The 2018 Grammy Awards were over three and a half hours long. It was like a triple album of technical difficulties, not-so-special performances, and what felt like forced political stances throughout.

HOW TO FIX IT: Quite simply: shorten the shows. The ideal makeup of a music award show in 2018 should be 75 percent dedicated to performances, 15 percent dedicated to awards (the ones that matter) and 10 percent dedicated to host and presenter banter—and all this should happen in the confines of two hours. I mean, sh*t, we have episodes of Ozark to watch.

7. There Are Too Many Award Shows

The biggest problem with music award shows is that, quite simply, there are too many damn music awards shows. The AMAs. The VMAs. The Billboard Music Awards. The BET Awards. The Grammy Awards. And unless someone is planning to bring back the VIBE Awards and have Young Buck go full Dr. Dre defense mode again, we need to condense this down. The reality is most of the shows award the same awards to the same artists. In the case of the Billboard Music Awards, it’s simply a popularity contest (and the last Billboard Music Awards I remember is when Miguel leg-dropped that girl). And let’s be honest, what are the AMAs now? It was once the home to iconic performances from the likes of Whitney Houston and Prince and now the show just blends into the next one with little to remember months down the road.

HOW TO FIX IT: As Spotify continues to seemingly run away with the music industry, the one thing that the record labels and the traditional music industry infrastructure still have at its disposable are awards shows. Here’s an idea: why don’t the respective production companies and networks (outside of The Grammy Awards which, against better judgment, will always continue to march on its own) get together, combine resources and create an annual award show that people actually anticipate. One that is built on quality, planning and great performances. It would likely be easier to get the A-listers *cough* Drake *cough* Jay and Bey – to show up.

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15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

Hip-hop may have become the Nielsen Music-declared most dominant music genre, but let's not overlook the strides R&B (including all its many sub-genres and cousin genres) have taken on the airwaves and within the culture in this year alone.

While persistent naysayers keep peddling the tired argument that "R&B is dead," the most recent news cycle has proven the exact opposite, as talks of a supposed King of R&B dominated discussions both on- and offline. Jacquees' lofty declaration notwithstanding, there's no denying that there are ample songs swimming around the 'Net from talented vocalists killing it within the genre.

For those looking to satiate rhythm and blues earworms—and in no particular order—VIBE compiled a list of the 15 bonafide R&B songs of 2018 (or at least ones that fall within the genre's orbit) that pulled us into our feelings each and every time we pressed play.

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

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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?


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

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.)


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.

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