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Hip Hop Two-Step Over Product Placement


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April 06, 2005

Hip Hop Two-Step Over Product Placement

David Kiley

Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam, is the unofficial Dean of hip-hop. But in a chat I had with him the other day, his attitude about product placement makes me seriously wonder about this music form and what it stands for. Or, maybe I just don't get it.

We talked about the McDonald's offer to hip-hop artists to write songs that the fast food company would approve, featuring Big Mac in the lyrics. McDonald's then pays the artist and his or her company some amount of money--$1-$2 perhaps--per radio play. Simmons told me the deal was "all good." But, he added, that the deal may not get off the ground because the firm handling it leaked the story to Advertising Age. Simmons says the deal was okay when people didn't know how it worked. Now that they do, it probably won't work. Huh? This sounds like, "It's not a crime unless you get caught" thinking.

I don't pretend to know a lot about hip-hop and rap. I'm more of a Van Morrison/Eric Clapton fan. But what I do know is that there is a lot of lyrics about bling and money in hip hop. Simmons had a curious idea about how to save the deal. He says rappers could write lyrics about how they are getting all this money from McDonald's for writing a song about Big Mac. It will be funny and tie into a theme of African Americans being exploited by white corporate America, but getting rich at the same time. The, the theme is about young African Americans exploiting McDonald's desire to exploit hip-hop. Okay. But how many will be able to do that.

I spoke with McDonald's too, of course. Turns out they had no intention of the details of the deal leaking out. I called the firm who did the leaking, Maven of Lanham, Md., and was told the executives were traveling and couldn't get back to me. What, no cell phones?

Brand placement is no stranger to rap and hip hop. P. Diddy wrote and recorded a song called "Pass The Courvoisier" after Simmons cut a deal with the cognac's marketer to reposition the brand in the hip hop community. Simmons said no money changed hands in order to get P. Diddy to write that song. Okay. But given that Simmons said the McDonald's deal would have been fine if the details hadn't leaked, his insistence that no money changed hands to get that brand placement is hard to swallow. I'm not calling Simmons a fabricator. It's just that there is a credibility problem and plenty of room for doubt because of the way these product placement deals are being cut.

10:47 AM

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I'm a little late in responding. I just read the article but I'm curious. Why in the hell would you write about something you know absolutely nothing about? As I read the article, I felt embrassed for you. There is no way you could be that stupid. Peace, blessings and stay white....

Posted by: Rhaka at August 23, 2005 06:02 PM

I agree with the first post. I'd also like to add that Russell is not just the "Father of hip-hop" but one of the most successful entreprenuers alive. Don't misinterpret his unorthodox style for a bad business tactic. He extends past the music business and know's how to connect with his target culture. Let me say that again, he knows how to connect with his target culture. I read your article and right after, i too felt embarassed for you.

Better luck next time.

Posted by: Amr at October 13, 2005 10:54 PM

I just dont think that you should talk about money in this who cares about money in a song they are just like wow they are talking about money in the song thats all you talk about and y you write a song about a freakeing BIG MAC i would not like to hear a song that has BIG MAC in it i would like to hear plain old hip hop and rap songs on the radio and why do you have $1-$2 in it thats stuipd to have that well all i am trying to say is that dont write about a BIG MAC ok or money.

Posted by: heather at October 18, 2005 10:24 PM

In reply to Rhaka he wasn't writing about the merits of Rap per se but rather a business aspect of the entertainment industry, because it is an INDUSTRY. And as he writes for BusinessWeek he probably does know something about it...and he knows how to spell "embarrassed" too. Yup these "musicians" are mostly shills for big business interests with no integrity. Oh yeah when the man says something you don't like it's suddenly a white/black thing. Nah, it's a green thing, seen? These people are disgracefully promoting a negative/violent stereotype about blacks for the almighty dollar, and if they're willing to sell out to the highest bidder, whether it's liquor (poison) or junk food (poison) then what does that say about how they regard their fans, who are mostly, um, white? Listen to Mos Def/Common/MadLib and Del for REAL hip hop. BTW I'm white, peace.

Posted by: C-Note at February 5, 2007 10:54 PM

Amr and Rhaka. You're missing the point. Kiley isn't saying it's a bad business plan. Just saying that this used to be called selling out. I think it suggests we accept marketing in our art. Don't say the 'stay white' thing. Make statements like that beneath you.

Posted by: YT at February 9, 2007 12:14 AM

Russell Simmons the father of hip-hop? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought it was born in the streets of the Bronx from Caribbean parentage where Jamaican DJ's patter over riddims was reborn and reworked into a brand new verbal form. The author David Kiley may not know hip hop but it's a valid point about dishonest marketing no matter what your skin color, culture, or musical taste is. Covertly shilling for junk food that is destructive to good health may be good business, but at best it's bad citizenship and at worst it's Russell pissing on his own community.

Posted by: Ntosm at February 12, 2007 08:59 PM


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