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Hip Hop Two-Step Over Product Placement

Posted by: David Kiley on April 6, 2005

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.

Reader Comments


August 23, 2005 6:02 PM

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....


October 13, 2005 10:54 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.


October 18, 2005 10:24 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.


February 5, 2007 10:54 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.


February 9, 2007 12:14 AM

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.


February 12, 2007 8:59 PM

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.


May 16, 2007 7:18 PM



June 16, 2007 8:22 PM

David Kiley, why are you even wasting bandwidth with this article? What exactly is the purpose of it?

I know it's a few years old, but that is even more reason to why it's absurd that this is still archived on the internet.


July 26, 2007 6:15 AM

I dont think its a stretch when rappers say they like Mcdonalds, as it's both tasty and, more importantly, POPULAR. If Russell Simmons was representing Athletes, we wouldnt be having this discussion. Mutual interest, mutual benefit is what this represents. People just like to think they're worse off hearing a Brand someone paid to insert, rather than a Brand picked at whim or fancy. If your favorite artist lies in their music, Mcdonalds isnt the only thing spinkled into the mix..however, it just might be the one a rapper COULD have been paid for. Oh well, c'est la vie..


August 24, 2007 5:54 PM

OHHHHHHHHHH a credibility problem...just like the product placment in movies esp. all the big actin movies. seeing coke cans randomly in a film. or james bond driving an Aston Martin then going to a BMW (cause they paid for it in goldeneye) then going back to the Aston Martin (CHA CHING$$$$) but all of that seems ok, right go through all the recent blockbuster movies, what about the so called white music he listens to van morrison and clapton the get paid to do the same stuff

like eminem said WHITE AMERICA!..but this guy is to blinded by his skin to see that.

Rican Princess

September 14, 2007 1:27 PM

In reply to: Ntosm…Yes Russell Simmons is the father of hip-hop. I will correct you because you are wrong. Nowhere is it stated that he “created” HIP-HOP, although I will back you in the part of it being born in the streets of Bronx to Jamaica. Russell Simmons is an entrepreneur and helped the rise of HIP HOP. I think you should read Russell’s book called, “Do You! 12 Laws to Access the power in you to achieve happiness and success”. Might help you think better.

P.S-Next time don’t quote off someone elses word that is called plagiarism.
P.S.S-Peace and Blessings to all…

arnotte payne

September 26, 2007 7:16 AM

i dont know im just a south african chief - shot

Deth March

October 23, 2007 6:50 PM

Rap and Hip Hop don't exist anymore. Just like punk is dead and Skateboarding et. al. So let them create garbage to sell garbage. America is about making money. The fans are the cattle.


November 18, 2007 10:14 PM

i think what is trying to be said is that hip hop started off being against the corporations that are now using them for product placement. the artists may be benefiting financially from the endorsement money but the effects it is having on the hip hop community is being spent on the very products in the songs

One Grand

December 5, 2007 4:05 PM

I would like to know whether or not you can set up a meeting with me and Russell Simmons. So that I can discuss a business venture with him. I've made several attempts to reach him. I can alsio be contacted via telephone @ (631) 727-0970.


December 5, 2008 9:57 PM

I do not think one needs to know anything about hip-hop to write an article like this. This article is just another example of how we are constantly being inundated with advertisements to buy crap we don’t really need, advertisements, as C-Note writes, to buy poison. While I do not agree with Russell Simmons being called the “father of hip-hop,” I do believe that at one point in the distant past Simmons was a sort of hip-hop icon; he did help pave the way for rap/hip-hop. With that said, this product placement deal is just evidence as to how commercialized everything has become. What’s next? How about we paint lipstick on the Mona Lisa and let Revlon market it.


February 24, 2009 12:39 PM

i used to love hip hop. now i just sit back, observe, and listen to the noise. what i hear is what this columnist is saying: product placement in hip hop threatens the authenticity of hip hop itself.. on top of my head, i can think of General Motors and TI/MJB, chris brown and doublemint gum.

hip hop used to represent something real, a personal outlet, a social movement through social discourse about social ills. now it has become strictly business, hiding behind its original facade. at the end of the day, it's just the culture industrial complex doing a great job at nourishing our desires and hopes.


March 19, 2009 9:25 PM

He called Simmons the "Dean" of Hip Hop,not the father. Check your facts before you post!


May 25, 2009 8:59 AM

I love how, to some, it's now fine to lie your way to riches, much in the same way people used to decry the actions of their oppressors. After ages of promoting unity and community, then watching all of the growth go to pot out of innate selfishness, does it feel good to disenfranchise our own people while enriching yourself?

I run an old-school hip-hop shop on a street among countless cookie-cutter, gangsta-ish, over-priced stores with knock-off merch and bad music blaring. I've seen people on public assistance spend themselves to death just to look like the videos. Most times so they can feel, for one Friday night, like they take money from companies and coerce others into this pattern of consumption.

You've created another generation of slaves, Mr. Simmons.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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