How Hip-Hop Died Part 3: Super Marketing


There are many phrases and terms that become trendy in hip-hop. There was a time when everyone was “representing,” then they “kept it real” for a few years. For the last few years, it has been about “buzz,” then there’s the ever-popular “movement,” and we can’t forget “swagger.”

In the offices behind the artists, the words have been the same for a while now. The public is getting more and more hip to those terms: marketing, image, and branding. What the hell is a brand? Everyone will tell you that you need marketing, you should identify your target audience and demographic, and then establish your brand. It sounds like a lot more work than just writing and recording a song. Well the most successful artists in music had work put in on marketing their look.

Think about if a comedian can imitate your signature style,

or someone can dress up like you for Halloween then you have an identifiable image that can transcend time and records

…not everyone that steps in the booth even takes these things into consideration.

And sometimes “CB4” rappers should not even think about marketing and simply be who they are.

Sometimes it just happens; the way someone thinks, speaks, walks and behaves is infectious without a plan. Ol’ Dirty Bastard was himself, DMX didn’t have to act to get followers, he became synonymous with a dog, Li’l John’s yelps, glasses, goblet and hair made him a standout above his music. A brand can be defined as the gut feeling people get when they see or hear about a product. It’s deeper than a logo, one record, or a video to evoke a feeling from viewers and listeners. And then sometimes it takes less than any of those.

A name can do it all…so can one verse…it can also happen with you roll with, what label you’re on or simply what you look like. The Poetical Prophets may have had a different career if they hadn’t become Mobb Deep. There was something about the name Busta Rhymes that separated him from the rest of The Leaders of The New School.

The Warlox and Murda Mase got the death and violence subtracted from their monikers to add a larger appeal. Your name is just the beginning when it comes to the music business.

So how did hip-hop get more focused on what you wear, who shot you and how much time you did? Music has never just been about music. Even in its purest form, the emcee was someone you wanted to be like. Whether he was living out his dream, was an amazing wordsmith or just dressed fly, he was an iconic figure.

We were supposed to believe that LL could have any woman he wanted, that Rakim could calmly rap circles around anyone while dropping jewels, that KRS was a revolutionary and genius, that Ice Cube would punch you in your face, that Chuck D could maintain a political position, and this was what fanship was about. Similar to sitting in the stands at a ball game, rap was out of reach. Even those who weren’t that witty with the words served their purpose.

Back in the days when I was a kid, I was worried when my brother Lord Digga was doing an interview at a radio station and the gun-throwing group Onyx was slated to be there. They had already thought Masta Ace was coming at them with his mockery of fake pistol-packing rappers. But after the interview, my brother assured me there was nothing to worry about and that Sticky Fingaz and the gang had found a great way to sell records and set themselves apart.

A gimmick?!! Was that what that was? I instantly questioned the reality on my EFIL4ZAGGIN NWA tape. I went back and listened to a few albums where guns were firing and it instantly hit me that this was about image.

When Biggie introduced us to a hustler with a purpose of feeding his family, fearing his life and being saved by music…and Raekwon and Ghostface’s dropped Only Built for Cuban Links, it was all in your face that these guys moved cocaine with thee intention of surviving. No glory, no flossing, just necessity. You didn’t really desire to be like them, but in some ways, their reality seemed intriguing.

The Wu-gambino names gave fans the correlation to a crime family. And who doesn’t like a good mob movie? They put the mafia to music and created an image that was somewhat new. The average rapper in the 80’s and 90’s talked about fun, why he was better than everybody or had a message. Groups like M.O.P, NWA, The Geto Boys exposed criminal acts in a way that seemed real; and authenticity became a silent rule in rap music.

It was a gradual shift when lifestyle became bigger than words.

Li’l Kim was the voice for sexuality, Busta Rhymes was becoming the rambunctious party orchestrator and Jay-Z was the hustler that didn’t need to write rhymes on paper to be the best in the game. The hustler persona began to take over the industry. Then Foxy Brown came with the most incorrect hip-hop drug math equation ever but it sounded so cool, you almost thought she got it right on “Affirmative Action.” State Property, Philly’s Most Wanted, and Major Figgaz, repped the city of brotherly love with enough coke talk to supply any neighborhood.

CNN was telling us how they met in prison and by the time Nore went solo we knew all about his vocation before rap. Master P was the Ice Cream Man selling records out of his trunk and his film, Bout it, Bout it was a Scarface for the ghetto. It wasn’t just about your rhymes anymore.

Sure Tupac didn’t get arrested or shot until he picked up a mic, but once he did, all eyes were on him. DMX’s criminal record and rap sheet were publicized just like his debut record and rap lyrics. Throw in the movie Belly, Fifty Cent’s confession about what he did with his 1st advance, and Jay’s ultimate King of NY status and you can see why Rick Ross is a “millionaire” from dealing weight, why Red Café is the “arm & hammer man” and why Pusha T hasn’t spent a rap dollar in 3 years, holla.

Coke is cool, and will probably never go out of style until the tides turn and the new generation can no longer identify with criminal life. For every real artist like these guys that went through it, got locked up and chose to share their experiences, there are a thousand more that feel like they must bust a glock or push a key in order to gain fans. Branding works more when it’s real, but it is those that follow these marketing plans as if they were written up in a board room that taint the music business we all know and love.

“They be steady clappin’ when you talk about bitches and switches and hoes and clothes and weed/let’s talk about time traveling, rhyme javelin, something mind unraveling, get down.”-Andre Benjamin.

Don’t forget my book is in stores. Support here!

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2 Comments on “How Hip-Hop Died Part 3: Super Marketing”

  1. verse says:

    this is a good read sha ..

  2. egypt says:

    As I sit here on lunch reading your triliogy of how hip hp died I find my self reminiscing a bit. I really thought I was “growing up” and just wasent that interested in it, atleast like I use to. Even when I listen back to things I thought were classics I find myself asking a lot of these questions. And I pretty much consider todays hip hop to be gimmick rap or I guess a product of supermarketing as u put it. Even the tracks that aren’t suppose to be have some sort of makerting edge to them. like the way mixtapes have changed, I use to think of them as emcees who just wat to put somethin out but now its like a commercial for an upcoming album. Mater of fact ppl are startin to look at mixtapes same way as albums. I’m not sure how to judge a mixtape anymore most downloaded maybe? Anyway thanks for the read good stuff…


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