Hip Hop has been in the mainstream for awhile now, but Hip Hop and marketing have been connected for even longer.
My Adidas My Adidas. The release of Run DMC’s single in 1986 sparked off a symbiotic relationship between brands and the culture.
How have artists been so successful at merging these two worlds? What are their techniques? What are some examples of success?
Rule #1. Controversy sells. It’s true of anything, you could say unfortunately, or you could just say the people love a good fight. Finding people to feud and beef with is one of the cornerstones of the art. It’s a basic human need for competition. 50 Cent knows this better than anyone. His Instagram account is ready to go to war at any hour of the day. His account is on par with the most successful IG meme pages.
Rae Sremmurd had a hugely successful meme go viral that had people freezing in place while their track“Black Beatles” played in the background. They even had the ORIGINAL Beatle Paul McCartney get in on it. Obviously Drake had arguably the biggest viral challenge happen this past summer with “In My Feelings”, but we can’t forget trendsetters like Soulja Boy and 2 milly.
Some artists have chosen to generate buzz and funding for projects at the same time. De La Soul crowdfunded 600K from Kickstarter for their last album. TLC even let contributors of their crowdfund name the album which would be their last. Run the Jewels on the other hand saw their fans crowdfund on their own, hoping to get the duo to recreate one of their albums with all cat sound beats. After 60K was raised, they obliged.
Beyonce’s team realized that the internet had the power to instantly promote a product for you. When she dropped her first surprise album it changed the game. Why promote something for months and months when you can surprise your fans on the day of, and have them promote it for you in ways no campaign ever could?
Merchandise has been apart of music for decades. But instead of selling all the merchandise at the show, artists have started setting up limited time pop up shops in the cities they tour. Limited items and limited releases have made these endeavours huge marketing events as well as a good source of extra revenue.
Chance the Rapper used guerrilla marketing when he asked fans to buy $20 posters and put them up around their city.
Pharrell shot a 24 hour style video for his insanely mainstream “Happy” when it released.
RZA convinced Wu-Tang to record an album that was going to have only 1 copy created and sold. It sold for $2 million. Unfortunately it was sold to a Bond villain.
Snoop has a cooking show with Martha Stewart. This gives him access to her demo, and her to his.
Kanye pulled a 5 album release campaign this summer, with 4 of them having live listening parties week after week. And years earlier he released Life of Pablo during a fashion show for his new catalog.
I mean Odd Future used to have their own sketch comedy show. Whatever works.
Not many things are more important than actually engaging with your fans. Beyonce’s fans, the ‘Beyhive’, are ready to come after anybody who has anything negative to say about her. They’re also a large supportive community who feels inspired by the artist. And she makes sure they know how much she appreciates them.
Nicki Minaj stays active on social media and endearingly calls her fans ‘barbies’. Her and Drake make sure to stay active in their fans comments sections and keep up conversation personally on different platforms.
The culture doesn’t really look at it as selling out. Usually it’s understood as just a good business decision. If you have the people’s ear and they don’t mind, why not promote your own brands?
Jay Z got an entire population to switch their champagne brand from Cristol to a brand that he eventually bought, Ace of Spade. He’s promoted his Manhattan Club 44, his label Roc Nation, and his music streaming service Tidal.
Diddy’s Sean John fashion line appeared in almost all of his music videos for over a decade. Today his vodka Ciroc is prominently displayed in everything he does, along with his AQUAhydrade water products.
Pharrell promotes his Billionaire Boys Club and G Star Raw. Dr. Dre displays his Beats products in anything he works on. And 50 Cent never shys away from promoting his TV shows or his partnerships with Bellator.
Nelly literally made a song called “Air Force 1's” about Nike Air Force 1’s. Nobody cared. The track was hot. Rappers have had deals with sneaker companies since the 80's.
When 50 Cent played with his original iPod in the “P.I.M.P” video, it pushed sales of the device.
Jay Z released his Magna Carta Holy Grail album for a limited time through a Samsung only app.
Boost Mobile even got Ludacris, Kanye, and Game into a famous campaign.
Sprite has had partnerships with artists from Rakim, to A Tribe Called Quest, Pete Rock, and Drake. Pepsi created an exclusive short video with Biggie. Dr. Dre appropriately partnered with Dr. Pepper. Monster Energy has had a deal with Tech N9ne. And Ice Cube worked on a campaign for Coors Light.
Again, Busta and Diddy released a song literally called “Pass the Courvoisier”. Do we care? Not at all.
But there are definitely lessons to be learned. Like Pusha T not getting any royalties for writing the famous McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It” commercial.
DJ Khaled found the gold mine when he discovered Snapchat stories. He has redefined what it means to engage with your audience. Even Will Smith has recently taken to being more open on social media, sharing many aspects of his daily life. This type of engagement is now expected. Its the norm.
Artists like Fatboy SSE have become viral sensations for the content they produce and the way they interact with their fans. Fatboy SSE is famous for showing up anywhere and just handing out cash to people. On the other extreme, artists like Tekashi have rose to prominence by flaming beef and pulling stunts. Both strategies have brought each artist millions of viewers, ready to hear new music.
Drake’s entire career is a marketing campaign. He understands the internet and meme culture better than anyone. He creates songs and videos that he knows can easily be memed. Where a lot of artists would shy away from that kind of attention, he embraces it. The “Hotline Bling” video might as well have been shot in front of a blank green screen.
How and when artists release music is more important today than ever. Lil Wayne’s rise began when he started releasing frequent mixtapes in the 2000’s. Even than he knew that content was king. This holds even more true today.
Gucci Mane has been releasing music non stop since he got out of prison. The same can be said for Meek Mill.
Currency has released 5 projects this year alone.
Just like content marketing, you need to constantly be producing content. Similar to surprise albums, surprise songs are a way to generate buzz and keep your brand fresh in the minds of your audience.
Vic Mensa has said that the culture gravitates towards brands that try to stand for something. Brands that try to have some type of message. This is probably why a lot of brands have tried to show that they care or understand the culture by how they present their partnered campaigns. They want to show that they’re apart of the movement.
Most of the community applauded Nike’s decision to choose Colin Kaepernick as their spokesman for their new “Just Do It” campaign. A move that signalled that Nike was deciding to side with Kaepernick and the community in the national debate.
But make no mistake, Nike didn’t make the decision based on morality.
They made their decision because they knew which side was now more powerful.