What is it about car commercials on TV and nineties rap? Most recently, we’ve seen rapping hamsters performing Black Sheep’s ‘The Choice Is Yours’ for the Kia Soul in 2010, the Ford Mustang ad that closes with Das-EFX’s ‘Microphone Checka’, and Eminem’s Chrysler spot that aired during the 2011 Superbowl. But the advertising world’s fascination with hip-hop, especially that which was made in the 1990s, is deeper than just automotive promotions. We’ve seen rappers hawking everything from sneakers to clothing to beverages since the days of Run-DMC and Kurtis Blow.
The early nineties seems to have a particular appeal for art directors, based on the simple fact that many of them were teenagers when this music was popular. So using these old rap hits allows them to both indulge in some nostalgia on their own part and also speak to their target audience, which is people of the same generation who are now in their thirties and forties have the money to buy a decent car. This makes perfect sense, but it’s fair to say that rap and advertising have had a fairly tenuous relationship ever since hip-hop became acknowledged by the mainstream.
We’ve certainly come a long way since the bad old days of Barney Rubble rapping about Fruity Pebbles cereal or Polly-O’s rapping parrot (a later version was a slight improvement since they recruited Stetsasonic’s Daddy-O to provide the vocals). Malt liquor company St. Ides had a lot of success with their controversial radio and TV spots, produced by Ice Cube’s buddy DJ Pooh and featuring all the big names of the era—Rakim, GETO Boys, Tupac, Wu-Tang Clan and Notorious B.I.G. While there was widespread outrage over the fact that these respected artists were pushing liquor to teenagers, the fact that the spots were written, produced, and performed by actual hip-hop artists, leant them far more credibility than the average McDonald’s rap commercial.
Instead of booze, Sprite embarked on a mission to sell everyone sugar water, which in the grand scheme of things is slightly less (or far more) evil, depending on where you stand on such issues. While they started off with the standard kid-friendly acts of the day such as Kriss Kross, Heavy D and Kid ‘N Play, they eventually stepped up their game and recruited underground heroes Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Large Professor and Grand Puba to record freestyle sessions on camera to promote the fizzy green can. A couple of years later, Sprite took the concept even further with the Voltron cartoon ads which featured Afrika Bambaataa, Goodie Mob, Common Sense, Fat Joe and Mack 10 on some ol’ coastal unity type shit. More recently, they’ve produced mini-documentary/adverts with the likes of Drake and Nas, going for a slightly more subtle product placement approach.
It’s safe to say this trend won’t die out anytime soon, if the Kia ads featuring Melle Mel, Scorpio and Salt ‘N Pepa are anything to go by. Oddly enough, the Australian ad agency responsible for those two decided to go back to the eighties for both of those, suggesting that they have a little less faith in our knowledge of any hip-hop made in the last 25 years. While we’re here, I’d like to suggest that some plucky creative uses some of the more obvious choices for car ads—nineties rap songs that were actually about cars! How about Masta Ace’s ‘Born To Roll,’ Dr Dre’s ‘Let Me Ride‘ or the Lost Boyz ‘Jeeps, Lex Coups, Bemaz and Benz‘? Admittedly, that last one might cause some cross-branding headaches. Fuck it, use LL Cool J’s ‘Boomin’ System‘ instead. Please forward my complimentary new car to the usual address, if you can’t be bothered calculating the royalties.
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