In its mid-year report, Nielsen Music revealed that hip-hop and R&B had overtaken rock for the first time as the dominant genre in America based on music consumption.
During this week's Advertising Week conference in New York, that sea change in pop culture was put front-and-center at a panel discussion presented by Universal Music Group and entitled Is Your Brand Ready For A Hip-Hop Future?
Jay-Z and Budweiser. Drake and Sprite. Lil Yachty and Nautica. These are just a handful of the recent rapper-meets-brand partnerships, collaborations and endorsement arrangements populating the advertising and promotion space.
Yet while the nexus between rap and business seems stronger than ever, as Motown Records President Ethiopia Habtemariam pointed out, there's still a great deal of work to be done.
"There's an education process that's happening," she said, referring to brands that have previously expressed reluctance to associate with hip-hop. "Slowly, they're coming aboard."
Similar and related sentiments were shared by Habtemariam's fellow panelists, including Sacha Jenkins, Chief Creative Officer for media company Mass Appeal, who framed it in blunter terms.
"You don't want a rapper wearing your stuff?" he asked hypothetically of fashion designers like Gucci, whose recent decision to partner with Dapper Dan came decades after essentially dismissing the influential Harlemite. "They're going to buy it anyway, make it cool anyway."
In our data-driven age, rap music's commercial potential is not only undeniable but quantifiable. Tuma Basa, Spotify's Global Head of Hip-Hop, sees this firsthand in his day-to-day work. "We have the cultural context, but we can also see on the backend," he said. "With technology, with that knowledge, comes revenue."
Responsible for the leading streaming service's hugely popular and influential Rap Caviar playlist, Basa insisted that real, measurable demand and in-app user behavior drives the selections. As such, brands uncertain who they ought to work or collaborate with can turn to places like Spotify that have already done some of the pivotal market research for them.
Representing Anheuser-Busch InBev, Shana Barry oversees and executes a number of hip-hop partnerships as the beverage powerhouse's Experiential Manager for Music and Entertainment. With events like the Made In America festival and the recent Bud Light Dive Bar Tour under her belt, her advice to brands looking to leverage hip-hop's coolness is born out of experience.
"We want artists to come to us and say here's what's in our plan for the next year, two years, five years," she said, stressing the importance of authenticity and mutual admiration between artist and brand. "We don’t do partnerships that we don’t believe in and don’t have a benefit for the other side."
Though Barry cautioned that hip-hop loving and self-identifying consumers aren't to be underestimated, Jenkins maintained that the lifestyle is brand-friendly. "We are naturally marketers," he said. "If we naturally gravitate to your brand, it’s like being touched by the hand of God."