Is Your Brand Prepared For a Hip-Hop Future?

As the mainstream culture of the music industry, hip hop culture is being represented by a diverse group of people who connect with different brands. From Jay-Z’s partnership with Budweiser to Spotify’s top listening album Rap Caviar, hip hop music has always been closely combined with branding. During the afternoon panel at Thomson Reuters, speakers from the hip hop music industry talked about their understanding and experience with hip hop culture and branding.

Looking back at the 80s and 90s when hip hop music started to show up in mainstream culture, many brands are missing the mark to find the perfect spokesperson to represent them. Sacha Jenkins, CCO of Mass Appeal and TV Producer, attributed this old scene to a lack of people who are native to the hip hop community.

“Those people understand the touching feel that most people won’t be able to capture”, said Sacha.

Fast speed to the world we live in today, record companies are tying the artists they represent to the brands these artists recognize with. President at Motown Records, Ethiopia Habtemariam unfolded the story of how they connected Lil Yachty with Nautica for a fashion line. In Ethiopia’s opinion, branding is turning organic admiration into business. While they were working with Yachty, the team noticed his passion for vintage stores and spent long time communicating with him. Yachty wanted to do fashion and the team at Motown Records were eventually able to connect the dots to find the right brand for him.

Another classical example traces back to Jay Z’s partnership with Budweiser from five years ago.  Shannah Berry, experiential Manager for Music and Entertainment at Anheuser-Busch InBev, said that both parties had mutual admiration for each other from the start, and it was the perfect relationship for them to have a hip hop icon representing a national beer company that also manifests classic American style.

Moving forward to the back end of branding: discovering true trends among audiences, global head of Hip-Hop at Spotify Tuma Basa shared some insights on how one of the hottest albums on Spotify, Rap Caviar, was created. Information such as liked artists, searched times and other information is being programmed to the system to calculate the songs that everyone can enjoy. Tuma said that before this era of data technology, research was never accurate.

“It has always been there and we just have it on the radar now.”, said Tuma.

The topic of millenials and their influences on branding was inevitably brought up because of the immersiveness of hip hop culture on young people right now. Sacha thinks of young people’s close relationship with the brands and the artists as a way of free advertising. In apparel industry especially, when young people are buying and wearing the brand, they not only gain a sense of pride but also empower the brand itself.

In explaining what brand should be doing right now to connect with the hip hop culture to truly become influential, all speakers had different thoughts. Tuma focused on the identity of a brand and how to treat the brand itself as an institution in storytelling. To try to achieve the goal of reaching 30% of social media users, Shannah had some insights in going beyond the content and making someone really stop and think about a brand’s message.

The four panelists are all involved in the hip hop music industry with separate goals. Naturally, their own experiences with storytelling and branding of hip hop culture is different and diverse. Mo matter which part of the job they have, they all share the same mission of developing hip hop culture, and more importantly, prepare hip hop for the future of branding.

Xinyi Wang

Xinyi Wang

Writer at Advertising Week
Xinyi is a senior student studying journalism at University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is passionate about mass communication research and writes for the MODAmadison magazine. Coming from a different cultural background, she hopes to learn more about the influence of media and advertising on a global scale.
Xinyi Wang
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