St. Ides & Hip-Hop: Would Today's Rappers Endorse Malt Liquor?
The early '90s was a time when some of the best hip-hop music ever was being made, and the beverage of choice was malt liquor. Before rappers glorified Cristal, Ciroc and even their own branded alcohol, there were many hip-hop-inspired malt liquor ads.
St. Ides in particular enlisted several rappers to endorse the malt liquor also known as the "Crooked I," with commercials featuring remixes of the rappers' own songs or original songs. These weren't just any rappers, either - the were some of the '90s biggest-selling and most influential artists, including Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, Ice Cube, the Geto Boyz and Wu-Tang Clan, just to name a few.
The result was some catchy rap tunes, but the message some people thought these television and radio ads were sending caused some controversy. Some of the ads could be mistaken for the artists' music videos, such Snoop and Nate Dogg's commercial that shows a dog transforming into Snoop when a box of St. Ides is dropped in front of him, a similar scene to the beginning of Snoop's "Who Am I (What's My Name)" video.
In the ad, Nate Dogg sings, "Just hit the corner store you know what I'm looking for... St. Ides." Snoop and Nate Dogg help deliver the message that if you have at least $2, you can look as cool as they do.
In Tupac and Snoop's St. Ides ad, which also looks like a music video, Pac is playing craps in a lush casino, letting you know that the flavored style of the beer is specifically for people like himself with the line "Introducing a special brew made for a chosen few."
While Snoop strolls to the liquor store in a suit to pick up a bottle, his reflection displays the gangster version of Snoop in all blue including a bandana on his head. The message is that you can keep it sophisticated and real while drinking fruity-flavored cheap malt liquor.
In 1991, Public Enemy's Chuck D made the song "One Million Bottlebags" dissing St. Ides when the company used his voice in a radio spot without his permission. Chuck D also sued St. Ides for $5 million.
Although sales increased by 25 percent, The Wall Street Journal declared the St. Ides campaign to be one of the worst ad campaigns of the year in December 1991.
Ice Cube was another spokesperson for St. Ides was responsible for the line "Get your girl in the mood quicker, make your jimmy thicker... St. Ides." Messages like this were broadcast on commercials targeted towards urban America.
Surely artists were never get in the game to intentionally become role models but it was sometimes impossible for frequent television and radio ads with stereotypical messages like St. Ides to be avoided.
If Wu-Tang was "for the children," like Ol' Dirty Bastard once said, then why would they endorse malt liquor in a television ad? Some artists, like Scarface, tossed in a line about drinking St. Ides responsibly: "Only silly people try to drink and drive, they risk their lives and some do die."
The ads were successful for a certain amount of time, but didn't last long because of the effect it had on the African-American community and its youth. Some people were outraged that artists with so much influence were collecting checks for cheap corner-store liquor that could then be picked up for less than $2.
But besides the money, how did St. Ides get away with having more than 12 major hip-hop artists with successful careers co-sign for them back then?