Hip Hop Spirits: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

From Matt Merkin on Sep 17, 2013

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Every year, Forbes releases various listicles of the biggest earners in different categories and, since 2007, has run a specific category for rap and hip-hop. I want to believe this inclusion is a reflection of the cultural importance of rapidly changing economics in art and entertainment and not calculated click bait or, worse, an opportunity for out-of-touch journalists to "play dress up" with signifiers and slang of which they have no real understanding or connection (sample quote: "hip-hop’s focus has shifted from beef to cake–making money, that is.")

That said, the list is important because it shows what artistic celebrity often is in the 21st Century: a personal brand which can be transferred to an actual brand, netting social capital for the latter and hard capital for both. For reference, Dr. Dre's most recent album came out last millennium, yet he made over $100 million last year—thanks mainly to headphones—which in turn sold because everyone in their 20s knows the words to Forgot about Dre.

So if headphones are taken, what else can you sell? Booze, it seems, and lots of it. And just like the music, some of it is amazing and some of it meant for frat parties...

From Diddy to T-Pain, here are 5 of the best and worst your favorite rappers have to offer.

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CIROC | DIDDY
What is it:
"One of the world’s only vodkas created entirely from grapes, CÎROC® Ultra-Premium is simply unique."

Presentation: 4/5
Each flavor is branded with a color-coded logo which kind of reminds me of the pump on the old Reeboks. An intentional luxury brand, their opulent, vaguely erotic motif extends even to their site and advertising efforts. For example, this recent commercial (which is amazing, but also pretentious enough to intro itself as a "film").

Taste: 4/5
Ciroc comes in 4 flavors (regular, coconut, red berry and peach.) The regular is just fine—smooth and easy. The Peach isn't bad either.

Celebrity: 1/5
Puff Daddy. P Diddy. Diddy. Sean Combs. The man has been cycling through names and personas with Bowie-esque regularity ever since helping The Notorious B.I.G. and Ma$e explain the "more money = more problems" math to the masses. As part of his relentless slog from "the man who introduced the world to Biggy" straight through "the man who wants to introduce you to Proactive" and beyond, Combs has at last completely rent himself of any vestigial artistic integrity, freeing him to do what he does best: make a lot of money ($45 million, last year alone). As the Diddy explains on the Ciroc site, "I'm not just a celebrity endorser, I'm a brand builder. I'm a luxury brand builder."

Final Score: 3/5
I hate to admit it, but Ciroc is actually pretty good. The bottle is clean and they've done a good job establishing their brand.The only bad part is the aftertaste, but that comes from the knowledge of giving dollars to Diddy, not the vodka itself.

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GT VODKA | BIRDMAN
What is it:
"Neutral Spirit Distilled from a Proprietary Blend of Premium Grain." Comes in regular, watermelon and coconut.

Presentation: 5/5
These bottles look great. The classic, sleek design and strong colorways fit the Grand Touring moniker.

Taste: 3/5
Well, the straight vodka is…vodka-flavored. What do you want? The watermelon and coconut taste like they should, too. The Coconut was definitely my favorite. I want to drink half the bottle, and then rub the rest all over myself and lie in the sun. The watermelon comes on a bit too strong.

Celebrity: 5/5
Birdman, aka Baby aka Lil Wayne's Dad aka Bryan Williams, is a damn legend. I'm not wild about some of the recent YMCMB additions (ahem, Limp Bizkit), but the man was in Big Tymers. I mean Hood Rich, Still fly, Stuntin' like my daddy, oh, and he owns a mysterious oil and natural gas venture? If you believe Instagram, Birdman is drinking this pretty regularly (he's even got diamond pieces for each flavor).

Final Score: 4/5
This is good vodka. I love Birdman. The watermelon flavor is too much, but the other two are just fine.

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LUCKY NITES | LIL FLIP
What is it:
"A blend of pineapple juice, amaretto and premium vodka. 20% alcohol by volume. Imported from France. Contains Yellow 5."

Presentation: 2/5
When full, It's an ugly, smoked-glass yellow bottle. But it gets bonus points for being called "Lucky Nites" and for having a gold G inside a four-leaf clover as the logo.

Taste: 2/5
The first smell is of vodka and orange juice. But, like, orange juice that's been sitting out for a few days. The taste is the same but, you know, the vodka is French. Rounds out with a "flat Four Loko" finish.

Celebrity: 3/5
Full disclosure, I'm not a Lil Flip expert. I mean, I loved Ridin' Spinners. Rollin on 20s was cool, even though it was on the soundtrack for 2 Fast 2 Furious, which everyone knows was the 2nd worst film in the series. DJ Screw allegedly referred to Flip as "The Freestyle King." His wikipedia page notes that he claims to have appeared on 1000 mix tapes. He's definitely not anywhere near that Forbes List, but I can respect the hustle.

Final Score: 2/5
A weird product. This has limited reviews online, no actual website and an FB page that is mainly event/mixtape links. If you care this much about Houston rap and getting drunk on questionable liquids, just pick up a cough syrup prescription.

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NUVO | T-PAIN
What is it:
"NUVO is a unique, alluring drink for toasting any occasion. The World's First Sparkling Liqueur. NUVO adds to the overall décor and flair of any gathering."

Presentation: 2/5
Everyone I showed it to had a strong opinion on what it looked like, but no one said "a vessel for a carbonated flavored vodka beverage." It mostly resembles an especially phallic perfume bottle, which the brand itself has more or less stated was intentional. Ah it's from the same brain trust that brought you Hypnotiq. It makes a satisfying, carbonated "wooosh" when you unplug the top. That's something.

Taste: 3/5
It smells like a hospital bathroom, just after cleaning. Clearly antiseptic, but with a half-hearted attempt at a floral cover up. The taste itself is ok. Like a starburst left to melt inside a can of sprite.

Celebrity: 0/5
When I was a freshman in college, someone downloaded I'm in love with a stripper onto my computer at a party, and I haven't listened to it since, but I also haven't deleted it (on the off-chance that it will be relevant some night). I think this is the same relationship society in general has with T-Pain.

Final Score: 2/5
This drink is really too silly to merit further discussion.

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QREAM | PHARRELL
What is it:
"Inspired by royalty, I created this silky drink to celebrate the beautiful, independent and sophisticated women of today."

Presentation: 5/5
The bottle is so insanely bad that it comes all the way back around to brilliant. Unprovoked, I felt compelled to explain to the guy at my liquor store that I was only buying it for an article. I swear.

Taste: 4/5
Qream comes in both strawberry and peach, but I only had the strawberry. Because of the off-the-charts cornball factor of both the packaging and Pharell, I was really looking forward to hating it…but I didn't. More or less aimed toward the sensibilities of a 9 year old girl, this is a $30 bottle of spiked strawberry milk. And you know what? My roommates and I drank the entire damn bottle in one night.

Celebrity: 0/5
I really don't like Pharell. I mean some of his stuff is great (the beat for Clipse's Grindin, Ma$e's Lookin at me), but going back as far as his co-opting of skateboarding, his vibe has always been too manicured and smug and nakedly tactical, the kind of person who names drops Carl Sagan and talks about "why music is an art" as if it were a novel idea. Essentially, he is pop music, personified.

Final Score: 3/5
Everything I don't like about Pharrell, though, is what has made him so successful. And it's also why his drink is so good. The fauxspensive packaging and "silky", fruity flavors are the exact opposite of an acquired taste. This product is the Top 40 of drinking: easy, obvious and amazing as long as you don't think about it too hard.

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