Updated: Sep 30, 2019
Rappers carry a certain reputation with them and often it is deserved. As a genre, Hip-Hop has become the most popular but it doesn't have the same number of mega stars as other genres do. Partially because fans love the edge that rappers provide but want to keep a comfortable distance. This distance allows most people to have a detached view of these rappers. Their viewed as larger-than-life villains especially when gang affiliations and trauma from their upbringing are a part of their story.
Some rappers play off of this, after all, it is a boost to their image. For rappers like Meek Mill though, this often plays more of a detriment rather than a benefit.
Most recently, this truth reared its ugly head when Meek Mill went to the Cosmopolitan Casino in Las Vegas during Memorial Weekend. He attempted to attend a party and was halted and prevented entry and was told he would be arrested for trespassing if he went in to the hotel. When asked for an explanation as to why he was being denied entry, he was told by security that he was banned from entry because of a prior incident. Meek had no idea of said incident.
What followed next was the usual course of action when a public figure feels slighted. Meek Mill took to Twitter to put the Cosmopolitan on blast. Meek Mill accused them of racism and stated that his presence brings the location profit and therefore the way he was treated was completely unacceptable. He vowed to pursue legal action. The Cosmopolitan initially stated that they were within their rights to deny entry due to a prior unnamed incident and stated they have a right to do so. It was later revealed that the incident in question was not involving Meek Mill at all. Meek Mill implored his counterparts to not spend money with the Cosmopolitan and after revealing that they made a mistake, the Cosmopolitan apologized.
Meek Mill and his lawyer, Brian McMonagle, responded in grace by choosing to accept the Cosmopolitan's apology and stated that they were no longer pursuing legal recourse against the hotel. Although Yo Gotti has also claimed to have dealt with a similar situation, all signs point to a happy ending for now. Rappers need to understand however, that this will continue to take place unless they yield their influence proactively. Here’s what I mean.
Entertainers yield an impactful influence on society for better or for worse. It shouldn't be that way but it is. Rappers have long had such an influence on the social currency that a product or service has. When rappers had the gold Crystal bottles all in their video, it heightened the brand's visibility. It re-affirmed it amongst black consumers as a brand of luxury. When rappers put references to Gucci and Louis Vutton in their songs, it did the same. "Versace," a song released by Migos back in 2011 and featured a legendary Drake verse in the remix, was literally a commercial for Versace. Balenciaga, The Trump Hotel, The W, Mercedes Benz the list goes on and on. Many outlets have reported on Hip Hop's mention of these brands including this CNN article which highlights some of the mentions.
This penchant for rappers to highlight these brands are at the core of rappers’ need to commemorate their rough upbringing and how through hard work they've crossed over to the other side. At best, this penchant for these brands as a symbol for success can yield partnerships and endorsements with the brands. At worst, and as a more regular occurrence, it can just be a free commercial that the brand does not even acknowledge. At rock bottom, the brand can simply not care for Hip-Hop's representation or outright despise it. Two of the most famous examples are Crystal and Gucci. Back in 2010, Frederic Rouzaud who was a managing director of Louis Roederer, the company who produces Crystal, had an interview with magazine The Economist. When asked about how he views the admiration of Crystal amongst Hip-Hop and if that association can be detrimental, Rouzaud stated, “That’s a good question, but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business." It’s hard to judge that context alone, but it’s very clear that the suggestion was that Crystal was reluctantly accepting Hip-Hop's association and the monetary benefits that come with it.
Jay-Z, who was Def Jam's president at the time and one of the rappers who mentioned Crystal often, was rightfully offended by the comment and vowed to stop supporting it. Hip-Hop followed suit and although it did not hurt the company's bottom line it became a much less visible product within entertainment circles.
Gucci on the other hand had a much more mixed reaction to its myriad of controversies with products that were deemed offensive by many. Gucci chose to feature a sweater with clear depictions of the black face caricature from the Jim Crow error. Gucci apologized and removed it from shelves but not before the backlash increased the pressure. Many rappers including T.I. encouraged others to boycott the product. Many others on the other hand stated it was clearly a mistake and continued to support. Disagreements continued over whether Hip-Hop should be supporting the brand and many rappers continued to reference them in their music.
These examples including the most recent one with Meek Mill shows that rappers often do not fully recognize the role they play in helping elevate a brand to consumers the brand may have never had. They continue to be reactionary instead of proactive. They'll support the brand and lift it as a representation of coolness and style and by the time the brand fumbles, their consumers already have a habit and a view of the brand that deems it difficult to change their minds. When it’s time to reverse course, it’s probably too late to make a strong enough dent. If rappers understood their influence first and did not mention a brand or patronize them in such a public manner until they receive monetary benefits or equity first, not only would those brands fumble way less often but there would be strong consequences when they do. It’s easy to take the built-in-profit that Hip-Hop provides when rappers are whoring out their support for a brand for free and for substantial return. It’s one thing to support a brand that hails from your community or created by you like the late great Nipsey Hussle did with his Marathon brand, or how rappers do with the 40/40 night club owned by Jay-Z. It’s a completely different thing to attach, promote, and provide social currensy to a brand that has no interest in collaborating with you, or even worse have no interest in providing you equity.
Rappers continue to learn this the hard way or never really learn it at all. What you get instead is some who will give a rebellious response like Floyd Mayweather did after the Gucci controversies. Instead of recognizing his impact, he went on a Gucci shopping spree, recorded it, and stated that he does not bend to societal pressures. Maybe he receives a monetary benefit from his endorsement of Gucci that we don't see, but if such an agreement exists, it’s pretty damaging that it’s not visible and held under wraps. So The Cosmopolitan's apology to Meek Mill is nice and a nice gesture of accountability, but until rappers understand that they're walking, breathing, entertaining billboards for brands, it will only be just that. Nothing more.