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?
A 1993 St. Ides ad shows Ice Cube hopping out of a helicopter, climbing into a Porsche to rush home to his fridge for a 40 of the extremely affordable malt liquor, then returning to his chopper to fly away. Rappers have always had expensive tastes, but some still chose to endorse malt liquor.
Maybe the message was drinking malt liquor will save you enough money to own a Porsche and a helicopter. Perhaps Cube wanted us to know how important it is to never leave home without St. Ides.
Although the St. Ides campaign put out some good music in the commercials thanks to the artists who starred in them, the controversy got the best of it and it ended in 1994.
In this age the popular malt liquor is Four Loko, at least before they took the potent ingredients out. Of course there are a few nameless rappers making songs about Four Lokos (without being paid), but what impact would the drink have if there were a Four Loko ad campaign similar to the St. Ides commercials?
If there ever were a malt-liquor campaign for today's generation of rap, would major artists like Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Rick Ross and Drake endorse the drink? It might even have to take edgier artists like Das Racist or Mr. Rager himself, Kid Cudi, to sponsor a drink so cheap yet so powerful.
These men all make chart-topping songs and made lots of dough, just as the St. Ides spokesmen did, but what was the difference between what early-'90s rappers endorsed and what today's rappers will do for more money?
Perhaps malt liquor was simply a part of hip-hop culture in the '90s, and that made artists like Ice Cube and Tupac - who sometimes had pro-black lyrics - endorse St. Ides so aggressively.
Today's generation of artists are about endorsing more expensive styles of drinks. Now all we hear about is popping high-priced bottles of champagne, something you can't just go pick up at the corner store. Rappers these days are more about swag, which is doing, drinking and eating things that regular 9-5 folks can't afford.
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Another familiar liquor campaign that can be tied to hip-hop is Diddy's Ciroc vodka endorsement. Although Ciroc isn't as expensive as the ever-so-popular Vueve Cliquot or Ace of Spades champagnes that rappers talk about now, it also isn't as cheap as St. Ides.
As hip-hop culture changes by the generation, the alcohol endorsements become more sophisticated and pricier.