It's standard operating procedure, really. After you turn an independent label into a regional powerhouse boasting a dynastic roll call of Southern MCs, then guide a start-up boxing company to Olympic gold and manage a few world champions, the next step is obvious.
You sell some condoms.
It's the same business plan successful corporations have followed for decades. Remember McDonald's short-lived "I'm lovin' it — not having AIDS, that is" campaign? Or the catchy slogans for Microsoft's "Hard Drives" condom line: "Like Norton AntiVirus, but for your cock" and "You can't Ctrl+Alt+Delete HIV"?
Now music magnate James Smith, better known as Rap-a-Lot CEO J. Prince, is intent on following suit. After the 5th Ward native watched a close friend of his wither and ultimately pass away after contracting HIV, Prince became inspired to fight it by founding condom company Strapped.
"One of [Prince's friends] went from 300 pounds to about 75 pounds and was in the hospital wearing a diaper," relays Strapped director and onetime Rap-a-Lot super-publicist Omar Wilson. "[Prince] had the condom idea since 2002 — that situation stuck with J and put all of this into action."
A highly successful foot soldier in the Rap-a-Lot clan, Wilson has helped push Strapped condoms to fruition. And since the product's 2006 introduction, it has laid the proverbial community-service pipe in hopes of reaching the youth. Last year Strapped participated in, among other events, the Hip-Hop 4 HIV concert at Reliant Stadium that administered over 7,500 free HIV tests to people between the ages of 18 and 24.
"We're trying to reach the street demographic, those immediately affected by HIV," says Wilson. "Eighteen-to-24-year-old blacks and Latinos are our target. There are companies out there that have been around 80 years and never reached out to the community the way we have. We want to make a difference."
When used properly, Strapped condoms will help to reduce the transmission of HIV and many other transmitted diseases. When utilized improperly, however — as a coin purse, for example, Christmas-tree topper or shower cap — the prevention rate drops dramatically.
Now available in more than 100 Houston stores, Strapped recently teamed up with big-name rappers like Bun B, Slim Thug, Willie D and Lil' Wayne for the "Strapped 4 Life" campaign. But astute listeners may recall having first heard about the condoms from Rap-a-Lot stalwart Scarface.
In a skit on Face's 2003 album My Balls and My Word, a female requests a would-be suitor to stop and pick up some condoms, proclaiming her preference for Strapped. "They make me feel good," she insists, only to have her perplexed man politely ask, "Tha fuck you know 'bout a condom Strapped?! I ain't never used those!"
The best thing about Strapped condoms, however, is not their ability to inspire quality, relationship-building conversation in their users. Nor is it the superior Malaysian-drawn latex used in production or the countless (seven, actually) performance tests each condom must pass to ensure sufficient quality.
No, sir. The best thing about Strapped condoms is the sizes offered. Currently Strapped condoms are only available in Large, Extra Large and "Baggyhead," in which the condom is flared at the top (head area), just in case, you know, your penis is shaped like a clarinet. This makes the following conversation completely acceptable:
You: Hey, can you tell me where I can find Strapped condoms? Size large.
Clerk: Aisle 12.
You: And that's where they are? In size large? Size large is on aisle 12? Because I need size large...on my penis.
Strapped is slated to drop five more condom varieties in the future, including a polyurethane model, a spermicide model, a flavored series and a benzocaine (numbing) model. Disappointingly, there are no Rap-a-Lot rapper-themed lines planned.
That's a shame, as it would've been kick-ass to precede the bedding of a woman by whipping out the romantic, Z-Ro-endorsed "I Hate You Bitch" model. (Rumor has it that Z-Ro doesn't even wear condoms — he simply tells STDs to stay away. And they listen.)
Seriously, though, HIV is no joke, especially among our youth. In Houston, one in 40 African-Americans is infected with HIV. Although African-Americans make up only 13 percent of the total U.S. population, they account for over 50 percent of the population with HIV or AIDS.
And regardless of any ill will certain people may harbor for J. Prince or Rap-a-Lot, their efforts to educate Houston citizens are commendable.
Get informed, not infected. And stay Strapped up.