Since the 1980s, Hip-Hop has been a fixture in advertising. When it comes to rappers-as-pitchmen, there have been moments both cringeworthy and undeniably cool. Travis Scott's recent foray into pitchman territory, the new McDonald's "Travis Scott Meal," has been making headlines. But the Hip-Hop star's fast food partnership is far from the first case of Madison Avenue tapping rapper's to sell merch. Over the years, we've seen everyone from Sprite to St. Ides have major Hip-Hop names in ads rhyming about obeying your thirst or making a run for the border.
Here are some of the coolest classic Hip-Hop commercials (and some are just too funny not to love).
(1985) Kurtis Blow becomes Sprite's first Hip-Hop pitchman
After Hip-Hop started cracking the mainstream, Sprite saw how influential rappers could be. They tapped Kurtis Blow early on for a mid-80s commercial campaign. It was the perfect choice, as Blow was the first rapper to really gain mainstream stardom. If you're gonna break ground, you gotta go with the biggest.
(1988) Mars Blackmon and Michael Jordan make Nike cool.
When Nike signed Michael Jordan as a rookie, the sneaker brand wasn't in the same orbit as mainstays like Adidas and Converse. By the end of the 1980s, Jordan had single handedly transformed Nike into a juggernaut -- thanks in no small part to a series of classic ads co-starring Spike Lee as Brooklyn b-boy Mars.
(1990) Heavy D & The Boyz like the Sprite in you
Why, yes -- you will be seeing Sprite a lot on this list. Heavy D & The Boyz gave the soda giant one of its most memorable ads for its "I Like the Sprite In You" campaign of the early 1990s; and it would start a wave of classic clips. Like this next one...
(1991) Sprite taps Kid 'n Play to bring the party
Kid 'n Play were scorching hot as the 1990s dawned, and Sprite was already a brand embracing Hip-Hop stars. Fresh off of the success of House Party, with a Saturday morning cartoon and House Party 2 headed to theaters, the dancing duo gave us this upbeat ode to lemon-lime soda pop.
(1992) Jazzy Jeff shows you how to properly rock your Starter cap
In the early 1990s, you were nothing without the right team's jacket or hat. (Don't believe us? Check out this list of Hip-Hop's favorite jerseys.) The age of Starter was something to behold, as rappers and athletic wear became synonymous with urban cool. Enter DJ Jazzy Jeff, who became the go-to authority on the proper way to sport your Starter cap. Class is in session.
(1992) Eric B. & Rakim for St. Ides'
St. Ides' was the new brew on the block in the early 1990s, and suddenly it vaulted to the front of the malt liquor class largely on the strength of classic commercials featuring legends of Hip-Hop. One of the first was Eric B. & Rakim, who starred in this ad back in 1992.
(1994) Sprite links with Tribe
The cool thing about brands like Sprite and St. Ide's is that they were able to tap into the wide spectrum of Hip-Hop in their ads. Tribe popping up in a soda commercial was no weirder than Eric B. & Rakim in a liquor ad.
(1995) Grand Puba and Large Professor Go Off the Cuff for Sprite
One of Sprite's dopest ad runs was the low-key, laid-back vibe of their mid-90s campaign. One ad featured Pete Rock & CL Smooth; but this one with Grand Puba and Large Professor highlights how effortlessly cool buddies freestyling in the studio could be. If you were watching Rap City in the mid-1990s, you saw this video about 2,984 times.
(1996) St. Ides taps 2Pac and Snoop Doggy Dogg
Why did St. Ides become such a popular cheap malt liquor in the 90s? Well, the fact that the brand managed to secure some of the biggest rappers of all time for their ad campaign. The brew company had everybody from Ice Cube to Eric B. & Rakim to Wu-Tang Clan in their ads, but one of the most memorable had to be this gangsta partied-out commercial with the two biggest stars on Death Row. And also...
(1996) Notorious B.I.G. rhymes over a Death Row beat for St. Ides
Not many brands can say that they had 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. in their ads, but, as we mentioned, St. Ides managed to get the best of the best. That Biggie rhymes over Tha Dogg Pound's "New York, New York" sample was just pointed enough, given the climate at the time.
(1998) Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Missy Elliott and Grandmaster Caz pay homage to Wild Style
In 1998, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan were two young guns expected to be the future of the NBA in the post-Michael Jordan world. Missy Elliott was on the front end of a crazy successful run, and they joined up with Grandmaster Caz of the Cold Crush Bros to recreate the classic "Basketball Showdown" from Wild Style, when Caz and the Cold Crush battled the Fantastic Freaks for supremacy on a Bronx court.
(1998) Fat Joe, Goodie Mob, Common, Mack 10 and Afrika Bambaaataa team up as Voltron
Melding the classic 80s Japanese-American cartoon Voltron to Hip-Hop was a stroke of marketing genius. Sprite grabbed representatives from the East, South, West and Midwest and put a founding father as the "Black Lion" centerpiece for a commercial campaign that was so cool, they did it one mo' gin...
(1999) Eve, Mia X, Amil, Angie Martinez and Roxanne Shante team up to defeat Kool Keith as Five Deadly Venoms
Sprite's "Five Deadly Venoms" campaign was another winner, this time taking the same multi-regional approach and dropping in classic kung-fu movie references. From the very beginning, Sprite's ad department just seemed to get Hip-Hop better than anyone else's.
(1999) LL COOL J shouts-out FUBU in a Gap commercial
It was the most subversively Hip-Hop moment in ad history. None other than LL COOL J dropped some bars in a GAP ad while making sure to show love to FUBU. "For Us, By Us -- on the low" made it clear who James Todd Smith was really repping, while rocking the hat. It was a brilliant way to give a boost to a Black brand in a major company's commercial. The G.O.A.T.