Rap's Liquored Lyrics Push Booze Brands on Kids

By Dirk Hanson 10/21/11

Young people are bombarded by 3.4 alcohol brand references an hour in their music, researchers find.

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It’s no secret that the likes of Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, and P. Diddy have gotten very rich cutting lucrative promo deals with the liquor industry. And some rappers go further still, by pushing individual brand-name booze: Little Jonathan Wineries for Lil’ Jon, Conjure Vodka for Ludacris, Ciroc Vodka for Diddy, and so on. But a new study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, published in the journal Addiction—analyzing 793 of the biggest youth market songs from 2005-2007—reveals hip-hop-loving youngsters are exposed to "about 3.4 alcohol brand references per song-hour" in their music every day. Alcohol trade associations have rules about advertising liquor to minors, but critics say the booze tie-ins seen in rap and hip-hop are a clever marketing end-around. “Given that the average adolescent is exposed to about 2.5 hours of popular music per day,” say the investigators, their exposure is "substantial" and reflects a troubling escalation in partnerships between the music and alcohol industries. And it works: the 2002 hit song Pass the Courvoisier, by Busta Rhymes and P. Diddy, boosted sales of that brand of cognac by almost 20%. Heavily-hyped brands that are much-mentioned in songs—like Patron Tequila, Grey Goose Vodka and Hennessey Cognac—are often listed as favorites by underage drinkers. However, Greg Cohen, corporate communications director of Patron Tequila, insists “if an artist chooses to include us in their song, that’s their doing. In our view, it’s not advertising, because we don’t pay for it and we don’t solicit it.” Maybe so, but once the songs are out there, the liquor biz isn't shy about subsequent promotional ties. And it's not only rap: musicians like Willie Nelson and Mariah Carey have released whiskey and Champagne lines respectively. Then there was Seagram liquor company, which was owned by music giants Universal and Polygram from 1995-2001. Expect more of this kind of thing as the alcohol industry strives to expand its reach.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]

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