Sunday, October 15, 2006

Rappers Love Champagne

For centuries regarded as a sparkling symbol of decadence sipped by kings and queens, Champagne has today become the tipple of choice for hip-hop royalty.

But while rap stars have kept the bubbly flowing from magnums, Methuselahs and jereboams in fashionable nightclubs from New York to Los Angeles, not everyone is happy at Champagne's association with hip-hop culture.

In June, Louis Roederer's managing director Frederic Rouzaud caused a storm in a Champagne flute when he sniffed at the popularity of the company's expensive Cristal Champagne amongst rappers.

Asked if he felt the association with rap could harm the 230-year-old company's marquee brand, he replied: "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."

Rouzaud's comments were branded racist by rapper and producer Jay-Z, who said he would ban Cristal -- which has been immortalised in the lyrics of several rap records -- from being sold at his nightclubs.

But regardless of Rouzaud's perceived misgivings, analysts are unanimous that rap and champagne go together like hip and hop. And the love affair is not going to stop anytime soon.

Cheryl Keyes, associate professor of ethnomusicology at UCLA and a noted expert of hip-hop, said rappers' taste for champagne was in keeping with a culture that celebrates materialism and conspicuous consumption.

"If you are a rapper that is seen in the public eye as being a rich millionaire ... it's important for self presentation that you only drive the most expensive cars and drink the most expensive champagne," Keyes said.

"Champagne is associated with elegance. So it's almost like giving a sense of elegance to hip-hop and by doing that they attach certain brand names to represent what is high-living, living large.

"It's compatible with the lifestyles they portray in the media."

Keyes said she was not surprised that accusations of racism had greeted Rouzaud's remarks.

"It's like any other art form in this case, that probably started at the bottom where people look down on it, and they didn't think it was going to go anywhere."

Jerry Colliano, an expert specialising in the music industry, radio and television at the University of Southern California, noted that many champagne and luxury goods manufacturers had eagerly embraced rap culture.

Rouzaud's remarks were "marketing stupidity," Colliano said.

"You don't bite the hand that raises the champagne to your mouth, whether that mouth is black or white," he said.

"It has nothing to do with Cristal not being good enough for the black market that is courted successfully by Louis Vuitton.

"It is all about Rouzaud not being smart enough to know that in the world of marketing, bubbly knows no colour -- literally and figuratively."

The United States is second only to Britain in the world's league table of champagne consumers. Around 20.6 million bottles were sold in the US in 2005.

Daniel Lorson, a spokesman for the French Association of Champagne Growers (CIVC), said disquiet over champagne's popularity amongst rappers was nothing out of the ordinary.

"In every era champagne has attracted extravagant consumers, but at the same time ambassadors carrying some notoriety," Lorson said.

While a champagne manufacturer seeking to appeal to a conservative, traditional market might not welcome the rap clientele, Lorson said most companies would be likely to adopt a more business-minded view.

"There is no such thing as bad publicity," he said. "Only publicity."

Agence France Presse

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