Wednesday, March 23, 2011

CAN'T KNOCK THE HUSTLE



About three minutes into Jay Z's "Show Me What You Got," the HOVA rhymes about gold bottles and the Ace of Spades. Three minutes and seventeen seconds into the song's video, he waves away a bottle of Cristal, a case is brought out, and a gold bottle of Armand de Brignac is presented. Since then, the champagne has sold out in every run, going for around USD $300 a pop.

The number of hip hop songs that referenced Cristal is staggering. As Jay Z himself puts it, "back then we'd show up at clubs in Lexuses and buy bottles of Cristal, while most people in the clubs were buying Moët. It was symbolic of our whole game — it was the next shit. It told people that we were elevating our game, not by throwing on a bigger chain, but by showing more refined, and even slightly obscure, taste."

All of that changed, however, when the Economist asked Frederic Rouzaud, the managing director at Cristal, for his thoughts about it. “That’s a good question,” Rouzaud replied. “But what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Pérignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.”

"That was like a slap in the face," writes Jay Z. He explains the slight further:
You can argue all you want about Rouzaud's statements and try to justify them or whatever, but the tone is clear. When asked about an influential segment of his market, his response was, essentially, well, we can't stop them from drinking it. That was it for me. I released a statement saying that I would never drink Cristal or promote it in any way or serve it at my clubs ever again. I felt like this was the bullshit I'd been dealing with forever, this kind of offhanded, patronizing disrespect for the culture of hip-hop.
But what of Armand de Brignac, which, at the time "Show Me What You Got" came out, was still a relatively unknown champagne? Why did Jay Z bestow his blessings on that champagne in particular?

The story goes as follows: Jay Z saw the gold bottle at a wine store, picked it up, liked it, and the rest is history. But at the time, Ace of Spades wasn't available in NYC, and, despite the producer's assertions, barely known in Europe. Was this yet another example of how Jay Z was still, post-retirement announcements, ahead of the game? Or was it a tip-off about yet another part of Jay Z's hustle, one that couldn't be named, due to his esteem as untainted tastemaker? Both Armand de Brignac and Jay Z have made statements stating that they were not in cahoots.

Zack Greenburg O'Malley investigates this in his book, Empire State of Mind:
So why would Jay-Z get involved with a second-tier champagne? Because of the immense profit potential. Fass estimates that Cattier’s pro duction cost for each $300 bottle of Armand de Brignac is a mere 10 euros. Assuming Jay-Z is an investor, the connection could be through any number of outlets: Cat tier itself, the brand Armand de Brignac, the importer, the exporter, or the distributor. All of these entities are registered with an array of state and national government agencies in the United States and France. Theoretically, the link could be established with a little bit of sleuth work.
You could've read that excerpt in the Atlantic, which posted the piece online but quickly removed it (as of 12:00 am March 23, 2011, it still wasn't back online). For now, you can read it at Hyun Kim's site, who tweeted about the Atlantic's removal of the piece today: read it here.

Even if Jay Z is on the take, does it matter? As Amos Barshad writes, "when Jay-Z picked Cristal, he was associating himself with something upper class; by the time he abandoned it, he represented the upper class, to a certain demographic, more than Cristal ever did." Shitty or not, when you're drinking Armand de Brignac, you're drinking the gold bottle, you're drinking the video, you're drinking Jay Z's blessing. And that, for now, is something Cristal - irrespective of whether it is a superior champagne or not - can't offer.

Joe.

PS For those of you that still can't be bothered, here's Johnny Pate's "Shaft in Africa," sampled heavily in "Show Me What You Got."

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