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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 June 2006, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Taking the shine off Cristal
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

P Diddy
Bosses might feel a little ambivalent over this image
Rappers love it, quaff it, idolise it. But the makers of Cristal champagne have revealed they are at best ambivalent about the patronage of the hip-hop fraternity.

In its clear bottle with the gold label and the UV-filter wrapper, Cristal is a distinctive enough brand to start with.

Commissioned at the behest of Tsar Alexander II in the 19th Century, the Louis Roederer marque was revived after World War II. It is the drink of kings and princes, and failing that, surely captains of industry and Grace Kelly-style film stars at the very least.

No longer. Now it is the drink of people whose taste in luxury items stretches only to things that are big and shiny, with big, shiny badges on them. Rappers like Gucci, they like Prada, they drive Bentleys and Benzes and most of all they sup Cristal.

And it seems that Louis Roederer may have started to think twice about endorsement from a community that even likes its guns gold-plated.

Asked by the Economist about whether associations with rap stars could affect the marque, new managing director Frederic Rouzaud said: "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."

The ice in my teeth keep the Cristal cold
Young Buck

Graham Hales, of branding experts Interbrand, says the short answer is that brands can do nothing.

"You can have an exclusivity around your brand but these are people who can afford it and are voting for it. You have to go try and find a way to make it a good thing."

It might be known as the Burberry effect. Luxury brand gets adopted by football hooligans and Danniella Westbrook. Brand panics. Brand finds there is nothing it can do. Brand just gets on with life.

Indeed, the rappers aren't suggesting kids steal Cristal, they are merely thanking the Lord for giving them the talent to earn the money to buy it.

Burberry wearers
Burberry - sported in a variety of fashions
Rapper Young Buck speaks for many when he sings: "The ice in my teeth keep the Cristal cold."

Hip hop colleague the Game agrees suggesting: "Hit the big Benz, sipping on the Henn... Hit the spot twelve o'clock, popping Cristal."

There are brands who would be irked. Glock, manufacturer of handguns to many security services and law enforcement agencies across the globe can hardly be delighted when they hear Ice-T sing: "I hang out sunroof tops and pop Glocks at cops."

And away from his namechecking Cristal and Hennessy, Eminem will not have made friends in the pharmaceutical industry with his references to Tylenol and Vicodin.

Poverty-stricken backgrounds

To find out why rappers love their luxury brands you might go back to the "conspicuous consumption" theory posited by American academic Thorstein Veblen more than a century ago.

We don't just want nice things, we want things that are transparently nice to other people and show that we have made it. Most rappers come or claim to have come from a poverty-stricken background. If they have succeeded they want people to know about it. Hip hop and hiding your light under a bushel do not go together.

Ice-T
Pop star - Ice-T, taking brand loyalties to new limits
Naomi Klein noted in No Logo that some kids in American inner cities aped the fashion of rich Wasps - of the White Anglo-Saxon variety - occasionally wearing clothes that wouldn't have been out of place on a yacht.

Rappers can never aspire to be of the same class as their Long Island neighbours, and it is likely that nothing could be a clearer indicator of being recently arrived from the world of poverty than a jewel-encrusted name badge or Swarovski crystal hub caps.

But their message is to their former peers, not to the scions of old money families, and it is best said with Cristal, which after all is apparently a fine-tasting status symbol.

As Simon Field, champagne buyer at London wine merchant Berry Bros, puts it: "Its image is evocative of diamonds and jewels and it rhymes. But it has a lot of almost tropical ripeness, vanilla elements, and is quite approachable."


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

I am a person of colour and think people should stop reading too much into this article. Not once was race mentioned as a factor in this article, only class whereby people have chosen to attribute races to those classes. I agree that it could be detrimental to brands when certain groups within society adopt their products however a sale is a sale regardless of where it comes from.
Regina, Grantham

I think the majority of people reading this article have missed its point. It doesn't have a racisist/classist slant. The point at debate here is not that rich black people are drinking Cristal for their own enjoyment, it's that their using it as a platform to wave their own success, and in doing so, add their own image to that of Cristal's. Whether or not Cristal are right for not wanting this publicity is open to debate, however, i just felt that the issues of the article/author being racist needed addressing, as i felt it slightly unfair as this was not the authors intention to come across in that manner. Personally, i would tend to shy away from products which have become 'labels' for the people that wear them, its identification that i have an issue with.Perhaps the people at Cristal would like their champagne to be drunk rather than "worn" as a label. And before someone asks, im from an Asian, working class background
Roshan, Newcastle

A lot of "old money" was made from the sweat and blood of blacks. Rappers on the other hand have made their money fare and square despite the odds being stacked against them. Ask yourself who do you admire in these two categories and why?
Ola, London

To those saying that this article is racist - because of your comments I've just been through it again and there is absolutely nothing racist about it. It is, though, all about classism - but classism is alive and well. And when the writer says that "rappers can never aspire to be of the same class as their Long Island neighbours", even if it's a white rapper and black Long Island residents, it's probably true. Rappers may use high-status consumables but as long as those things remain their only priorities, they will always project a low-class image.
Jack B, Leeds, UK

Racial and social prejudice is screaming in this issue and in this article, but the author refuses to come out and say it: Certain brand names do not want people of colour and of poor backgrounds using their products.

Why should the brand care who is buying it if their product is selling more than ever? Where would Tommy Hilfiger be if it wasn't for people of colour (including rappers and musicians) in the 1990s? The fact that they are troubled that they can't essentially 'forbid' certain groups of people from buying their product is reflective of their snobbery and prejudice.
April LaCroix, Toronto, Canada

Isn't is more racist to assume that a journalist who mentions rappers is only talking about black people? Sure there are some bad white rappers out there but being a good rapper is not about the colour of your skin.
Jennifer, Netherlands, ex-UK

"But it has a lot of almost tropical ripeness, vanilla elements, and is quite approachable."

I'm sure that's what Ludacris is talking about in his songs
Wes J, San Diego, USA

I don't think that Cristal is suggesting that people of colour should not be buying their product, but the specific culture that hip hop artists endorse is something that would worry any company that they frequent. The classic exmple of Burberry becoming a chav-tastic label is something that any apparently 'exclusive' brand name would want to avoid; and the gun-toting violence often advocated in hip hop music is even worse than the ASBO image of chavs.
EB, England

I can barely believe the racist and classicist tripe I have just read. I had been studdying advertising in the nineteenth century and could not believe how racist that was with adverts full of 'little dervishes' or 'savages' and all I could think of reading this was that this author belonged in that era. The argument that African-Americans should not be so obsessed with material wealth because of the suffering in Africa is ridiculous. White people are allowed to buy yachts or Ferraris but black people should be humble? I also agree with the comment that the author's choice of rappers to quote is a terrible representation of the genre. Its embarassing that people are still this convinced of their superiority,
Max Luthy, London

What cobblers! How can the man from Berry Bros describe it as "approachable"? Does that mean cheap?
John Ette, Le Pradet, France

It's very true that those that haven't really had the wealth before, need to show and prove they've made it. The only downside is that many of the less privileged people that these new-rich have left behind don't want to find wealth the hard way, and so some of those that do come from poor backgrounds gain their wealth through other means. I mean, just look at the some of the sinister goings on in Birmingham and its gangs and drugs culture.
Ross, Birmingham

As an African-American coming from New York City, I can say from experience, when you grow up with next to nothing in a country like this, the first chance you get, you're going to show off what you got. However shallow it may be, its imbedded in the culture, especially among African-Americans. However, also embedded in the complex culture is a genuine propensity for innovation and creativity. This is proved by the fact that most popular fashion and music starts in urban America.
Ed Ntiri, New York City, USA

Gone are the days of social hierarchy (well in the US anyway, if there ever was any) antiquated brands such as Louis Roederer, Burberry, Louis Vuitton need to understand the brand power of their products in today's market... Exclusivity and limited distribution, being a solution. These brands/products will soon be blase anyway, as hip hop icons move on to their own farcical clothing and alcohol empires
Anthony Hope, Portland,OR /London,UK

Argh! These comments are so frustrating. Why do people always have to make things into a race issue? I can guarantee to you that, if the rap community was mainly formed of white kids singing about shooting each other and pimping out women, the brand would still have a problem being identified with such a scene. It's nothing to do with the colour of the skin of these undesirables and everything to do with the vile 'gangsta' image that they project.
DH, Newcastle

I think many of you are failing to understand why the people at Louis Roederer may not want rappers "sipping Cristal". They are not only interested in selling their wine (in fact I don't think they have any problem with that whatsoever, as it's of very limited supply), but they are also interested in maintaining their brand reputation. They have always had the reputation as one of the best champagnes in the world, and of being a drink of true connoisseurs. Rappers, who prefer spraying the champagne to drinking it hardly fit this image. The company are therefore concerned that its popularity in hip-hop could ruin their branding, instead changing it to being a drink just for people who are rich enough to buy it. I also suspect that they are protective of it, in a way, as it is after all a masterpiece; I doubt they want people drinking it who do not truly appreciate all the effort that has gone into producing it.
Robbie, Bristol

Theres a difference between wealth and class. Just because a rapper has money, doesn't mean they 'can aspire to be of the same class as their Long Island neighbours' when they're singing about shooting cops, "hos", bling and other tosh. Burberry now has a negative image attached to it caused by 'chavs' wearing knock-off items bought from markets. I'm sure cristal would be keen to avoid a similar fate. Regardless of race/colour/creed and class, a negative image brought about by association with undesirable traits (cop killing, drugs etc) is still a bad image. If Eminem sang about drugs, and Cristal would it be anymore acceptable. Of course not. Everyone is so hungup on race issues, get out and see the bigger picture.
Mike, UK

I think it is racist (or racialist, as Ali G says) for the makers of Cristal to be upset about rappers drinking their champagne. They should be glad anyone wants to spend money on their product! The kind of pseudo-aristocratic mystique they perhaps desire is at best outdated, and at worst is bigoted. What next - a white only warning on the label? They should be ashamed.
Clover, WV, USA

Is Cristal worth it? I've had it a couple of times and think so. That is after having spent a significant (and fun) part of my life trying most of the champagnes and sparakling wines produced. Will the rappers appreciate the rich, elegant, slightly smoky complex demi-sec Cristal style? I somehow doubt it - the fat Cuban cigars they chuff on will affect the taste buds. Give them perry (a fizzy muck made from pears) and tell them it's the real thing, it would serve them right, really, wouldn't it?
Simon, Manchester UK

As Pharell put it "who would have thought that someone like me could get to this place I'm currently in, Louis Vutton has thrown lavish parties and given mink coats to get my name for sponsership, Swarovski patented two diamond cuts in my name...its so mall-ish"
kiki, london

The Cristal article is indicative of the current state of hip-hop. The two rappers that you quoted as source for your article are in no way representative of the art form as a whole, simply two very poor MCs, who are failing to be creative with their wordplay, and are living up to every lame stereotype that hip-hop/ rap is currently afflicted with. Put simply, the genre is now an extension of Corporate America, rapppers are regressing in terms of content, and are kowtowing to CEOs of labels who demand such vacuous rubbish in tracks, to get that club hit. For example 50 Cent will name check the aforementioned, and doesn't even drink!
John Keane, London

This is probably one of the most rediculous and and racist/classist articles I've ever scene on the BBC news services. To say that cristal has a problem of their brand being labled as low class due to an association with rich rappers is racist in saying that one rich groups money and patronage are better then others. Not to mention the fact that yer average Joe on the steet most likely never even heard of cristal before it became a mainstay of the rap community. Then there was the completly unacceptable comment that "Rappers can never aspire to be of the same class as their Long Island neighbours" What the hell kind of responsible journalistic comment is that garbage. Old money has nothing to do with class. Look at Paris Hilton... And for the record, I'm white and middle class
Kelly , NJ USA

I like downloading their songs for free from P2P networks and getting drunk on cheap strong lager. Gangsta rap? Ha! Won't get no cash outta me. Sucka
Steve, Bedford

People with real class don't need to show it. You drink decent champagne because it's decent. The ones who throw their cash around and have to show it wish they hadn't when they reach 60 and can't "pop their Glocks at cops" from their sunroofs because of back problems.
Owain, Stafford

Remember, old money was new money once. At least these people are making it with their own drive and talent rather than shaking down the peasants! Anyway, I've learnt something today - I had assumed 'Cristal' in the lyrics was some type of coke derivative (and I don't mean the soft drink)
Paul Braham, southampton

Cristal's not worth the money... Krug is far superior for a similar price!
Daz, Bournemouth

"Rappers can never aspire to be of the same class as their Long Island neighbours" And why not. Seems like classism lives on in the mind of the author of this article
I_dude, London

Like most other markers of success promoted by rappers - namely drugs, guns, the subdugation of women and the violent reactions towards anyone showing a lack of 'respect' - any sane person would reject them as the childish idiocy of people with too much money, too little brains and precious little talent.
Tom Purser, Cambridge

Fair play to them all, they have made the money to be able to afford this but surely they should take a leaf out of Bill Gates' book and help out the millions of people across the world (most of whom are from Africa, the motherland) so that they can at least eat one meal a day!
Greg, London

Of course, it works both ways. I can afford Cristal, but I won't drink it because people might say I'm a rapper...
Pete, Derby, England

Champagne? A decent wine ruined. Like fizzy beer, it's just a shadow of the real thing.
David, Ipswich, England

Rarely have I read such ridiculous nonsense. The racism inherent in the author's conflation of "inner-city" youth with specifically black youth is symptomatic of much of the 'thought' that runs throughout this. It's barely worth addressing the so-called concerns of the people behind Cristal who frankly should be thrilled to have found an audience for their gaudy, over-priced and second-rate wares. Also, can anybody make a serious attempt to equate this with the Burberry effect? It's not as if Bargain Boozer has started selling Babycham-esque knock-offs of Cristal which are now littering the parks in place of White Lightning. Cristal is available only to the wealthy few who can afford it, as it always has been. The supposed 'problem' here seems just to be that now certain black musicians have the money to be in this set.
Dave, London

Such obscene display of opulence and waste of money by these showbiz guys, who are mostly African-Americans is nauseating when one juxtaposes it beside the poverty of many African-Americans in America and many Africans dwelling in Africa who need only a minute fraction of what these rappers waste on wine, cars, women, jewels etc to meet their basic needs of shelter, education, health, food etc.
Ola, Sweden

Considering the wealthy people who already have a taste for a brand like Cristal probably aren't listening to rap, I don't see how their feelings about the brand would change at all. If anything, the makers of Cristal should be salivating over the idea that inner city kids and suburban wannabees are going to be taking their minimum wage paychecks to the liquor store to buy a $100 bottle of champagne. Since when have corporations complained about free advertising?
Mehran , Seattle, WA, USA

If stupid people are stupid enough to pay stupid money for branded items that are no better than those without a ''name'' then great. I'd just like to run one of those ''brand'' firms that sell to people gullible enough to buy their goods. As far as I'm concerned it makes no difference whether you buy a Ferrari or a Nissan - you still can't go more than 70 mph in this country and your tin box on wheels still ends up in the scrapyard.
Tom Bell, Retford

I think it would be wise for the makers of Cristal to not make an issue of this. You can not control the image of your product once you sell it. The rap community has given a huge boost to the brand, much like what rapper Ludacris did for the Cadillac Escalade. Cadillac was smart enough to make him a spokesman for the brand. Bottom line, companies want to make money and hip hop sells.
Fawad Arain, Washington DC

Living in the Baltimore-Washington area, I certainly see a lot of the conspicuous consumption of the hip-hop set. I think that sometimes it hurts brands, though. Many people I know won't wear Tommy Hilfiger or something with the Burberry print because they are now seen as "ghetto"
Scott, Baltimore

No one had a problem when only white people were drinking Cristal. Rappers are a small segment of black society. It's a shame that intelligent people can't see that. There are a lot of "well to do" blacks in Canada and America who made their money through the stock exchange and/or being an executive of an corporation. Europeans especially the ones in Germany need to understand that blacks just as whites are intelligent, educated individuals who have a wide range of interest and talents.
Alex, Mississauga

This is really annoying. I'll have to go back to drinking the Krug, Clos du Mesnil 1995 I suppose.
Kerry, London, England

I'm 25 years old, and I have to say that my generation never heard of Cristal before rappers started to sing about it, and MTV would show their "cribs" (houses) and frigs filled with it. Now, I want to get one because it has become a status symbol like Gucci, Armani and Prada. I think the boss at Cristal needs to realize that any kind of publicity is good publicity.
SV, NYC, USA

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