Not so many years ago, cognac was seen by most as a ‘stuffy’ old man’s drink best enjoyed by the upper classes after a sumptuous multi-course dinner when the men had retired to the drawing room. Or so you may think…
But actually, whilst the above may well be true, to begin to understand why hip hop culture and cognac now go hand in hand, it’s necessary to take a trip back through history.
Cognac as a luxury good
It harps as far back as the early 18th century, when King Louis XIII placed a tax on cognac as luxury goods. And this instilled into the French psyche the fact that cognac was, in fact, something to keep for celebrations and to offer to important guests.
Fast forward to the terror that were the two World Wars. In the years in between, various black jazz and blues artists, such as Josephine Baker, trod the board in the best of Parisian clubs. Of course, cognac was the drink of the moment, and eaux-de-vie began to slowly become intertwined with the music industry.
During World War II, when prejudice was sadly still alive and well, the black and white US troops stationed in France were kept in segregation. However, both fought and were equal in the fact of what they provided to the war effort. When the war eventually came to an end, as was traditional in France, the locals celebrated with cognac. And they offered this to all the troops, regardless of their creed, colour or background.
Cognac: a drink of good times
Eventually these US troops returned home. But the difference was that the white guys went back to drinking whisky and beer; the drinks they were used to. But the black guys took with them the memories of cognac being a celebration – a drink of good times. And the connection between cognac and the Afro-Americans continued to strengthen.
Of course, the honchos behind the cognac marketing machine had been quick to notice this burgeoning love affair. In the 1950s, Hennessy had begun to run advertising campaigns in US magazines that were read by the Afro-American population, such as Jet and Ebony.
The 1970s saw one of the first pairings between music and cognac in a name, with the Herbie Hancock Quintet – VSOP.
The market continued to thrive, although not grow, over the next few decades. And in the 1990s, the link appeared to loosen somewhat. And then, along came good ol’ Busta Rhymes with the now infamous, Pass the Courvoisier. It seems that since then every cognac worth its salt wants to have a famous hip hop artist seen drinking and promoting their cognac.
From Ludacris to Nas, Jay-Z to Snoop Dogg, it’s hip hop all the way when it comes to powerful cognac advertising. Who’d have thought that the tide of history could have had such a profound effect on the link between cognac and today’s music scene?