Cynics decry big, bad, materialistic hip-hop nowadays for being indistinguishable from commercials, but all the haranguing overlooks the long-standing weakness rappers have shown for product placement, paid or otherwise. Also-rans Mr. X and Mr. Z’s 1987 “We Drink Old Gold” predates Busta’s “Pass the Courvoisier” by nearly as many years as distance “My Adidas” from Nelly’s “Air Force Ones.”
In the late 1980s the St. Ides Brewing Company took these lessons to heart and hired a team of up-and-coming artists to write and produce one-minute radio and TV spots promoting malt liquor—the best of which have now been collected by the mysterious DJ Drank. Yo-Yo and Ice Cube take a tepid step toward gender equality on the she’s-gotta-have-it-too theme “Femalt Liquor,” while Cube elsewhere suggests, “Get your girl in the mood quicker/Get your jimmy thicker/With St. Ides malt liquor.” The disc also features spots with Snoop Dogg, EPMD, and the Geto Boys.
Though St. Ides’s alliance with fledgling gangsta rap set didn’t hurt sales, constant controversies exacted a toll. In 1991, the company was savaged for hiring 20-year-old Bushwick Bill less than a year after he lost an eye in an alcohol-bleary accident; Korean American merchants boycotted St. Ides after Cube’s “Black Korea”; community groups called the ads’ use of hip-hop a not-so-sly encouragement of underage drinking.
When the campaign was conceived in the late 1980s, hip-hop on the airwaves was generally poppy; despite healthy niche sales, the only way edgier West Coast artists like future Alkaholiks founder E-Swift could get consistent radio play was as pitchmen. By the mid 1990s, where the collection roughly ends, rap had found its place at the table of American violence, and the malt liquor industry was desperately trying to class up its image in the face of flossier times. Fittingly, the collection’s last cut is Cube’s “Crooked I for All Ages,” a lackluster theme song for a pointless gimmick—nonalcoholic brew.