The 30: Trouble in the Capital

Notes From Roland Garros


The Great Tournament of Hip-Hop Beverage Commercials.

Over the years, many companies enlisted rappers to promote their products (Ludacris and Pepsi, Jay-Z and Heineken, Kanye and Absolut, Ice Cube and Coors) and as rappers have upped their business acumen, they also started to endorse their own products in commercials (Diddy and Ciroc, 50 Cent and Vitamin Water)

Brands like Pepsi, Heineken, Absolute, Coors, Ciroc, and Vitamin Water have done great things to further merge the worlds of beverages and hip-hop, but when it really comes down to it, none of those silly companies matter. There are only two that deserve an unnecessarily long analysis of their contribution to pop culture.

St. Ides, Sprite

This should come as no surprise, because if there’s one thing I know about those urban youths, it’s that we love alcohol that has a “premium” rating and we love the merging of lemons and limes. Doesn’t get more urban than that.

Instead of just talking about the two beverages and the rappers that have pitched these products, why not turn this into a competition.

If 2011 has taught me anything, it is that there’s only one way to truly handle pop-culture competitions: the bracket. It’s been proven time and time again (twice) that deciding the winner of a heated, highly-contested issue that everyone has an opinion about can only be responsibly tackled with a well-thought out and analyzed NCAA tournament-styled pop culture bracket. People have been mindlessly arguing for years about the best Outkast and Jay-Z songs, but not until April’s Stankoff 2011 and June’s Hovafest 2011 could the argument finally come to a close. Because of these two successful experiments, the bracket seems like the only way to decide on the greatest St. Ides vs. Sprite commercial.

I proudly present:


The Great Drankoff bracket

Yep, that just happened. Let’s Go.

3 notes:

1) In my opinion, these are the creme de la creme of commercials for each brand. You’d be shocked to know how many rappers have done commercials for each brand.

2) Rankings are based on Youtube views.

3) Memphis Bleek once did a commercial for Garnier Fructis. Feel free to watch it HERE and completely disregard the rest of this article.


St. Ides Region:

1. Notorious BIG (1995) vs. 8. Eric B. & Rakim (1992)

I can’t think of a better way to start a competition than a Biggie vs. Rakim match-up. In case you are unaware, St. Ides wasn’t playing around with their ad campaigns. They never asked Chingy to tell people whurr to pick up a nice 40oz of St. Ides. Only heavy hitters allowed on the St. Ides team. For me, this match-up doesn’t come down to who’s the better rapper. That’s a completely different article (where the answer comes down to one made “Juicy” and one didn’t make “Juicy”, so Biggie wins). The determining factor is which rapper do I believe drinks the most St. Ides. After watching the two commercials, I think Biggie was 4 St. Ides in when they started filming, whereas I don’t think Rakim has the time in his day to stop frowning and enjoy a nice premium malt beverage. For that reason, in addition to the fact that there’s no way I’m knocking out the Fat Black MC in the first round, gives the edge to Biggie.

4. DJ Pooh (1992) vs. 5. Ice Cube (1993)

Unlike the previous match-up, neither of these commercials have any on-screen rapping by the two protagonists. What each lacks in rapping, however, makes up for with a completely ridiculous commercial. The DJ Pooh commercial involves break dancing superhero mimes, blaxsploitation, and either drunk driving or a mid-day acid trip, while the Ice Cube commercial involves a St. Ides in a safe and him actually having access to a helicopter. While they both lack any rhyme or reason, the DJ Pooh one is so impressively insane, it has to get the win. Without question.

3. Wu-Tang Clan (1995) vs. Ice Cube & The Geto Boys (1991)

Did you see Method Man just walk through a door and start rapping? Not impressed? Did you see ODB, looking like he’s 8 St. Ides in? Still, not satisfied? Raekwon’s waning moon part in his hair? No dice? Did you just see Ghostface pop out of a box and shoot lasers out of his fingers? Missed that too? Well, unfortunately for Ice and the Geto Boys, I caught it all and that’s what matters in this competition. Sorry, Bushwick Bill, but there’s really nothing that cute little frame of yours could do to out-match that (except pop out of a smaller box and shoot lasers out of your fingers). The Wu on to the Elite 8.

2. Snoop Dogg & Tupac (1993) vs. 7. Snoop Dogg & Nate Dogg (1994)

Extremely tough match-up. For one, both involve standout performances by Snoop Dogg and in both we learn that St. Ides gives him magical powers, either to transform from dog to man or to talk to the Crip version of himself en route to the corner store. The only way to decide on this is by comparing the second fiddles, that being Tupac and Nate Dogg. 99% of the time, Tupac wins this battle, but wouldn’t you know it that 1% is “reserved for St. Ides-related arguments.” I’ve always said Nate Dogg is one of two people who could sing about anything and it would sound glorious (R. Kelly is obviously the other). This commercial exemplifies what I’ve always believed. Nate’s beautiful tenor vibrato + the fact that St. Ides actually bleeped Snoop’s verse (also happened in Rakim’s verse) instead of forcing him to write new lyrics gives the edge to The Doggs. Sad to see Pac leave so soon. Sigh. Okay, over it. Moving on.

Sprite Region

1. Nas & AZ (1997) vs. Missy Elliott (1998)

A little back story, both of these commercials are from the same Sprite campaign, the Wildstyle tribute campaign. 3 famous scenes from the film were reenacted, all in the name of Sprite (schooling over). After watching these two for the first time, my first inclination is to give it to the Missy video, not because of the reenactment, not because of anything Missy did, but because this is the single coolest moment of Tim Duncan’s life. The way he said “I’m the Tim” is so fly, it’s hard to imagine him not ending up on Young Money (please someone make me a .GIF of that immediately.) And on top of that, once he says it, he starts doing the Birdman “If I’m not talking, I’m rubbing my hands together because I literally bring nothing else to the table” move. And then there’s Kobe. Do you remember long-hair-don’t-care, Donald Glover-looking Kobe Bryant? I thought he was so cool back then, I actually considered asking my mom for a pair of Adidias that weren’t Sambas for PE. The length at which I’ve discussed this makes it seem like the obvious winner, but the more I watch the two commercials, the more it becomes apparent that this Nas/AZ 30 second clip is beyond classic. It even out-classics “I’m the Tim.” Their chemistry is something you can’t fake for a commercial; you can only learn that in the Br-the Bridge-the-the-the Bridge. Illmatic on to the Elite 8.

4. Kurtis Blow (1986) vs. 5. Kid N Play (1991)

Let me be the first to say that what Kurtis said about 7up is not cool. Dissing of other beverages in an attempt to gain a fan base is about as lowdown as it gets in hip-hop. Apparently, Sprite learned its lesson from the famed “Kurtis Blow Sprite Fallout” and by 1991 was ready to clean up its thuggish image. Enter, Kid N Play. This video is one of my first memories and probably the reason to this day I wear yellow and green collared rompers to work. It’s 30 seconds of good, clean fun and, per usual, their dance moves are on point. Kurtis, I hope you’ve learned your lesson, because those types of shenanigans will not get you to the 2nd round. Kid N Play move on.

3. KRS-ONE & MC Shan (1996) vs. 6. A Tribe Called Quest (1994)

Let me be the first to say I love that Tribe commercial. It’s like a time capsule for that type of hip-hop that existed in the mid-90s. Unfortunately for Tribe, it’s going against one of the more fairy tale hip hop commercials ever made. I mean, what’s better than seeing two legends that once had legendary beef literally battle in a ring over their old beats… once again… all in the name of Sprite. The only thing better than that is the pair of industrial-strength overalls MC Shan is wearing in the commercial. The decision to recreate “South Bronx”/”The Bridge is Over” in a Sprite commercial is a great moment in hip hop and there’s no way Tribe can touch it. Shan and the Teacha on to the Elite 8.

2. Africa Bambaataa, Goodie Mob, Fat Joe, Mack 10, & Common (1998) vs. 7. Large Professor & Grand Puba (1994)

In 1998, someone at Sprite had the idea to use the tried and tested formula of rappers in commercials, but combine that with Voltron. It was a 5 part commercial series, with this video being the final chapter (HERE for the whole series). The way I feel about this is very similar to the way I feel about Family Matters, that being at the time I was like, “This. Is. Awesome” but now I see it, get physically uncomfortable, question my original feelings, and expect the programming to slip through the cracks of my Norton Antivirus and completely annihiliate all of my electronics. I want to like it, mainly because the ATL in me loves the fact that someone picked Goodie Mob for this project, but I just don’t know anymore. On the other side of this is Large Professor & Grand Puba. For simplicity’s sake, from now on I will refer to Large Professor and Grand Puba as “Grand Puba”, because that’s what I really care about. Part of the Sprite freestyle series (the other was Pete Rock and CL Smooth), Puba lazily destroys this verse and genuinely makes me want to buy a Sprite and flow with my friends. The combination of Puba being awesome and hip-hop Voltron losing steam as the years go by equals a win for Grand Puba.

Elite Eight

Sweet 16

St. Ides Region:

1. Notorious BIG (1995) vs. 4. DJ Pooh (1992)

The weird in me admires what is going on in the DJ Pooh commercial. It’s probably the most avant-garde St. Ides piece ever created. Having said that, I leave that commercial with the thought “if I drink a St. Ides today, I might crash my car and die.” The last thing I want to do after enjoying a premium malt beverage is almost getting hit by the delivery truck of my aforedranked premium malt beverage. After watching this commercial, the only thing that really gets me back on the “maybe I could enjoy a nice St. Ides again” bandwagon is the Biggie commercial. All he’s doing is drinking his drink, hanging out at home, and walking down the block, talking to people. That sounds like an unbelievable day, very different from the terror associated with St. Ides and DJ Pooh. For that reason alone, the edge goes to Biggie. Final 4, baby.

3. Wu-Tang Clan (1995) vs. 7. Dogg(Snoop + Nate) (1994)

With this match-up, it ultimately comes down to quantity, because the quality is very high for each commercial. The Wu commercial not only gives me 3 verses against Snoop and Nate’s 2, but in the Wu clip, there are TEN more seconds of music than in Snoop and Nate’s commercial. When I watch the Snoop and Nate commercial, just as I start smiling, it’s over, and I’m immediately back to my old, boring, simple life. With the Wu commercial, however, I’m smiling, and then I’m smiling some more, and then I’m smiling even more. Just as I’ve made it through Raekwon and it seems as if the commercial is over, Ghostface comes in to bring it home. Have I mentioned he pops out of a box and shoots lazers out of his hands? Wu-Tang, in the Final 4. Big ups to Wu Wear.

Sprite Region:

1. Nas & AZ (1997) vs. 5. Kid N Play (1991)

It’s one thing to go up against a very rude, disrespectful Kurtis Blow and come out with a victory. It’s a completely different thing to go up against 2/5ths of The Firm and the duo responsible for the 6th best song on Illmatic. When I say “it’s a completely different thing”, I mean “Kid N Play, I’m glad you made it this far, thanks for playing, please stop sending me House Party VHS tapes, I don’t have the means to enjoy them anymore, it’s 2011.” Don’t get me wrong, the commercial is awesome and bright and borderline epileptic if green and yellow don’t sit well with you, but Nas and AZ are too much. They’re finishing each other’s sentences. About SPRITE. How cool is that? Answer: extremely cool. Final 4, duns.

3. KRS-ONE & MC Shan (1996) vs. 7. Grand Puba

Give a pound to my man with my right hand. Because I, I keep my Sprite in my left hand. And then I push the button when I don’t wanna hear nothin’ I let it go when I wanna hear somethin’. — Grand Puba

Rappers are infamously known for being horrendous multi-taskers. What Grand Puba is doing may seem simple and easy, but trust me it is not. You may watch the short clip and just see him rapping about what he’s doing, and in turn, not be impressed. If that’s how you feel, you should probably take a closer look. In your life, have you ever pounded, kept, pushed, let go, AND rapped at the same time? The answer is no, because only Grand Puba can do that. It’s like the game Bop It, but 17 times harder. I know I went on and on about KRS and Shan and how important of a commercial it is, but Puba’s freestyle overwhelms the staged beef reenactment. Congrats, Grand. Welcome to the Final 4.

Final 4

Final Four

St. Ides Region:

Biggie (’95) vs. Wu-Tang Clan (’95)

Biggie’s rapping about 22oz.

Wu-Tang’s rapping about 40oz.

This is surprisingly the easiest decision of the bracket. I didn’t even see that coming. Wow.

Meth, The Chef, Pretty Toney, and the rest of the Wu-Tang clan march into the finals.

Nas & AZ (’97) vs. Grand Puba (’94)

So one of the awesome things about catchy commercials is being able to imitate whatever is said/done in the 30 second spot. The way Puba raps borderlines on “I’ve never rapped before”, which makes everyone believe they can mimic it and, in turn, be a rapper. You see Nas and AZ and you think, “whoa, those guys have speech impediments whoa, those guys can really rap”, but a little too well to imitate and it’s not as much fun. That’s why Puba is the best, mainly for his sheer lack of skill, and that’s why he is slow-rapping into the finals.


Championship round

PUBA!!! I’ve been pretty clear about my huge love and bias towards Grand Puba from the get go, so it should be no surprise that he won. My rationale is personal and nostalgic, but I know many others feel the same way. For the majority of my adolescent and now young adult life, casually frestyling has been a huge part of what ties my friends and I together. Some are very good and others (myself included) are comically bad (people fluctuate between the categories, depending on if they are on Sprite #3 or St. Ides #3). As recently as 2 weeks ago, I’ve been sitting in a room with 5-6 of my friends and seen someone walk through the door and immediately start freestyling, a la Grand Puba. It’s the most accessible hip-hop beverage commercial ever made and has continued to be fly (unlike Voltron) for almost two decades now.

Rembert Browne writes the daily blog 500 Days Asunder, and will retweet you for groceries at @RembertManX.

Filed Under: Advertising, Commercials

Rembert Browne is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ rembert