Words by Mercia Tucker
“The Superstar shoe was dead. The shoe was dead. And Run-D.M.C. singlehandedly brought that shoe back” said Angelo Anastasio, Marketing Director for Adidas 1984-1991.
It was Russell Simmons’ idea for the group to record a track about My Adidas, but it was Lyor Cohen’s business acumen that had them pitch a brand partnership to the shoe and apparel giant. So when 20,000 kids took off their shelltoes and waved them in the air at Jam Master Jay’s command at Run-D.M.C.’s 1986 Madison Square Garden show, the conservative German brand was all too eager to sign a $1M endorsement deal with the trio.
Where celebrity endorsements by athletic brands had historically focused on, well, athletes, the move to sign not only a musical act, but a hip hop group from Queens, was unprecedented. The deal gave Adidas the marketing they sought but also, by association with a conservative and revered brand, gave legitimacy and exposure to a growing genre that was oft misunderstood. Adidas rolled out an entire Run-D.M.C. collection and the move paved the way for endorsement deals and the way they’re approached in hip hop to this day.
Fast forward to today and endorsements and brand collaborations are as commonplace in hip hop spaces as a drum kit is to a Kanye wannabe. We count down five local brand kings; rappers who have monetised their personal brands and created multidimensional income streams in the industry.
5) Aewon Wolf
The Durban-based rapper took the country by storm with his single Walking & Dabbing featuring Khuli Chana early last year, and network operator Cell C sat up and took note. The relative newcomer to the industry bagged an endorsement deal for their Mega Data campaign and a partnership with Bacardi soon followed.
4) Da L.E.S.
The South African king of cool came onto the scene as a skater kid rocking Amakipkip and the brand exploded as a multimillion endeavour reaching into the rest of Africa. He has since put his influence to use as an ambassador for Cîroc vodka. The mutually beneficial relationship has seen the brand sponsor not only his infamous All White Pool Party, but also his Mandela Money tour and a few of his music videos. Lesley has also collaborated with US backpack brand, Sprayground, and we hear there’s a potential partnership with Mumm champagne brewing.
3) Khuli Chana
MnatebaKhuli Chana. The rapper hosts the annual Maftown Heights event, together with DreamTeam SA, and is sponsored by a host of brands to bring hip hop to the nearly 10k people it’s grown to attract. One such brand, KFC, also partnered up with him for a TV commercial. Khuli announced a partnership with Aston Martin in May last year, bringing the world of luxury a bit closer to that of the street culture of hip hop. The Motswakoriginator also aligned himself to Absolut Vodka with his own signature limited edition bottle; and the One Source EP, which features a collaborative album between Chana and other African musicians, in association with Absolut.
Mr. Forbes had previously partnered up with Hunters for their Global Love campaign, and more recently with Cruz Vodka in a multimillion rand deal as the face of the brand. One of his more well-known endeavours, however, has been with South African urban clothing brand Head Honcho. The Head Honcho X AKA line was the perfect kick-start to his more recent Super Mega merchandise collection, sold at pop up stores around the country, and diversified his approach to business. AKA has recently announced a partnership with Reebok on their Classics line, and will soon be entering into an equity deal with Boulevard champagne.
1) Cassper Nyovest
Cassper’s had his hand in several honey pots, the biggest being his partnership with MTN. He’d agreed to be a brand ambassador for the network giant in a deal rumoured to be valued at around R10million. The service provider also agreed to be the main sponsor at his Fill Up Orlando Stadium concert late last year. Cassper had launched his own phone, the AG#Hashtag, in collaboration with local smartphone brand AG Mobile, and also partnered with KFC in their Slyza Tsotsi TV ad. The sheer volume of his endorsements lands him at our number one spot.