Hey, Kanye, that Notorious B.I.G. track being used to hype Taco Bell: Selling out or buying in?

Categories: Commentary

When you think about it, it's actually shocking that it took this long to get to Biggie's catalog, frankly, considering how successful a great ad campaign can be for an artist, especially posthumously. And let's face it, when it's done well -- or even when it's done sort of well -- people cannot get enough of this stuff. For the established or deceased artist, it offers a re-entry into the pop culture conversation, and for the unknown act, it can literally be a lifeline to a lucrative career.

Artists clearly recognize this, and many simply can't resist the pull. Take Macklemore, for instance. The Seattle MC is currently riding high on the charts with "Thrift Shop," but he still couldn't resist the chance to broaden his brand. I mean, how else can explain why he allowed the NBA to appropriate his anti-consumerist anthem "Wings" for its recent All-Star Weekend promos?

This is a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. He takes a hard line stance on things like marriage equality, white privilege and, of course, how our spending habits implicitly endorse those same human rights atrocities that MCA fought against. Surely it must have given him some pause before he consented to omitting the lines, "This dream that they sold to you/For a hundred dollars and some change/Consumption is in the veins/And now I see it's just another pair of shoes."

Contrast that with the Beastie Boys, who in the mid '90s, leveraged their fame to bring light to their cause: TIbetan independence. Since the Chinese owns a piece of just about everything, and they are the "villain" in the story of Tibetan independence, it would have been impossible for the Beasties to license a song to, say, Wal-Mart a corporation that by doing so much business in China implies an endorsement of the human rights violations that the Chinese commit against Tibet.

Granted, in 1993, the Beastie Boys' label, Capitol Records, was not a wholly owned subsidary of giant multinational conglomerate Vivendi in 1993. Their label head didn't answer to the CEO of Universal, who had to answer to the CEO of Vivendi. The concert venues that they would play weren't sponsored by corporations who might block their ability to play their music live and generate more fans.

Macklemore, on the other hand, may be mostly independent, but he does have a distribution deal with ADA Distribution, which is 51 percent owned by Warner Bros. If he wants to expand his audience and sustain his career, he has to pick his battles carefully. If he gets branded as difficult for refusing to do the NBA promotion, will he lose that sweet licensing deal on the new Vince Vaughn trailer? It's possible. Hell, it's likely. It is a small miracle that given his anti establishment views that Macklemore has gotten this far, but then again, if we learned anything from the Matrix films, the only way to sustain oppression is to offer the illusion of a choice.

If there were a perfect example of the convergence of blending brand with band, it would have to be Sprite's complete co-opting of rap music with its series of spots in the mid 1990s. Not only did Sprite solidify itself as the soft drink of urban youth, but the ads are now considered a part of the lore of hip hop culture. And why shouldn't they be? At the very least they captured the zeitgeist of the times.

So where is the downside we all this corporate co-opting then? Turns out, there really isn't one, outside of purists notions. While your favorite act probably has a cause or charity that they support, but they also support a team of PR people crafting viable excuses as to why the act's licensing deals are not conflicts of interest. Thing is, they probably don't even have to, because, well, we love this shit! Consider that Sting, a staunch environmentalist, fully endorsed a gas-guzzling luxury vehicle, and no one -- literally no one -- gave a single fuck.

In the end, this is all about generating more revenue from nothing, doing more with less. The business models of the music industry have been slow to adapt to the rapid changes of our global economy and ever shifting habits. With that in mind, you can't really fault Macklemore, or even Puff Daddy for seizing any profits while they still can. For what it's worth: If this commercial from 1995 is any indication, it's almost 100 percent certain that if Biggie were still alive today, he would most likely be in favor of the latest commercial licensing of his work.

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