May 16, 2006

Big brands rush to secure deals with urban stars

By Gail Mitchell, Hillary Crosley and Michael Paoletta

LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK (Billboard) - Rare is the R&B/hip-hop star who is not working on numerous marketing deals.

Paralleling its chart and sales dominance, the genre has watched its business fortunes explode. Early forays into the endorsement arena with clothing and athletic shoe lines have given way to automobiles, perfumes, soft drinks, jewelry, videogames, cell phones, credit cards, restaurants, liquor, cosmetics and everything in between.

The product tie-in list is seemingly endless. Rapper Snoop Dogg has even inspired a new line of pet products, as well as a brand of foot-long hot dogs.

Here are nine artists who have been particularly savvy with brand marketing.


After releasing his multiplatinum-selling "Get Rich or Die Tryin"' in 2003, 50 Cent got richer through a bevy of product endorsements and brand conduits.

He began his own label, G-Unit Records, housing Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo, Young Buck, Olivia, MOP and Mobb Deep. Reebok also came knocking with a shoe deal titled the G-Unit Collection by RBK, and the rapper soon added G-Unit clothing in a partnership with Ecko Clothing. In 2004, he joined with Queens, N.Y.-based Glaceau Vitamin Water for a specialty drink called Formula 50.

Last year 50 introduced his own videogame, "50 Cent: Bulletproof," as well as his Paramount Pictures feature film and G-Unit Books biography, "Get Rich or Die Tryin'." 50 rounded out 2005 by releasing a luxury watch collaboration with hip-hop outfitter Jacob the Jeweler.


The multi-culti Black Eyed Peas know the power of brand marketing. Smart partnerships with a variety of national brands -- including the NBA, Dr Pepper, Verizon and Best Buy -- helped the quartet extend its reach beyond the hip-hop community. Of course, the Peas were also one of the first acts to have their music ("Hey Mama") featured in a campaign for the Apple iPod.

Also, the group -- comprising,, Taboo and Fergie -- was tapped to headline this year's sixth annual Honda Civic tour. This deal encompassed a BEP-created custom Honda Civic Hybrid, proving that the group makes strategic impressions in a marketing world that exists outside of traditional radio and video outlets.


Since unveiling his Sean John clothing line in 1998, Sean "Diddy" Combs has gone on to amass a multimillion-dollar empire encompassing entertainment, restaurants and fashion.

Earlier this year, Sean John Fragrances, a division of Estee Lauder, launched the men's fragrance Unforgivable. Two months after Unforgivable debuted, it had become the No. 1-selling men's fragrance in department stores in the United States, according to Sean Jean Fragrances.

An upcoming international launch and ancillary products (deodorant stick, after shave, body spray) will surely keep Unforgivable at the top. Ditto for Combs, who recently partnered with industry veteran Emilio Estefan Jr. to form Bad Boy Latino, which will launch this summer.


Before signing off as a trio last year, Destiny's Child personified the strategic relationship that can result between band and brand. McDonald's, Wal-Mart and Pepsi are just three of the key branding platforms the group stood on to help drive music and tour marketing while growing its audience.

These days, though they are no longer a trio, the ladies have not lost that branding touch.

Beyonce, who stars in the film adaptation of Broadway's "Dreamgirls," maintains multiyear deals with Tommy Hilfiger Toiletries/Estee Lauder (True Star perfume) and L'Oreal. Her House of Dereon clothing line is set for a hard launch this fall/winter. Kelly Rowland continues her spokeswoman role for Soft Sheen's Dark & Lovely hair care products (a L'Oreal division), while Michelle Williams recently appeared in Gap's "Favorites" ad campaign.


Jay-Z continually cross-promotes each project through his rhymes, often referencing his clothing line Rocawear, among other things.

Last year, he became president of Def Jam Records and gained control of Roc-a-Fella Records and Rocawear Clothing from his former partners Damon Dash and Kareem Burke. He began Roc-La-Familia to house the label's international acts and tap into the reggaeton craze.

Jay-Z was Reebok's flagship endorsement deal in 2003 with the S. Carter by RBK shoe line, followed by the S. Carter II in 2004. He also has the S. Carter high-end clothing line and a venture with Swiss watch company Audemars Piguet. Plus, he boasts 40/40 clubs in New York and Atlantic City, N.J., as well as a partial ownership of the New Jersey Nets basketball team.


Following critically acclaimed roles in the Academy Award-winning films "Crash" and "Hustle & Flow," Ludacris is pushing consumers to step into some Puma Suedes shoes. Within the next few months, look for the debut of various Ludacris-branded Puma products. The rapper is designing a model that features the Atlanta skyline on the side and the logo of his Disturbing Tha Peace Records on the back.

He is concurrently pitching the virtues of Pontiac's Solstice roadster as his track "Two Miles an Hour" plays in the background.


Rapper-turned-author-turned-actress Queen Latifah has struck business deals with Pizza Hut and Cover Girl. Last fall, she announced that her partnership with Cover Girl was expanding to include her own line, the Queen Collection.

In the fashion world, Latifah has also expanded her relationship with VF Intimates' Curvation line of intimate apparel. For this multimillion-dollar partnership, Latifah is a spokeswoman and creative consultant for the brand. Additionally, her image appears on Curvation packaging and point-of-sale signage. The icing on the cake? She receives royalties based on sales.

At the tail end of 2005, Latifah was one of five artists featured in Wal-Mart's Home for the Holidays campaign, which encompassed TV, print and online components, as well as in-store signage.


Though Rihanna is new to the world of branded entertainment -- her inaugural foray was her participation in the 2005 Secret Body Spray tour -- she knows a powerful deal when she sees one (or two).

To help launch her sophomore album, "A Girl Like Me," the singer partnered with JCPenney and Nike. The shoe company used the album's lead single, the infectious "SOS," to help introduce its new women's dance-inspired clothing line and the interactive music video "Nike Rockstar Workout: Hip-Hop."

JCPenney, meanwhile, enlisted the artist to be the face of its new juniors line, Miss Bisou. Yes, Rihanna appears in the national ad campaign. But her music and videos are spotlighted in all JCPenney juniors departments, too.

In June, Fuze beverages will launch a Rihanna promotion that includes touring, advertising and contest elements.


Partnerships with XM Satellite Radio, T-Mobile, EV microphones, Nokia, America Online and Vital Toys have transformed Snoop Dogg from gang member to Madison Avenue darling. The rapper also recently launched his own line of foot-long hot dogs with Platinum Stars, while JAKKS Pacific is developing a series of Snoop Dogg-inspired pet products. In addition, he and MTV are promoting the Hip-Hop Gaming League, the underground, online VIP videogame league Snoop co-founded.