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A Look into Brand Collaborations with Up-and-Coming Rappers

Before I could even get my feet wet during my freshman year at The University of Texas I switched my major from psychology to advertising. I saw advertising as an opportunity to merge my favorite past times, exercising my creativity and listening to music, into an actual career. Advertising was my ticket into the creative industry. I wanted to learn the business side of creativity first, then transfer that skill set to help champion the creators and artists who were sacrificing what I wasn’t willing to for the art.

So, when I actually entered the advertising industry, I wanted to bring all of my Brown Sugar level love of hip hop and the culture with me. I wanted to take the skills I’d learn from the ad industry to help artists get exposure, get checks, and take their career to the next level.

As advertisers, in today’s digital-first media landscape we have an opportunity to leverage the social presence of up-and-coming rappers in a unique way. I'm sure no brand would turn down the opportunity to say they worked with K Dot aka Kendrick Lamar before he was Pulitzer Prize-winning Kendrick Lamar. Yet, we tend to spend our days hunting for all these “micro-influencers," but we don't spend as much time looking for ways to work with micro-influencer music talent.

Music artists/influencers present a dual opportunity for brands. Not only do you get a personality to align your brand with, but you also get skills and talent that you can tap into to produce creative with a unique perspective. As you can see from the examples below, brands are starting to leverage this young untapped talent. But, I think we are also beginning to copy a model that is made more so for TV and missing an opportunity to expand creatively in the broader digital landscape.

Below are examples of how 1800 Tequila and Sprite are collaborating with up-and-coming rappers.

1800 Tequila- 1800 Seconds

Sprite - The Sprite Way Live

We are used to using rappers in a typical music capacity. Write a song. Perform the song. Cut the check. Get exposure. Move on. But artists these days have multi-hyphenated talents and are more equipped for mutually beneficial collaborations with brands than ever before.

How can brands collaborate with up-and-coming rappers in a way that benefits the brand, the artist, and the creative?


Know the power of the process. Actually collaborate. Tap into the artist for their artistry not just as an influencer. Having the artist produce, score, direct, or ideate around the idea allows them to be just as invested in the success of the creative as the brand is.

Provide something new for the artist.  Expand their mind. Do your research to know them beyond their musical talent for a beneficial collaboration. Find out where you can partner with them to do something new for them and the brand.

Use Comedy! From the hardcore rappers to the sensual melodies of R&B singers, we all love to see our favorite musicians break character. Let your audience see the brand doesn't take itself too seriously.

Push the Music. How can we as marketers better amplify the artist’s music through media? The more ears that hear their music, the greater reach they get, the bigger the benefit it is to your brand.

What can rappers do?

Pick Your Brands. Vision board your brands. Not literally, but do your research and know who you want to work with. Find what the brand’s current campaign messages are, then think about how your own brand and messaging aligns. Showing you have an interest in working with a brand is the cherry on top of any influencer pitch.

Know your audience. Who are you here for? Ideally, you and the brand should want the same audiences, but you may have some goals of your own. Are you looking to expand your reach and gain new fans, or maybe you’re looking to just give your current fans something to celebrate?

Incorporate yourself into the work. If presented with a brand partnership opportunity don’t be afraid to add to the idea. Collaboratively flex your creativity and put yourself in a position to add something more than a pretty face and a hefty fan base. Do something in the piece that uniquely you and gives your day one fans a shout out.

Make your own PR plan. There’s no way you’re doing a collaboration without them asking you to post about it, so, do it your way. Every launch comes with a PR push small or big, the brand is going to frame their story so make sure you are controlling your narrative as well.

For artists, it's mostly about leveraging the opportunity and keeping your narrative alive and in line with your goals. If you need help, holla at me.

Who did it best?

Childish Gambino and Adidas

Of course, Childish Gambino is not a rising artist, but the unique creativity of this partnership and roll out is one I will forever rave about. This wasn’t just a collaboration with one culturally and socially relevant artist but two. Childish Gambino and illustrator Justin Richburg. There were so many parts to this collaboration. It started with the surprise sneaker drop at Coachella. Then Gambino released his Feels Like Summer music video illustrated by Justin Richburg, featuring all your favorite musicians enjoying their summer to the tune of a new summertime anthem. Then my favorite part dropped. To launch the next Adidas sneaker, they made an “ad” that was simply just a continuation of the music video as an alt ending. So simple. So good. Good for Gambino. Good for Adidas. Good for creativity.

Chance the Rapper and Kit Kat

Another example would be Chance the Rapper's "wrapper" commercial with Kit Kat. The concept of the commercial was in Chance the Rapper's light-hearted comedic tone. The joke directly tied back to his name creating a strong association between brand and artist, and finally, he left us with a little Chance the Rapper remix of the Kit Kat jingle. This spot was so effective that Chance's association with Kit Kat overflowed into interviews, more music, and other TV appearances by Chance the Rapper. All touchpoints that benefitted Kit Kat as Chance continued to grow in his career.

Mountain Dew and Felicia the Goat (Tyler the Creator)

This one came with a bit of a sticky situation that I'll let Tyler explain here. But before the whole removal, racist thing, this was a great collaboration between the brand, the artist, and creativity. (We can discuss more off this line and on to another, @K_Danette on Twitter)

All in all, I just want to see cool stuff get made where everybody eats. And to do that both parties have to want to help each other and make dope work that moves culture.

Brands, make sure you have the right minds in the rooms making creative artist decisions and remember to treat the artist as a collaborator over "the talent." Don’t forget to push the artist and his/her music to keep building momentum around the artist and their fan base. If their momentum dies, so does your ROI, but if it multiplies (i.e. Kit Kat with Chance the Rapper) then so does the brand.

Artists, don’t forget to grind on the back end. Bring ideas to the table. Know what you want out of the deal and treat the fame, or exposure, as fleeting because it is. Get your money and get your exposure but remember you have agency and you can leverage that to your benefit creatively.

This is the kind of work I want to see rap artists and brands come together to create. The ad industry has always played a role in art and art has always played a significant role in advertising and as we enter this new landscape for both art and advertising we must find new ways to work together and take a few risks to stand out on the timelines and in top-of-mind.


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