George Clooney’s Tequila, “Casamigos” has taken over Hip-Hop.
As much as we can remember, Hennessy controlled the lines of Rap artists. Nas’s 1994 debut studio album, Illmatic, has the title track, “The Genesis,” which contains four references to the cognac company. Nas says, “Take this Hennessy.” Nas’s younger brother Jungle says, “Pass that henrock, pass that henrock.” The rapper AZ responds, “We drinkin’ this straight up with no chaser.”
I smoke weed and Hennesey to get through the days guy, Master P rapped in the 1998 song “Weed and Hennesey.” Six years later, the comments were still common; on the Thug Matrimony song “Gangsta Livin’,” Trick Daddy bragged, “See I know how to regulate my Hennessy.”
Rappers soon made Cristal champagne and Patrón tequila household names thanks to songs like Jay-Z’s “Can’t Knock The Hustle” from 1996’s Reasonable Doubt, which begins, “Waddle off the champagne, Cristals by the bottle.” Lil Jon rapped about combining Patrón and Percocet in the catchy 2006 song “Snap Yo Fingers,” saying, “I pop, I drank / I’m on Patrón and Perc, I can’t thank.” The booze name-drops also developed into a type of lyrical shorthand for rich, larger-than-life prosperity and its hazards as rap moved from its indigenous roots into something glossier and more commercial.
But in recent years, we’ve seen that a different alcoholic brand has suddenly popped up everywhere. Casamigos can be heard on any hip-hop radio station. Everyone appears to be totally fixated on Casamigos. Lil Baby, an Atlanta rapper, references the tequila on both Nicki Minaj’s “Do We Have a Problem?” (“She a lil demon off that Casamigos”) and Drake’s “Girls Want Girls” (“We got 1942 Casamigos, it’s getting heated”).
Last year, Soulja Boy released an entire song titled “Casamigos.” How did a relatively new brand of tequila, co-founded in 2013 by none other than George Clooney, seize hip-hop culture and challenge Hennessy’s reign so quickly?
Casamigos’ rise to rap celebrity status was arguably sparked by Young Thug. The Atlanta-based artist released “Sin” in September 2018, on which Jaden Smith joins him and raps, “Casamigos got me spinnin’.” There had been a few lyrical references to the brand as early as 2015 (for example, in The Game’s “Quik’s Groove”), but “Sin” was the first time a rapper with such obvious pop-crossover appeal had mentioned it. (A year earlier, the tequila was sold to the British drinks conglomerate Diageo for at least $700 million, which likely increased distribution.)
By late 2021, artists from all over the country, including Atlanta rapper K Camp (“Casamigos to the head, I forget what I said”), and Brooklyn’s Fivio Foreign (“Casamigo help me get in the zone”), had begun citing the tequila in their lyrics, sometimes as a kind of truth serum or as creative inspiration. The brand has been mentioned nearly 100 times in rap songs indexed on the lyric-annotation platform Genius this year alone.
Though Casamigos lacks the lavish grandeur of Cristal, with its gilded, exorbitantly priced bottle, many of the brand’s advertising campaigns have relied heavily on images of Clooney himself, looking gently windblown on a motorcycle or sipping tequila with his co-founder Rande Gerber.
When viewed historically, Casamigos’ sudden dominance is especially notable. After all, previous generations of Black consumers, including Nas and other rappers, did not suddenly start buying Hennessy in droves. French cognac producers had been cultivating relationships with Black American consumers since the early twentieth century, beginning with US soldiers stationed in Europe. Following the end of WWII, Hennessy became the first spirit brand to place advertisements in Black-owned magazines such as Ebony and Jet.
Hip-Hop has since its inception has promoted major brands absolutely free. According to a Courvoisier spokesperson, Busta Rhymes’ infectious (and unsponsored) paean helped the cognac line “achieve double-digit percentage growth” that year in 2002. However, the relationships between alcohol companies and hip-hop artists have occasionally been complicated. Jay-Z had been rapping about Cristal for at least a decade when an executive at the company that makes the champagne made a remark implying that the brand was dissatisfied with its popularity among rappers: “We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Pérignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.” Jay-Z reacted by boycotting the brand and purchasing a competitor, Armand de Brignac (also known as Ace of Spades). He also rapped about being treated unfairly on 2009’s “On to the Next One”: “I used to drink Cristal, them muh’fuckers racist / So I switched gold bottles on to that Spade shit.”
Casamigos has been tight-lipped about its founders’ thoughts on rap’s prevalence. Much of its publicly available marketing materials do not appear to target Black consumers in the same way that Hennessy’s Nas-led 2021 film tribute to Black businesses did.
Casamigos launched another campaign in 2015 called “House of Friends,” which featured young people sitting around a campfire strumming guitars among a few scattered tequila bottles. It’s idyllic in an early-2000s-Hollister-ad kind of way, and it’s also unusually white. Casamigos co-founder Rande Gerber did not respond to a question about the brand’s popularity among rappers in particular through a representative, instead opting for a conveniently generic statement: “So many people are drinking it more and more every day and they spread the word,” he said via email.
Rappers have from the beginning promoted brands that have not acknowledged their role in pushing profits off the charts. Maybe one day soon Rappers will promote brands that will acknowledge the increase in revenue through the hundreds of mentions in their songs.