From its nascent years as a genre in the 1980s to its dominance on the charts today, hip-hop music has always been about staying true to one's self. At every step of the journey, Sprite has supported and embraced the music, culture and community of hip-hop in a refreshing and authentic way.
Starting with rap pioneer Kurtis Blow 30 years ago and continuing through the recently launched Obey Your Verse Lyrical Can Collection featuring a mix of today's stars and legendary voices, Sprite has continued to give hip-hop artists and fans a platform to express themselves in authentic fashion.
“Music is important and plays a role in all of our lives," said Bobby Oliver, director of Sprite & Citrus Brands, Coca-Cola North America. “Sprite realized this dating back to the 1980s, and in hip-hop, there was a power of creativity in this new form that was really resonating with the population. We embraced that and ingrained ourselves as part of that culture, and we’re excited to continue to do so."
The Sprite brand's ties with hip-hop began in 1986 when Kurtis Blow appeared in a commercial for the drink, marking one of the first occasions in which a rapper appeared in a national advertisement. Hip-hop artist collaboration continued in the 1990s as Heavy D & The Boyz, Kid 'n Play and Kris Kross all appeared in the brand's “I Like the Sprite in You" campaign.
But it was in 1994 that the brand's most powerful connection with hip-hop began, as Sprite unveiled a groundbreaking series of commercials under the Obey Your Thirst banner. Obey Your Thirst featured some of the most authentic artists in hip-hop culture, including Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, A Tribe Called Quest, Grand Puba and Nas.
“The thing Sprite did differently was that it didn't go after the most well-known artists or celebrities," said Jamal Booker, manager of Heritage Communications for Coca-Cola. “They went to artists who had an appreciation of the culture, and the commercials had an authentic tone. Sprite struck a chord with the artists, so that when the next series of commercials ran, the next artists would say 'yes' and they connected with brand. Part of what made Sprite successful is the appreciation of the art form and culture."
Those classic Obey Your Thirst ads remain favorites on YouTube today and helped cement Sprite as the soft drink of hip-hop culture for years to come.
“We've always embraced hip-hop in an authentic way," Oliver said. “We paid homage and haven't abused the relationship."
That fact was not lost on the artists themselves, who saw the efforts Sprite was making within the hip-hop community to be as real as possible and were eager to join forces with the brand.
“What we noticed is that it's hard to get well-known sponsors sometimes for rap," said hip-hop legend Rakim. “I remember 12-15 years ago I did an audio commercial for Sprite and to be honest, being an MC, we do things, and we try to be cool about what we do. But this is one of those things, that when they called, you tell your man, 'I got a Sprite deal.' Because it means something. It's something that lasted in the hood. It's authentic.
“Whenever hip-hop can get that co-sign, it's a good thing. Sprite has been there for us since they realized they could reach out and do things like this. It's an authentic brand to be a part of, and I'm glad to be able to do that."
As one of hip-hop's greatest lyricists, Rakim was part of last year's Obey Your Verse can collection alongside Drake, Nas and The Notorious B.I.G. This year, Rakim makes a surprise appearance in the new Obey Your Verse TV spot, which highlights lyrics from 2Pac, Missy Elliott and J. Cole.
The commercial takes place on a hot, summer day. A fan walks into a bodega, seeking the crisp and cool lemon-lime refreshment of Sprite. While standing at the Sprite cooler, he is surprised to find limited-edition Sprite cans that feature lyrics from hip-hop legends. He also realizes that touching each of the cans magically triggers that particular song to play, so he produces his own lyrical remix. The bodega owner, played by Rakim, wants the patron to make up his mind and select one of the lyrical cans.
“The project we did last year was dope, but it feels even better to be called back again," Rakim said. “To me, it's like, 'Ra, keep doing what you're doing.' Not all MCs get legit companies to back them. And it's Sprite!"
Starting later this month, the 16 lyrics for this year's campaign will appear on individual 12- and 16-oz. cans, 20-oz. bottles, and 12-, 20- and 24-packs of 12-oz. cans and be available in stores nationwide while supplies last.
“We identified lyrics and artists that represent who they are, which is one of Sprite's core attributes," Oliver said. “We want everyone to be true who they are and we celebrate, empower and encourage that. This year we have a fresh range of artists who have left a contribution from the past to the present. I think fans will love and enjoy what we bring to the table."
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