Eskay over at Nah Right put up a post last night calling for the boycott of Cristal. The controversy started after an interview in the Economist Magazine with the managing director of Cristal, FrTdTric Rouzaud, was published for their Summer 2006 issue. Among the quotes, Rouzad said in reference to members of the hip hop community buying the champagne, "We can't forbid people from buying it. I'm sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business." In just a few words, he managed to enrage American consumers and insult his rivals at Dom P and Krug.
Already this story has gained some traction in various media outlets, as many are seeing this as yet another sign of racism and classism aimed at hip hop. While I accept that there is a possibility of this -- my own personal experiences with the French have shown me that racism and class snobbery are both alive and well in France -- allow me to play Devil's advocate on this issue.
If there is one thing that is near and dear to the hearts of the French, it is wine (sparkling or otherwise). The destruction of France's vineyards in the late 19th century by Phylloxera is still considered a national tragedy on par with the defeat of Napoleon and the German occupation during WW2. Its not hard for me to understand, then, how a frenchman would be mortified by hearing the lyric, "Sip Cristal just so I can spit it," or the idea of buying a bottle of Cristal in a club and chugging it down like it was a 2 dollar Pabst. I think Rouzaud would prefer that the person buying Cristal, which he and many others consider to be the finest achievement of French vineyards, actually make an attempt to appreciate the champagne rather than use it as a blatant symbol of their wealth. Or maybe he really is upset that black, nouveau riche are buying up his precious grape juice. I think its the former rather than the latter issue that's got him running his mouth, but I concede that I may be wrong on this.
From the 5 minutes of research I've done on this, and my own memory of the 90's, the first reference in a rap song to Cristal was made by Biggie on Brooklyn's Finest, from Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt album. This set off a buying spree in the late 90's, with every rap group (even the Roots, though they did it as a parody) showing off bottles of Crissy in their videos and buying it up in the VIP rooms at clubs, with clubs charging upwards of $2,000 a bottle (street price: $220). These days, according to American Brandstand, Hennesy now gets name dropped in rap songs more often than Cristal, though Cristal is still in the top 25 of brand names mentioned.
Olde English and St. Ides, Chronic and Chocolate Thai, Thug Passion, X and OJ, Sizzurp and a whole bunch of other mind-altering substances have all had their time in hip hop's spotlight, so we can certainly find something else to move on to if a Cristal boycott were to find some success. I certainly wouldn't mind that. There's nothing more ridiculous to me than spending a couple hundred dollars on something you're just going to piss out in an hour anyway. The buzz you get from Cristal isn't any different from a $20 bottle of champagne, but the hangover is a whole lot worse once you remember how much you spent.
Back in the 80's, club goers were obsessed with another expensive substance that had a high street price and limited quantities: cocaine. While Biggie's name dropping of Cristal in the 90's ushered in an era of champagne-filled rhymes, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five put out a socially conscious song speaking out against the 80's drug of choice, White Lines. Unlike Cristal, the suppliers of coke did not discriminate against their buyers. Chalk one up for la cocafna.
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