This week sees the release of a hip-hop single whose title sounds like a cognac commercial. Pass the Courvoisier is by New York Rapper Busta Rhymes, with input from P Diddy, the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy.

The tune reached No 1 in the Billboard R ‘n’ B chart after it came out in America six weeks ago. While cognac may still have a stuffy image here, In the USA premium XOs are a symbol of ‘living large’ and are as central to rap culture as guns, marijuana and ‘bitches’.

Importers encourage the connection with black music. Two years ago, for example, Allied Domecq hired hip-hop producer Russell Simmons’ advertising agency to give Courvoisier the same hip profile as the brand leader Hennessy.

But Allied Domecq insists that it didn’t pay for the wall-to-wall exposure they’re now getting. Louise Bowden, a press spokesman, told decanter.com that, ‘This particular record came as a very flattering surprise to us.’

She was also surprised, however, when quoted the actual lyrics of Pass the Courvoisier, which are sexually explicit. It’s usually Hennessy that appears in this kind of context. Eminem celebrates ‘Henny’ on his last album, and Snoop Doggy Dogg boasts on the album Dr Dre 2001 that when he gave a girl Hennessy she complied with certain sexual requests.

Alison Wall, PR manager for Hennessy in Britain, said: ‘I don’t think Hennessy would be really glad to be used for references that are crude. It’s sort of out of our control.’ But she was pleased by the way hip-hop musicians, ‘have taken the brand to their hearts. I think it’s quite exciting for the cognac category, particularly in the UK where it’s perceived as being a bit old hat.’

Written by Patrick Matthews21 May 2002