Jay-Z, Cristal and Sobriety

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By Jabari Asim
Sunday, July 9, 2006; 6:42 PM

WASHINGTON -- Jay-Z is PO'd.

The man many consider to be the world's most successful rapper has declared he has no more use for Cristal champagne, a brand he has enthusiastically invoked in countless best-selling songs. He is working to remove all references to it from his vast repertoire and plans to stop selling it in the clubs he owns.

Jay-Z got his rhymes in a twist when the maker of Cristal appeared to diss the rapper and his fellow revelers in hip-hop high life. In an interview with the Economist magazine, Frederic Rouzaud, managing director of Champagne Louis Roederer, implied that the blingosphere's appetite for the Cristal brand was less than desirable. He said with apparent resignation, "we can't forbid people from buying it."

No, but you can discourage them from doing so, and that's exactly what Jay-Z aims to do. He has suggested that a consumer boycott is in order.

Boycott. Now that's a word you don't hear so often these days. Hard for me to encounter it without thinking of Rosa Parks and brave Alabamans walking and carpooling their way to justice. But I suppose it applies just as well to millionaires whose sensibilities have been offended. A bottle of Cristal, it should be noted, can go for $300 or more. That's a lot of bus fare.

So that does it. No more bottles of this high-priced bubbly for me. The next time I'm at Plumm, the swank Manhattan nightspot, I'll tell the waiter to fill my flute with Dom P. Rose, a variety Jay-Z is experimenting with these days.

Seriously, though, I'm not mad at Jay-Z for expressing his displeasure. Just as with women and others who have taken offense at his sexist, misogynist lyrics, he has a right to be peeved by what he sees as disrespectful treatment. But there are far bigger alcohol-related problems among the urban population that helps keep his tunes at the top of the charts, and he would probably be quick to agree.

For instance, while Cristal seems hesitant to embrace young black consumers, the makers of malt liquor are more than eager to establish a relationship. They are among the alcohol manufacturers who target African-American youth, according to a new study by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at Georgetown University. The analysis, an update of an earlier study, found that alcohol ads on radio and television and in magazines in 2003 and 2004 reached more African-American youth ages 12 to 20 than youth in general on a per capita basis.

The study says that the ads appeared on all of the 15 television programs most popular among African-American youth. That group was also targeted for 30 percent more magazine alcohol advertising than were youth in general during the period covered by the study. Alcohol is the drug most commonly used by both African-American youth and adults, a fact that cannot be blamed entirely on predatory advertisers. We also have to acknowledge the influence of the music that made Jay-Z famous. In a study of 1,000 popular songs from 1996 and 1997, for example, 47 percent of rap tunes mentioned alcohol, far more than songs from any other genre. Add those influences to the myriad billboards dotting urban communities and the adults staggering beneath them and you wind up with a significant problem. The CAMY study notes that the age-adjusted death rate from alcohol-induced causes for blacks is 10 percent higher than that for the general population.

Derryck Moore is a program manager for Turning Point, a Minneapolis agency that provides outreach services to adults struggling with alcohol abuse and other dependencies. Speaking for himself and not the agency, Moore suggested that the best way for concerned adults to combat these factors is to begin by speaking frankly to the young people in their lives.

"It all begins in the home," he said, "just being able to speak to them about the things they see and read, and informing them about the outcomes. Educating ourselves and communicating with one another should be a big part of a collaborative effort -- parents, schools, churches and community centers."

And rappers? "They play a big part in this," Moore said. "They should take responsibility too. Their ability to influence affects so many lives."

Can you imagine Jay-Z speaking out on alcohol abuse? One marketing strategist has called him "the E.F. Hutton of hip-hop." What we need is an E.F. Hutton of sobriety. Sure, it sounds like a crazy dream. I bet a naysayer or two said the same thing to Rosa Parks.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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