Hip-Hop music is a popular genre of music that finds its origin in New York City in the early 1970s. It involves a combination of stylised rhythmic beats accompanied by the chanting of a similar rhyming speech called Rap - short for Rhythm and Poetry.
Rap as a musical art form was fairly unknown until the Hindi film Gully Boy unleashed this genre on the Indian landscape. Three years on, advertisers and brands selling liquor, clothes, soap or even cooking oil are all cashing in on the trend to reach out to their target group (TG): millennials and Gen Z.
Experts even say brands are ditching copywriters and musicians to engage Rap artists because they offer an all-in-one package.
The Indie scene
Names such as Badshah, Divine, Raftaar, Naezy, Raja Kumari, Emiway Bantai and Ikka are not only popular in the music circuit but also among companies attempting to create brand recall and amplify their reach.
Ola, Pepsi, Mia by Tanishq, FBB, Unacademy and many others are collaborating with Rap artists, who are also influencers with huge reach and engagement. The ‘This is Me’ campaign for Mia by Tanishq, ‘Let's Crack It’ student anthem by Naezy for Unacademy, Ola Electric’s partnership with Raftaar, and Pepsi’s collaboration with Badshah are among many examples of how brands are tuning into the Rap scene.
As Hip-Hop continues to dominate pop culture in the country, Gaurav Malik Wadhwa, the founder and CEO of BGBNG Music, says Rap music which is a part of the Hip-Hop genre, is best suited for marketing campaigns because Hip-Hop as a genre is built on personal expression and that makes the art form very relatable.
“A Rap artist is a songwriter, a musician and someone who feels the pulse of the audience. They create relatable and hard-hitting content, and which brand wouldn’t want that,” he says.
Wadhwa, a former Pepsi employee, says that at one point around 2018, the cola brand was struggling to figure out what to do with their celebrities.
“We had Ranbir Kapoor. Virat had just left us. We were looking to renew Ranbir Kapoor and we were struggling to figure out the next cool thing kids were following… because that’s what Pepsi has always been about. We did a deep dive and realised Hip-Hop is the future and we have to back it,” he said.
That’s when the ‘Har Ghoont Mein Swag’ campaign happened with Badshah, Tiger Shroff and Disha Patani.
That however, is not the end of the story.
Wadhwa had an interesting anecdote to share. “While JWT was the mind behind the ‘Har Ghoont Mein Swag’ hook, Badshah said if he were to come up with a tagline for the kind of campaign they were working on, he would have picked up a line like ‘Abhi toh party shuru huyi hai’. The idea blew my mind and that’s when I started BGBNG Music because music as a genre has never been bigger and we felt there was a need to represent every subsection of it,” he said.
According to business intelligence platform Statista, the Indian music industry was valued at around Rs19 billion at the end of 2021 and is projected to be worth Rs 28 billion by the end of 2024. Overall, the sector is estimated to grow at a compound annual rate of 15 percent in the stated time frame.
Brands are big on music and a lot of them even draw up a music strategy and a large part of it is all about Hip-Hop.
In fact, Suchita Shah, Head, Content Originals at MTV, says that post-pandemic, the Rap genre has gained momentum and brands are going all out by using it in their advertising.
‘Rap culture and the Hip-Hop genre are fast expanding in Bollywood and the indie music space as well,” she says.
Interestingly, like BGBNG Music, a lot of new-age brands draw inspiration from the Hip-Hop movement in the country. Experts say there is a growing trend of Hip-Hop artists working with street fashion brands, gaming brands, sneaker brands, headphone brands and others not just as their ambassadors but also as stakeholders who are roped in for creative inputs.
These deals start as a regular endorsement agreement and become an open conversation where the artist is offered revenue share.
The Gen Z connect is the most important aspect of these collaborations, say experts.
“Collaborating with musicians, especially indie rappers, makes brands appear to be cooler, with street cred. Music has perennially been the door to fashion and culture, where artists humanise real-life issues using music,” says Amit Chaudhary, Chief Data Officer at Cheil India.
“It is imperative to note that the current breed of indie rappers (artists) are multi-talented and definitely more equipped for collaborations with brands than ever before. Tapping into their followers on social platforms to make the product or service relevant is what brands are interested in,” he added.
How platforms and IPs push the envelope for hip hop in India
Brands took time to unlock the potential in the space but they’ve finally arrived at a spot where there’s no looking back.
“Brands have taken their time to fully understand how they can go about collaborating with Rap artists. But they are finally open to adopting new ideas and incorporating the artists’ creativity with their brand vision,” says Dane Pereira, artist manager at influencer management agency NoFiltr Group.
Popular Rap artist EPR says now is a good time for Hip-Hop in India. He says it is not just about music; it is a culture movement. EPR has worked with a host of brands ranging from alcohol, fashion, chips and meat brands to even a chicken masala brand.
Explaining what pushes the genre forward, EPR said, “Any form of avant-garde music comes with a niche audience. But slowly, as labels and platforms start getting invested in it, it becomes more accessible. MTV Hustle is one such property. Unlike popular belief, these properties are not just targeted towards the Hip-Hop audience. They are for everyone.”
MTV Hustle, which recently concluded its second season, is a reality show for Hip-Hop. The popularity of the show, especially the second season, has dialled up the overall entertainment quotient for viewers and brands looking to communicate and target Gen Z’ers and Millennials. Engagement in such formats becomes imperative, says Anshul Ailawadi, Head, Youth, Music and English entertainment, Viacom18.
Hustle 2.0 garnered about 1 billion views over the entire season creating a ripple effect in terms of overall growth of the brand.
“Since the launch of Hustle 2.0 in September, our KaanPhod Music YouTube Channel has grown 14x organically. Hustle 2.0 amassed 28 million hours of watchtime on YouTube and the subscribers on KaanPhod Music witnessed 5x growth. We also debuted in Spotify’s Top 10 global album launches,” Ailawadi said.
The IPs also attracted brands that were looking to strengthen their connection with young South Asians across TV, OTT and social platforms. For Hustle 2.0, Viacom18 partnered with Realme, Wildstone, Yamaha Racing, NBA, Zebronics and BRB.
In fact, MTV India also joined hands with DDB Mudra Group to launch ‘BotHard’, where they combined artificial intelligence and the rhyming sensibilities of Hip-Hop music, offering a unique tech innovation and consumer engagement experience for fans of the genre.
“With a total reach of over 11 million, users generated over 124,000 Raps through BotHard in a span of two weeks, which is important for rap, because it a fun and inclusive form of music and yet feels intimidating and inaccessible because of the intensity associated with it,” says Rahul Mathew, Chief Creative Officer, DDB Mudra Group.
Statista data on distribution of streamed music consumption in the United States showed that rock music accounted for 17 percent of all on-demand audio and video streams in 2021. The leading genre by streams was — and this is almost always the case — R&B and Hip-Hop.
Fila, Adidas, Reebok, Gap and many other brands constantly work with Hip-Hop artists for ad films, campaigns and even product line collaborations.
Handsome pay package
Collaborations with Hip-Hop artists happen in three categories. Social posts, music videos and creating new collections for labels across genres. For social posts, an artist charges around Rs 20 lakh, for music videos the remuneration is between Rs 1-1.5 crore and collection collaborations are done on a revenue share basis.
"The growth of social media has given artists the access to multiple platforms to reach their audience as compared to a few years back, when they were restricted to just a few platforms: radio, CDs/cassettes and performing live.
Rap, in particular, has grown a lot in India after its depiction in various Bollywood Movies. The growing pop culture references around Rap have made the genre extremely popular and have given these artists a sense of community.
Brands have taken their time to fully understand how they can go about collaborating with Rap artists. They are open to adapting new ideas and incorporating the artists’ creativity with their brand vision.