A Pioneering Partnership Turns 30

If you’re of a certain age, you, too, may remember CL Smooth, Pete Rock, Large Professor and Grand Puba freestyling in between your Saturday morning programming (read: Soul Train). That now classic commercial was created for Sprite’s “Obey Your Thirst” campaign back in the mid-‘90s and it’s an early example of how a global brand partnered with hip-hop.  

Almost a decade before the creation of “Obey Your Thirst,” a tagline that Grand Puba created for the soda company, Sprite launched its first collaboration with hip-hop in a commercial featuring Kurtis Blow in 1986. Since then, many other legendary hip-hop artists including Heavy DA Tribe Called QuestLL Cool JNas and KRS-One have followed suit across Sprite and Coke ads throughout the ‘90s and early ‘00s.

In today’s commercial landscape, we don’t think twice about seeing hip-hop artists promoting big brands anymore. But in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when it was still uncommon to see people of color, let alone rappers, as the face of a global brand, it was groundbreaking. Back then, many big brands opted for household-name celebrities with international fame (e.g. all the MJs), but Sprite went a different route. Because of that strategic move, Sprite latched onto a cultural movement and created ads that resonated with young people while also differentiating the Sprite brand across the competitive beverage market.

During the summer of 2015, Sprite launched the “Obey Your Verse” lyrical collection featuring Sprite cans and bottles with verses from Nas, Rakim, Notorious B.I.G. and Drake. A reincarnation of the “Obey Your Thirst” campaign of the ‘90s, but with one major difference: Sprite’s collaboration with hip-hop spread beyond its ads and onto its packaging. According to a press release from the Coca-Cola Company, the artists were chosen “based on their reputation for being true to themselves through their music and advancing the culture.”

This past summer, the “Obey Your Verse” campaign returned with lyrics from Tupac, Rakim, J. Cole and Missy Elliot. While both Rakim and Missy have partnered with the Coca-Cola Company before, this year’s Obey Your Verse campaign is significant because it’s the first time that a female rapper’s lyrics have been featured. 

Sprite’s lack of lady MC representation over the years is a glaring gap in the brand’s partnership with hip-hop. No J.J. Fad? No Latifah? No Lil’ Kim? Moving forward, we’d like to see the women of hip-hop as the focus for Sprite’s 2017 campaign. 

Now, if you’re feeling a bit torn about our beloved hip-hop artists being linked to products that many argue contribute to the soaring rates of diabetes and obesity within our black and brown communities, you’re not alone. Cities across the country have recently passed a slew of soda taxes to help address some of those issues. The impact of those measures are yet to be determined. 

Love it or hate it, Sprite’s partnership with hip-hop remains a historic one complete with a time capsule of commercials featuring hip-hop legends. There’s no denying that this partnership has left an indelible mark on a generation. And even to this day, on the rare occasion that I do order a Sprite, it’s guaranteed that I won’t be able to do so without the trailing voice of Grand Puba in my head…“Sprite, aight.”