Shirin David, Capital Bra: When rappers become entrepreneurs
Iced tea, pizza, gin or wine: rappers have success with their food products. Supermarkets such as Aldi and Rewe can hardly avoid a listing. Why is that?
Bratee, Dirtea, Haftea – There’s currently no getting around the colorful cans of rap icons. Rewe, Edeka, Lidl, the kiosk next door: The rapper’s iced tea dominates the niche. Where does the trend come from, which lets rappers push ever further on the food market?
It’s always been there, Tobias Kargoll and Phillip Bondel of The Ambition consultancy would reply. The two are closely rooted in hip-hop: Kargoll is the publisher of Hiphop.de, one of the most relevant news portals on the scene. Boendel has long advised rap artists, written about them and befriended them before moving into the advertising industry.
In their book "Erfolgsformel Hip-Hop" (Hip-Hop Formula for Success), the duo discusses the symbiosis between hip-hop and entrepreneurship – and their company is intended to build precisely this bridge between companies and artists.
Rapper Reezy has already dared to cooperate with the big players: at the beginning of the year, the musician launched a white wine on the market together with Aldi. "My musical role models from the U.S. went exactly the same way: music first, then business. When my music became more popular, I wanted to take the chance," Reezy explains. He did – and more than 100.000 bottles of wine sold.
"This is pure self-empowerment"
However, hip-hop products have not only reached young people since iced tea in the varieties "Candy Shop" or "Busty Blueberry" appeared on the shelves of German retailers. A joint survey by management consultancy The Ambition and opinion research institute Yougov confirms the industry’s clout: 49 percent of 14- to 49-year-old Germans listen to rap – that’s around 19 million people. Among 12- to 15-year-olds, the figure is as high as 56 percent. This gives rise to huge purchasing power, says the survey. "Rap is the new pop," explains Reezy. The music genre has arrived in the mainstream.
The entrepreneurial spirit is part of hip-hop culture itself, experts Bondel and Kargoll explain: "You create something out of nothing. Founding your own label, your own brand – that’s pure self-empowerment." Experts point to New York in the 1970s, where artists emancipated themselves from a sense of discrimination. "Instead of just watching people party in Manhattan, the spirit was, ‘Then I’ll throw my own parties in the Bronx,’" explains Kargoll.
The narrative of emancipation is what reinforces the target group’s decision to buy today: "If you have mastered the right approach, consumers will grant you success. Martin Fassnacht, who heads the Chair of Strategy and Marketing at WHU, confirms the phenomenon: the entrepreneurial spirit is anchored in the scene and is credible.
Retailers have little alternative to working with artists
"My community is familial, they’re proud of me," rapper Reezy also says. The products he sells, he thematizes before in his music. The step to their own brand is therefore obvious. Whether gin, jeans or wine – his listeners buy what he puts out.
And yet: "The understanding of hip-hop was lacking on the corporate side for a long time," Bondel and Kargoll explain the problem that encouraged them to found their consulting firm. Only a few agencies in Germany would have understood that hip-hop is multi-layered.
That the cooperation between companies and artists is now changing, observes economist Martin Fassnacht. Retailers have little choice but to partner with artists or adapt their style and adapt to the buying habits of the younger target audience to reach them, the expert says. "The best example is Aldi: as a very conservative brand, Aldi rapped with the competition for the lowest prices," Fassnacht says. A means to present themselves as younger, more modern, hipper.
At the latest with the launch of the Gangstarella pizza from rap colleague Capital Bra, everyone understood it, says Reezy. In the meantime, a price war is raging behind the scenes, the budgets are getting higher and higher, Tobias Kargoll knows. Martin Fassnacht also observes the high intensity of competition between retailers: "Whether it’s Rewe, Edeka, Aldi, or delivery services like Flink, no one can simply book a cooperation. Demand from retailers is high, he said.
The insiders Bondel and Kargoll know: They can no longer help but list these products. "That’s how Capital Bra’s iced tea makes it into 10.000 cities, and so Shirin David’s iced tea initially makes it into the markets with 20 million cans," says Bondel.
Rapper iced tea has cultural relevance
Capital Bra emerged as the market leader among iced tea brands last year, outpacing rivals like Nestle. And Shirin David’s iced tea has also quickly conquered the market: according to Krombacher subsidiary Drinks& More, with which the rapper has teamed up, they have created "the most successful brand artist beverage product in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.". The manufacturer did not want to give exact figures. The market for iced tea grew by more than eleven percent in 2021 compared to the previous year – and continues to show potential for creative product innovations, according to the beverage manufacturer.
"Capital Bra is the new Captain Igloo," says hip-hop expert Tobias Kargoll, because a large, young target group can identify with the artist and product. Cultural relevance is what Kargoll and Bondel call this phenomenon, which they say is a major purchasing decision criterion. "The buyer looks at the product and says to himself: this belongs to my culture, I identify with it." This could also be observed on the iced tea: Whether Capital Bra, Shirin David or Haftbefehl – all three appeal to different generations and age groups within the young buyer base with their products.
"Rappers are not easy to control"
With the new hierarchy between distributors and artists, the nature of collaboration is also changing. "The cooperation is much more support-intensive. Artists have to be taken very seriously, they have their own ideas and are not easy to control – no matter what the contracts say," says marketing professor Fassnacht.
Rappers are in demand because they bring an organically high reach. Rapper Reezy also brought in a 155.000-subscriber fan base on Instagram to the negotiating table with Aldi. "I’m very bad there," he reflects "I didn’t want an 0815 design. I’m a stickler for detail and wanted the gold on the label to look real, wanted a die-cut imprint in the lid, didn’t want my name on the bottle. Aldi wanted that. Then we found a compromise, and wrote the name on the back," the rapper tells.
"An Apple drink probably wouldn’t work"
He says the collaboration took just under a year from the initial idea to the wine on the shelf. "It goes through many floors, a lot of things are discarded, then you start all over again. That takes time," explains Reezy.
In the short term, companies save marketing costs with the collaboration. To be successful in the long term, however, you need targeted brand management, says Fassnacht, "You always have to be on the ball." And: being authentic. "My brand as a retailer has to match the rapper’s brand," says the expert.
It’s all about how the brand essence comes into its own, says The Ambition: "If Apple were to launch a beverage, it probably wouldn’t work. No more than if Capital Bra would bring out a lipstick," says Phillip Bondel. And also Reezy emphasizes: "You must not become a market trader and should not sell everything and especially not yourself."
No personal attachment to Dr. Oetker, but to musicians
According to Bondel and Kargoll, iced tea and pizza are just the beginning. The food market would still hold a lot of potential, because there is hardly any bond between customers and products. "That’s the way it is with frozen pizzas: no one has a bond with Dr. Oetker or Wagner. Therefore, it is easy to penetrate the area," said the experts. And marketing expert Fassnacht also knows that the possibilities are diverse. "Initially, however, there will probably be more products in the snack and confectionery sector," says the economist.
Kargoll and Bondel still see a lot of movement in the beverage market in the next six months. Firmly stands: The penetration of rappers into the retail market is just beginning. And then? Go on. "A car brand is sure to come," say hip-hop experts Kargoll and Bondel. Reezy is also already tinkering with his latest idea: it has to do with his fashion label Teenager Forever. "And with a clean skin," reveals the rapper. "I am a musician, but I am also a businessman. One may be both, therefore one does not lose credibility – if one does not exaggerate it."