Are Branded Hip-Hop Tracks Any Good? We Asked 3 Experts to Review Them

Hamburger Helper, Wendy's and Chef Boyardee have dropped songs. So how do they rate?

Wu-Tang Clan alumnus RZA created "Savor.wavs," a track with instruments inspired by the chain's 51 ingredients.
Chipotle

Brands are no strangers to producing music, which evolved around the 1960s from simple, catchy jingles to occasionally include legitimately great performances (thanks in large part to Coca-Cola’s innovative collaborations with Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison and others).

Hip-hop, however, is a genre mainstream marketers have been slow to embrace beyond the occasional, carefully selected track being used in ads for brands that rely on street cred.

Lately that hesitance seems to be waning, with brands not only collaborating alongside more rap artists but also now releasing their own branded tracks and playlists. Many of the brands driving this trend (think Hamburger Helper and Chef Boyardee) are, let’s face it, far from cool. But they’re getting a boost from the growing pool of marketing pros who grew up immersed in hip-hop.

“As our industry has evolved, more of us—hip-hop heads who grew up DJing or rapping or whatever—are joining the workforce. And we join the workforce with an understanding of hip-hop culture,” says Derek Fridman, chief design officer for agency Huge. “Hip-hop is no longer the thing that sits in the back of the record store like when I was a kid. It’s so ingrained in our culture.”

So are the branded tracks coming out of this trend legitimately good music? And, perhaps more importantly, are they good ads?

Adweek asked three experts in marketing and music to weigh in:

  • Khari Cain, aka Needlz, Grammy-winning, multiplatinum producer for Drake, Bruno Mars and many more.
  • Feven Abadi, digital strategist for R/GA and manager for hip-hop artists.
  • Edward Bowser, ad agency veteran and founder of music site SoulInStereo.com.

Here’s what they had to say.

Wendy’s, “We Beefin’”

This five-track mixtape released in March turned Wendy’s razor-witted Twitter persona into a playlist that took no fast-food prisoners.

Needlz

Are they good songs?

Needlz: “These songs were just OK. The artist could rap, but the tone of the songs was too serious. In my opinion they should have taken a lighter tone and made this more playful.”

Are they good ads?

Abadi: “Absolutely. I caught a craving for a spicy chicken sandwich about 30 seconds into the second track.”

Bowser: “I’ll call this one a slight miss. It doesn’t tempt me to actually eat their food. It does tempt me to follow their Twitter account, though, so I guess it’s still a win.”

Chipotle, “Savor.wavs”

The burrito chain partnered with Wu-Tang Clan alumnus RZA for an innovative 2017 musical project, with sounds inspired by all 51 Chipotle ingredients. There was a Wu-Tang remix, and fans could build their own songs online.

Here’s the full track:

Feven Abadi

Is it a good song?

Abadi: “Ah, so good. There’s jazz and funk influence—so many instruments! Hip-hop is a genre that has influenced and inspired so much that’s new, but it’s deep-rooted in sampling other genres of music in our cultural memory.”

Is it a good ad?

Needlz: “This ad and music absolutely work for the brand. They did an awesome job paralleling the different elements of music to the ingredients of their food. Well done.”

Bowser: “This is a fun tool to play around with on my laptop for three or four minutes, but there’s not enough here to actually make me want to visit Chipotle.”

Hamburger Helper, “Watch the Stove”

Launched on April Fools’ Day 2016, this five-track playlist largely sparked the trend and encouraged other brands to experiment with branded hip-hop.

Are they good songs?

Edward Bowser

Bowser: “I’m the biggest hip-hop snob you’ll find and I can’t even deny ‘In Love With the Glove.’ It’s been on my phone for two years now.”

This story first appeared in the September 10, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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