How Hip Hop culture evolved into multi-brand empires

Tom Ghiden, Managing Director at Joan London, lifts the lid on how brands have capitalised on the cultural phenomenon of hip hop

Tom Ghiden

Managing Director JOAN London


Cultural phenomena tend to burn brightly but briefly – yet hip hop has stood the test of time. After five golden decades, hip hop remains a genre that famously celebrates the American Dream – reflected in the fact that one-third of today’s most-listened-to hip-hop artists originate from the U.S.

Many hip hop artists have come from nothing before rocketing to fame. Their lyrics often reflect their struggles, aspirations, and their successes. For those who haven’t had a lot – flaunting their newfound wealth is key. Brand logos, flashy trainers, iconic cars – whatever signals success. 

Given hip hop music’s reach (in 2023, nearly a quarter of all streams on Spotify globally are hip hop music), it’s not surprising that many brands across a range of industries have aligned with this culture as a powerful tool to elevate to legendary status. To me, there are a few standout brands that have cut through the noise – or music—to pave the way in this space over the half past century.

Cultural phenomena tend to burn brightly but briefly – yet hip hop has stood the test of time.

Tom Ghiden, Managing Director at Joan London

Where it all began

Famously, one of the first successful brand collaborations with hip hop was Adidas. Run D.M.C propelled the shoe brand within the black community. In 1986, the rappers released a love song to the shoe, My Adidas, which led to an endorsement deal. The group had a genuine love of the brand and wore Superstars religiously.  This collaboration was a pivotal moment of early hip hop and brand partnerships, introducing a mainstream audience to street style for the first time.

Timberland is another shoe brand that enjoyed elevated growth during this time thanks to its prominence in hip hop videos – and of course its namesake, producer, and singer, Timbaland. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of hip hop, Timberland unveiled a special limited edition Hip Hop Royalty 6-Inch Boot – acknowledging the role the music played in its brand history.

Music videos have always been opportunities to present an artist's brand affinity. They’ve evolved today as vehicles for authentic product placements with original brand ambassadors, which have now extended into user-generated content on social media platforms such as Tik Tok and Instagram.

Modern brand legends that are bold enough to create strong partnerships with upcoming artists, have the opportunity to generate robust brand awareness for years to come.

Tom Ghiden, Managing Director at Joan London

Hip hop’s legendary innovators

The 90s “Obey Your Thirst” Sprite campaign was an integral part of my teenage years (not to show my age). Created by Lowe & Partners, it honoured individuality, youth and featured rising stars from the world of hip hop. These up-and-coming artists who embodied independence and rebellion included LL Cool J, Nas, and an adolescent Kobe Bryant. This campaign elevated the soft drink brand to cult status within pop culture and the “Obey Your Thirst” trademark became legendary. Sprite revived it in 2019, adapting the tagline to "Thirst for Yours" to be more inclusive to the overall influence of hip-hop culture on our society.

Modern brand legends that are bold enough to create strong partnerships with upcoming artists, have the opportunity to generate robust brand awareness for years to come.

Hip hop’s obsession with luxury fashion

There was a time in the 80s and 90s when high-end fashion brands didn’t think having young black talent wearing their clothes demonstrated the exclusive, aspirational look they were aiming for. However, as hip hop’s popularity soared, particularly in the early 2000s, attitudes changed. Nonetheless, hip hop stars continued to pay tribute to the luxury fashion brands they were now able to afford.

Luxury fashion house, Gucci, remains one of the most namechecked brands in hip hop songs, being mentioned nearly twenty-three thousand times.

And now we are seeing hip hop artists not only celebrating their success by adorning themselves in designer gear but taking up specific roles within the industry. Rapper and producer turned Creative Director for Louis Vuitton Menswear, Pharrell Williams, is taking the fashion industry by storm. When he presented his debut Men’s Spring Summer 2024 collection in Paris this year it was attended by fellow artists Beyonce, Jay-Z, Rihanna and Megan Thee Stallion.

This is the ultimate end game in brand collaboration and partnerships – that the relationship goes beyond a simple pairing and into something much more mutually beneficial. Where one cultural phenomenon feeds into another. The versatility and vision of hip hop has been enormous; it has grown beyond an American music genre into a global musical movement. Smart brands that found themselves in the epicentre of this phenomenon took note and embraced this wave of musicians and artists – and have taught us all something about brand collaboration and creativity.

Guest Author

Tom Ghiden

Managing Director JOAN London


Tom learned the ropes in New York before moving to London in 2015. Since graduating from Brown University, he has worked atleading agencies including Saatchi & Saatchi, Grey, BBDO, and most recently McCann Worldgroup – where he was head of the LondonBusiness Leadership department and heavily involved in global DE&I strategy. He has a proven record of contributing agency growth for international clients as diverse as Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Nomad Foods, and Pernod Ricard, while achieving recognition for award-winning work with brands such as Head and Shoulders and Gillette.

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