It should come as no surprise that Adweek’s Creator Visionary of the Year is Travis Scott. The man is a walking brand, even if the thought of being one is enough to make him cringe. “I don’t like words like ‘branding’ and ‘marketing,’” he told the magazine. It’s not worth getting hung up on semantics, but there are few artists who can slap their name and face on a product and incite pandemonium as well as Scott can.
Over the years, he’s sold pretty much everything: sneakers, Reese’s Puffs, Quarter Pounders, and hard seltzer. Hell, even his relationship with Kylie Jenner, one of the few celebrities who might have a brand bigger than he does, only heightened his brand. “Baby mama covered Forbes, got these other bitches shook,” he rapped on “SICKO MODE.” Scott’s branding success represents how mainstream hip-hop has become. Brands that were once running away from rappers are now throwing them millions of dollars. But his hesitancy to be seen as a marketing machine, rather than an artist, causes you to wonder who branding is really for.
This isn’t a dilemma unique to Travis Scott. This week, news of brand deals with Megan Thee Stallion and Drake are proving that everyone is looking at expanding their branding strategies, too. But these days, partnerships are not unicorns like the multi-million dollar deal Glacéau gave 50 Cent in 2007, which gave him a minority stake in the company. Vitamin Water was later sold for $4.1 billion. Partnerships are more frequent and feel less like cultural moments. Instead, they read like a marketing tool to keep larger corporations relevant.
Drake’s love for his mom is well-documented and there are countless lyrics to show for it. Ahead of Mother’s Day this year, the rapper announced that Better World Fragrance House would be releasing a new scent and providing free candles to participants in Canada during the holiday weekend. Except, the candles aren’t exactly free. To be eligible, you have to order a minimum of $50 worth of food via UberEats from a curated list of some of Drake’s favorite restaurants. The candle line, which Drake launched last year, is filled with scents that “smell like Drake.” Last December, he released “Carby Musk,” a limited edition scent with an $80 price tag. Other scents like “Sweeter Tings” and “Williamsburg Sleepover” will run you $48, which makes the concept of a “free” candle with a $50 UberEats minimum laughable.
News of Megan Thee Stallion’s latest deal reads like less of a scam than Drake’s, but still, Snapchat gains more from being affiliated with her than she does with it. Off the Leash With Megan Thee Stallion is the rapper’s new Snapchat Original, which will follow the dog mom as she chats with her peers and their pups. “As y’all all know I am one of the best dog moms ever on the planet and I really want to invite some other pet parents to come get wild with me and my boys,” she shared in a video on Twitter. Rappers and dogs are a foolproof formula, just look at this Instagram page dedicated to just that. According to a Variety article, “Snap will not take a revenue cut of any of the deals brokered through Creator Marketplace.” While it’s hard to believe that Snapchat won’t make any money from securing a talent as huge as Megan Thee Stallion, just having her name on their roster boosts the value of their brand.
No one will judge you if you want to burn an $80 candle that smells like Drake as you sip your Travis Scott Cacti hard seltzer while watching Off the Leash With Megan Thee Stallion. It would also be wrong to judge someone like Megan, who has been vocal about how signing a bad contract meant she did not have full control of her finances, for securing a deal with Snapchat. “Hip-hop talent in particular is seeing a more aggressive rise in fees in a shorter amount of time because they are the ones topping the charts, and these fees are now coming from companies’ national, and sometimes global, marketing budgets,” Nick Adler, a SVP of business development, said in an interview last year. When it comes down to asking who branding is really for, the answer is it’s neither for the artist nor the fan. And when it comes to the influx of advertising, specifically in rap, it’s become yet another way for corporations to profit from the likeness of Black talent.
Kristin Corry is a Senior Staff Writer for VICE.