The past decade has given us an endless stream of “you never thought that hip-hop would take it this far” moments—from winning Oscars to getting shout outs from the president, today’s emcees have a platform that pioneers like Melle Mel and Kurtis Blow never would have fathomed. Recently, Jay Z provided yet another when he purchased Armand de Brignac—better known as “Ace of Spades”—to become the first rapper to own a champagne label outright. 

It’s a fitting coda to hip-hop’s long, indelible relationship with champagne—one that has evolved from aspirational, to self-consciously showy, to business-savvy. The French are the O.G. influencers when it comes to champers (the centuries-old sparkling wine was originally designated for coronations in the Reims Cathedral), but many of us today learned about the drink through Illmatic cassettes and Yo! MTV Raps videos. Puff Daddy and Biggie taught us about Moët, Jay Z and Dame Dash showed us Cristal, and countless pop-culture tropes—including slang like popping bottles and sipping Cris’—were born out of the rap’s fascination with bubbly.

Please enable Javascript to watch this video

To cast this affinity as mere bling-era excess misses far too much of the real story of how champagne found itself at the heart of hip-hop’s triumphs (and insecurities) for more than three decades. Along the way, those glistening bottles became a symbol of the genre’s rapid ascent from fringe subculture to boardroom juggernaut—from up-and-coming emcees copying the Moët-sipping hustlers on the corner, to global superstars inking deals to own the same brands they made famous through their rhymes.

Like many great hip-hop sagas, this one takes us back to Harlem, but spreads out to the backyards and clubs of Decatur, GA; Los Angeles; and beyond. From the breaking-dancing competitions of Wild Style to Jay Z’s gold-bottle coup, this is the story of champagne in hip-hop.


I. The Story of Branson B., Hip-Hop’s First Champagne Influencer

“It’s your boy ‘Kiss, you know I’m still a liquor and a weed child / Still got Branson on the speed dial” — Jadakiss, “Letter to B.I.G.” (2009)

Branson Belchie—better known as Branson B.—may not be a household name like some of the New York emcees he ran with over the years, but any discussion of champagne and rap eventually winds its way back to the Harlem native and early graffiti pioneer. Dubbed “hip-hop’s unofficial sommelier” by Forbes, he is largely credited with introducing the drink to the likes of Notorious B.I.G. and Puff Daddy—giants whose embrace of the bubbly helped solidify its status in East Coast rap culture.

“Growing up in the streets of Harlem, there were a lot gentlemen—doctors, lawyers, contractors, hustlers, gamblers—who indulged in champagne as their drink of choice,” Branson says. “It was more of an aspirational thing: You want to do well, and champagne is supposed to be a high-end way to enjoy yourself when it comes to an alcoholic beverage.”

Yet before Branson came along, the drink’s place in hip-hop was tenuous. To spread the word, he started bringing bottles with him to different places, depending upon the occasion and who was there: recording studios, parties, birthdays. To figure out what he liked, Branson dug around in liquor stores like Grand’s on 145th and Broadway, where a woman named Ms. Lee carried labels that no one else in Harlem had. When he went out to the hot spots of the time–The Supper Club, Palladium, and Disco Fever—he made it a point to order champagne.


Harlem’s Branson B. introduced champagne to the likes of Biggie, Redman, and Puff Daddy.

“There was always champagne in the clubs,” he says. “But they were limited in their selection. Some might have Taittinger. Some might have Cristal. [But] the more you would frequent a location, the more they would see what patrons were asking for, and they started to make them available.”

Eventually, Branson noticed the champagne craze begin to pick up momentum beyond his circle of friends. At Tunnel—the definitive club of early-’90s rap—champagne became the currency of power. Def Jam President Joie Manda described the bottle-popping scene in Complex‘s “The Oral History of the Tunnel”:

At the bar, you’d say, “Give me a bottle of Moët,” and you would pay cash. “Give me a bottle of Cristal, give me a bottle of Dom—no glasses.” Watching a thousand people holding bottles of Cristal, Dom Pérignon, or Moët at one time was kind of amazing. The club constantly sold out of champagne. Remember, this is the Bad Boy era; Puff Daddy was king at the time. It was pre-Jay-Z. Jay would be there spending tons of money, but this was the Puff Daddy era.

Branson paints a similar scene: “The Tunnel was crazy,” he says. “You’d get people coming from the Bronx, Harlem, Brooklyn, Queens. There’d be a crew over there shouting, ‘We bought 20 bottles!’ Another would say, ‘We bought 30 bottles.’”

Branson’s oenophilic influence eventually stretched to people like Redman, Sean “Diddy” Combs, and the late Christopher “Notorious B.I.G” Wallace. It was Branson that introduced Biggie to Cristal and Taittinger Comte de Champagne rosé 1.

“We drank a lot of Taittinger together,” Branson says about his time with Biggie. “One birthday I gave him a six-liter bottle of it.”

Branson’s love of champagne eventually led him to create his own line of bubbly, Guy Charlemagne Selected By Branson B., which debuted in 2007. Since then, he’s seen his influence stretch to a new generation of rappers who are eager to learn about the drink that became symbolic of success in hip-hop—including current Harlem superstar A$AP Rocky.

“He likes my 2000 vintage,” Branson says. “He actually asked me for it last year when he was out on tour. He’s into fashion as well, and I think that he has taken the time to get involved in things to see what they are.”

Having watched champagne become a luxury prop in the culture, Branson now wants people to experience and enjoy it as a beverage, rather than a status symbol.

“People aspire to reach a certain status, and so they say, ‘I’m going to get me a bottle of that because it’s X amount of dollars,’” he says. “The question I always ask is, ‘Is that something that they really like?’ I don’t know if they’re enjoying that shit or not. They’re just doing it because they think that’s what they’re supposed to be doing.”


II. The Early Years: Champagne’s Double Standard

“I was always famous, but never a star / A Don Juan Perignon, bourgeois / I’m bad without the fancy cars and the Louis Vuitton and Yves St. Laurent / The bodyguards and the higher echelon / Not like Prince and Michael, I come up hard.” —Grandmaster Melle Mel, “King of the Streets” (1985)

In 1985, there were two songs that captured the dichotomy of champagne’s burgeoning role in hip-hop: Grandmaster Melle Mel’s “King of the Streets,” and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’s “Champagne of Rap.”2

“[With Jekyll and Hyde] the message was, ‘We’re not like those other cats. We wear suits,’” says Hip Hop Word Count creator Tahir Hemphill, whose “Champagne Always Stains My Silk” project tallied the number of times rappers name-dropped champagne brands between 1980 and 2010.

“Yet that very same year, Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel had a song talking about things like, ‘We’re not like those other guys; we’re not bourgeois like them.’”

The distinction is an important one. Even in the mid-1980s, when hip-hop was just beginning to find its footing in the mainstream and artists started reaping the benefits of commercial success, a line in the sand was drawn around aspirational motifs like champagne: Was it about the money, or the art?

“It’s an American conflict,” Hemphill says. “Whether or not to pitch in and be a part of the system, or to push against that and be counter-cultural or disruptive.”

While rappers like Melle Mel sought to stay true to hip-hop’s humble roots, champagne quickly gained currency as a way for rappers to emulate the neighborhood hustlers who inspired them.

“I looked up to the older guys, and they were drinking champagne,” says Anthony “AZ” Cruz, the Brooklyn emcee who made up one-third of the supergroup The Firm with Nas and Foxy Brown. “I guess you could say that they were the ones controlling the underworld. Being from the ‘hood, we started off with malt liquor to stay warm, and then it was Hennessy. But once you reached a certain goal—like me getting into the music game—the real guys got champagne.”

According to producer and rapper Killer Mike, a similar mindset held sway in the South. “I know from being young in Atlanta, the [champagne] aesthetic has always been a players’ aesthetic,” he recalls. “The highest thing you could possibly be 25 years ago was a player. What these men represented to us is what we aspired to be. And they weren’t rappers—these were hustlers, leaders in the streets, and they were drinking Dom Perignon.”


That aspiration—whether seen through the lens of street life or bourgeois culture—spawned hip-hop’s first recorded reference to champagne on a 1982 Kurtis Blow song called “Boogie Blues.”3 The seminal 1983 movie Wild Style helped solidify the link through one of the film’s most iconic scenes, when Busy Bee Starski’s victory at an emcee battle scores him $100 and a bottle of bubbly.4

A 1985 12-inch single from an early Boogie Down Productions5, “$ucce$$ Is the Word,” took the trend further with its emphasis on brand-name champagne. Over an 8-bit Gilligan’s Island sample, KRS-One and Levi 167 trade bars, proclaiming, “Sun roof, Rolls Royce, and the caviar / Fine wine, champagne, Dom Perignon / Sparkly like crazy to the break of dawn.”


Champagne references peaked in 1999, with Moët leading the charge. (Source: Hip Hop Word Count)

Moët also had a string of notable appearances in the 1980s. The Beastie Boys likely mentioned the brand earliest, referencing it twice on 1986’s Licensed to Ill. It also made its way onto Eric B. & Rakim’s classic Paid In Full album in 1987.

But it wasn’t until the end of rap’s so-called Golden Age6 that Moët mentions began to climb in popularity and usurp Dom Perignon. This period also saw emcees experimenting with the way champagne boasts were deployed.

Nas’ 1994 debut, Illmatic, names the brand twice on “Represent” and “It Ain’t Hard To Tell,” two cuts that encapsulate the album’s philosophical, stream-of-consciousness dissertation on growing up in the Queensbridge Housing Projects. The opening bars to his second verse on “Represent” are some of the most famous on the album: “Yo, they call me Nas, I’m not your legal type of fella / Moët-drinking, marijuana-smoking street dweller.” For Nas, drinking Moët isn’t a pie-in-the-sky dream—it’s an expositional detail about how a project kid can achieve success through hustling or rap, yet still have one foot on the corner.


The specific mentions of Moët on Illmatic probably weren’t randomly chosen tropes, either. AZ, a good friend of Nas’ and the only person to provide a guest verse on the project, might be the source of the album’s brand references.

“Every time I went to go visit Nas at his Illmatic sessions, I’d bring a bottle of Moët,” AZ says. “He had his deal before me, and champagne always represented life and success to me. It became a ritual for us to drink it before, during, and after the sessions to celebrate, and it just spilled over into our music.”

But while Nas helped with Moët’s name-recognition, Notorious B.I.G. pushed it further into the hip-hop consciousness. Moët appeared on three tracks off 1994’s Ready To Die, but it was the drink’s presence on smash hits “Juicy” and “Big Poppa” that made the brand synonymous with the Bed-Stuy emcee, and hip-hop in general. In the music video for “Big Poppa,” conspicuous shots of the famous green bottles emphasized the line, “the back of the club, sipping Moët is where you’ll find me.”


By this point, drinking champagne wasn’t just an aspiration anymore. Popular rappers at the end of the Golden Age had achieved the lifestyle that easily afforded the labels that Boogie Down Productions had pined for just 10 years earlier. With everyone popping bottles, those at the top of the hip-hop food chain needed new ways to stand out, and it wouldn’t take long for the brand wars to reach fever pitch, accelerated by the growing influence of music videos in defining the aesthetics of popular rap culture.


III. The Power of Jay Z, Part I

“Cristal forever” – Notorious B.I.G., “Brooklyn’s Finest” (1996)

“Let’s take the dough and stay real jiggy, uh-huh / And sip the Cris and get pissy-pissy, uh huh” – Jay Z, “Hard Knock Life” (1999)

“If you want to go back to the roots, it starts with Jay Z,” says Director X about champagne’s place in the iconography of rap videos. “That’s Jay Z’s influence on hip-hop.”

In a 2013 article, Vanity Fair tallied all of the brand mentions on Jay’s albums throughout his career, beginning with Reasonable Doubt in 1996. The magazine counted 22 brand shout-outs on that album alone, including four to Louis Roederer’s Cristal champagne.


Source: Vanity Fair

Jay immediately became a hot commodity after the album’s release, and his Cristal name-checking soon launched the brand of high-end bubbly (it was originally created at the behest of Russia’s Tsar Alexander II in 1876) into the greater rap lexicon. Branson B may have introduced champagne to hip-hop, but Jay Z brought Cristal to the masses—from the Marcy Projects to Minneapolis, every fan wanted to pop bottles and live the “Big Pimpin'” lifestyle.

As with many things in his career, Jay wasn’t the first to mention Cristal on record—he just made the association stick like no one else could. Nas’ 1993 demo track, “Understanding,” boasted about it, while AZ’s debut album, Doe Or Die, mentioned it four times. According to AZ, it was mostly the higher price tag and novelty that set off his and Nas’ interest in Cristal. They figured the times were changing and they needed a new champagne.

“The older guys and films like Wild Style introduced us to Moët,” he says. “But once we were established it became, ‘Okay, I’ve been around and done that.’ Moët is cool, but that cost under $100. Cristal cost $200 or $300. So we figured, ‘We’ve got to take it up a level and get that gold bottle.’”

Even with co-signs from Nas, AZ, and Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon—whose mafioso character on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was also enamored with the brand—Cristal still didn’t stick.

Tarantino did a whole fucking monologue about Cristal in The Four Rooms. Never would have happened without Jay Z’s influence.

“Then Jay came along with The Streets Is Watching. He had a big bottle of Cristal [in the film],” Director X says. “And when Biggie passed and Jay got bigger, that Cristal talk caught on and everyone had to have it—R&B singers, rappers. It was popping.”

The late-1990s and early-2000s music industry—often dubbed the “Shiny Suit Era” for its flashy excess—probably had a lot to do with it. Record labels offered fat, million-dollar contracts, and spend, spend, spend was the mantra of the day. Rap music embraced luxury brands like never before: designer clothing labels, high-end cars, and major champagne houses.

In 2003, brand strategist Lucian James launched a project called American Brandstand to calculate the most frequent brand associations in the Billboard Top 20 between 2003-2008. Hip-hop songs dominated the findings, and Cristal was frequently among the most-mentioned brands, placing in the top ten each year between 2003 and 2005.7

With bigger budgets came splashier music videos, which allowed rap stars to depict their lifestyle with more impact than they ever could during the pre-MTV era. Jay rhymed about champagne frequently, but it was his music videos—especially during the Roc La Familia era—that really gave Cristal the spotlight. Just as the Hype Williams-directed “Big Poppa” video had put Moët front and center, a pair of Jay Z videos from 2000—“Big Pimpin” and “I Just Wanna Love You (Give It 2 Me)”—built upon what “Streets Is Watching” already started.

“[In music videos] Cristal is the one that was being pulled out on set because Jay was always talking about [it],” Director X says. “It was the unattainable one. Moët was like a Mercedes—but Cristal! [Quentin] Tarantino did a whole fucking monologue about it in The Four Rooms. Never would have happened without Jay Z’s influence.”

Iconic images from the videos—including an enthusiastic Damon Dash pouring entire bottles onto models’ backsides—made the presence of the brand indelible. Lyrical references can get glossed over, but on the screen, they couldn’t be ignored. Moreover, they perfectly captured the message Jay wanted to send: I’m the king, and this is how the king lives; take notice or get lost.


IV. The Power of Jay Z, Part II

“Gold bottles, scold models / Spill the Ace on my sick Js .” — “Ni**as in Paris (2011)

As Jay Z ascended the ranks and established himself as hip-hop’s biggest star, he developed his now-legendary Midas touch for taking burgeoning trends—Hublot watches, Maison Martin Margiella jackets—and giving them the hip-hop seal of approval. As Cristal would learn, he also held the power to strip that prestige away.

In a notorious quote given to The Economist in 2006, Louis Roederer president Frédéric Rouzaud spoke dismissively of the attention rap stars brought to the brand: “What can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.”8

Already a savvy businessman, Jay decided to let the hammer drop, publicly denouncing Cristal for racism and essentially levying hip-hop sanctions on the brand. He vowed no more mentions of Cristal in song—not even when performing older tracks that included them.


Once again, a music video played a critical role in codifying allegiances: 2006’s “Show Me What You Got”—an extravagant production even by Jay’s standard—included a now-iconic scene where Jay waves off a butler offering a bottle of Cristal. Soon after, a bottle of Armand de Brignac (a.k.a., “Ace of Spades”) is produced to his satisfaction. With one simple gesture, Jay effectively killed one icon and christened a new one. In time, this Jay co-sign of “Ace” would prove prophetic, as the brand’s cultural cache skyrocketed within the genre.9

Following this boycott, Cristal mentions in other rappers’ songs plunged in the American Brandstand’s rankings, as the drink fell from #8 in 2005 to #63 in 2006. Louis Roederer global sales manager Frederick Heidsieck mentioned in 2010 that foreign customers asked to buy up any extra U.S. inventory (the U.S. accounted for only 15% of global sales at the time). But it would be foolish to read too deeply into this causality: Overall U.S. importation of champagne also declined through the mid- to late-2000s. Champagne Bureau USA director Sam Heitner explains that while pop culture references to any bubbly have some influence, economic power always determines how well champagne sells. From 2006 through the 2008 recession, money dried up and consumers cut out luxury purchases.

Still, Jay had created a seismic shift in brand loyalties—and he wasn’t done yet.


Part V: Follow the Money

“I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” – Jay Z, 2005, on Kanye West’s “Diamonds (From Sierra Leone) [Remix]”

“Ciroc Boy forever / But this Belaire Rosé has to be the world’s finest.” – Rick Ross, 2013

Looking at the current landscape, it’s easy to think Jay not only killed a brand, but also a popular motif in hip-hop. In reality, greater forces were already at work toning down champagne in rap.

“By the mid-2000s, everyone was just champagned out,” Director X says. “There was champagne in every video.”

Brand fatigue set in, reflecting a broader backlash to the trappings of the “bling bling” era. The luxury labels that had taken hold in hip-hop—Moët, Gucci, Grey Goose—continued to linger as fallback tropes for lazy rhymes, but they lost the impact of those bubbly-soaked videos of the ’90s. According to Hemphill’s study, there was a 79% drop in references to Cristal, Dom Perignon, and Moët from 1999 to 2009.

As the culture evolved, hip-hop’s palate naturally widened—Kanye West boasted about “beasting off the Riesling,” while Drake waxed lyrical about drinking Dolce at The French Laundry. But perhaps more significant than this shift in fashions was the changing relationship between rappers and their beverage choices.

The stars of the genre were eager to cash in on their trendsetting power, and that meant no more free plugs. Gone were the days of 2002’s “Pass the Courvoisier,” when Busta Rhymes and Puff Daddy celebrated the French cognac without any schemes on a royalty check. Fast-forward to 2007, when Diddy signed on as a global brand ambassador for Ciroc—a partnership that transformed the fledgling spirit into a staple of urban nightlife, netting him a hefty portion of annual sales, not to mention a significant payout if the brand ever sells. Today, similar deals abound: Nicki Minaj is a co-owner of the Myx Fusions Moscato (“If I’m sippin’ in the club, Myx Moscato”), while Ludacris helped launch Conjure—a cognac brand—a few years ago.


In November, Ace of Spades’ parent company Sovereign Brands announced the splashiest luxury brand hip-hop deal to date: Jay Z had bought the company’s controlling interest in the drink for an undisclosed amount. With the purchase, he became the first major hip-hop figure to own, and not just sponsor, a champagne.

The company mentioned in its press release that, “We have had a wonderful relationship with Jay Z throughout the years since he first discovered Armand de Brignac. He became interested in owning the brand and made us an offer we simply couldn’t refuse.”

Artists don’t just want to be in the club flaunting the products they rap about; they want to be in the boardroom signing deals to make money off them.

But the champagne’s origin story is shrouded in myth, and there’s reason to believe that Jay’s buy wasn’t a simple case of the connoisseur snapping up an admired product. His organic “discovery” of Ace is rumored to be false, as many have speculated Jay and Sovereign Brands have maintained an off-the-books partnership all along.10 The plot thickens when you factor in Rick Ross’ endorsement of Sovereign Brands’ Luc Belaire Rosé. It would appear that Jay and Ross have been profiting off these associations for years, despite Sovereign Brands LLC president Brett Berish’s denial to Bloomberg Businessweek. (A First We Feast request to speak with Berish was never answered.)

Not finding a paper trail doesn’t mean it didn’t exist, especially when Berish and Sovereign Brands are involved. In his book Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went from Street Corner to Corner Office, Zack O’Malley Greenburg travels all the way to Chigny-Les-Roses—the town in France where Armand de Brignac is produced—to find evidence of Jay’s previous financial involvement with the label. The mission is a failure, but he ends up back home in the U.S. with off-the-record sources who valued Jay’s stake at the time at $50 million. It seems that Sovereign Brands is built for hip-hop profiteering without the stench of paid sponsorship. In addition to Ace and Belaire, it also distributes and owns the Jermaine Dupri-endorsed 3 Vodka, and the trademark (filed in 2011) for Jay Z’s other recent booze partner—the Bacardi-produced Henri D’Usse’ Cognac—traces back to none other than Berish’s wife, Alana Berish. 


Whatever the case might be—and whether Ace and Belaire really stand up as quality products11—the very idea of luxury-brand partnerships within hip-hop is a far cry from rap’s aspirational beginnings. The very best—or, at least, the most business-savvy—artists don’t just want to be in the club flaunting the products they rap about; they want to be in the boardroom signing deals to make money off them.


VI. The end of an era?

Fans who have grown up in a media-saturated age are not naive to increasingly blurred line between advertising and entertainment. But for rappers like Jay, whose company Roc Nation received an estimated $20 million in a deal with Samsung, how much is too much? When does mentioning champagne feel less like a lyrical gambit, and more like blatant schilling that will simply turn off listeners?

In a study of millennial consumers, celebrity branding expert Jeetendr Sehdev found Jay’s perceived “authenticity”—one of the most important factors for a demographic that consumes media 18 hours a day—70% lower than that of other celebrities like Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Lawrence.

“Millennials question his approach to loyalty, whether it be to a business deal or his fans,” Sehdev told Business Insider. “His motivations to just make money can be viewed by this audience as self-centered, even if they may be business savvy”.

Jay’s hustle won him respect from his early fans, but he’s no longer the underdog. At a certain point, he risks losing the respect of a demographic that is more familiar with Obama-on-speed-dial Jay Z than Marcy Projects Jay Z. To further buoy this hypothesis, Lucian James explains how big brands viewed his American Brandstand project when it was first released.


“We got a lot of calls from brands saying, ‘We want to be in the Billboard charts. Can we hire you?’” James says. “But I always point out to them that it’s kind of the reverse: It’s organic. If you have a genuine, relevant place in hip-hop culture and you’re a symbol of something interesting, then you’re going to get a name-check because you’re going to mean something to people.”

Jay’s last album, 2013’s Magna Carta Holy Grail, became a cautionary tale of how not to connect a brand with customers through hip-hop. The LP was littered with gratuitous luxury label boasts and featured more name-brand mentions than any of his other albums (“Frank Sinatra on my Sonos”), with the exception of 2007’s American Gangster. The Washington Post took him to task for the LP, lamenting that “rooting for this man in 2013 is like rooting for Pfizer. Or PepsiCo. Or PRISM.”

Ultimately, it seems we’re back at the same dichotomy Hemphill pointed out all the way back in the Grandmaster Flash era: Are you for the system, or are you against it? The stakes have changed immeasurably, but champagne still brings hip-hop’s inherent contradictions bubbling to the surface.



1 Jim Clarke, “Pop Culture.” Imbibe (Nov/Dec 2007).

2 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was an early rap duo from The Bronx that included future Uptown Records CEO and Diddy mentor, Andre Harrell.

3 “Just like Bojangles or Astaire/A dapper dude without a care/With flying feet, top hat and cane/You knew he only drank champagne.”

4 “That was [Piper-Heidsieck],” Busy Bee Starski, the star of that scene, says. “See, they didn’t have Moët back then. It wasn’t popular. So the Pipers and the Mumms, those were the two popular champagnes that the gangsters were drinking in those days.”

5 At the time of the single’s release, Boogie Down Productions was not yet Boogie Down Productions. The group went by the name “12:41,” and its single is not remembered for doing particularly well.

6 The “Golden Age” refers to an undefined span of years between the late-1980s and early-1990s that saw hip-hop’s most significant artistic and commercial evolution.

7 Cristal never recorded higher than #7 (in 2003 and 2004). High-end cognac like Hennessy consistently fared better in James’ rankings, hitting as high as #2 in the 2004 rankings and appearing in the top ten every year except 2007. Hennessy’s sustained popularity in rap music probably has a lot more to do with Hennessy’s historical association with African-American culture than the flash-in-the-pan popularity of Cristal.

8 To be fair to Rouzaud, James mentions that there might have been some misinterpretation with his statement. Champagne houses like Roederer, because of their small size and erudite consumer base, might have a tin ear when it comes to new consumers. He was probably also more candid and sincere than he otherwise would’ve been if the house had a larger public relations department.

9 Sovereign Brands does not release importation numbers, and neither Hemphill’s nor James’ studies included mentions of the brand. A search of “Ace of Spades” on Rap Genius brings up 1,826 song results that mention the phrase; however, this is rough because it doesn’t qualify the context of the phrase. Going through the mentions, though, does bring up rappers like Game, Gucci Mane, Future, Waka Flocka Flame, and CyHi The Prynce who mention “Ace of Spades” in reference to the champagne. Notably, none of these artists are Jay’s artists or direct associates.

10 And there are some reasons that Jay’s endorsement of Ace of Spades might be bogus. A minor media sh*tstorm erupted in March 2011 when The Atlantic.compublished “Jay-Z’s Great Champagne Robbery,” an excerpt from Zack O’Malley Greenburg’s book, Empire State of Mind. It detailed, among other things, that Jay makes millions off Ace of Spades; wine experts think Ace of Spade’s quality sucks; and the brand might have been cooked up in response to Jay’s denouncing Cristal, not because he randomly came across it and liked it. However, The Atlantic pulled the piece from its site. The company remained silent on the issue until Atlantic Digital’s editorial director, Bob Cohn, Media Bistro mentioned to Fishbowl New York that it was pulled because “we were unable to come to terms for re-posting the article with the publisher of the book.”

11 “I, myself, haven’t tasted it, but I’ve heard people not having anything really positive to say about the product,” Branson says. “I don’t know Ross’ history with champagne and it might be something that he really likes. I hope it’s something that he likes and it’s not just to connect himself for brand recognition.”