You don't need to be an expert on hip-hop to be cognizant of the rich relationship that's been cultivated over the years between the genre and it's favourite liquor, Hennessy. From Drake and Tupac to Pink Sweat$ and Lil Uzi Vert, the world's most popular cognac has been namechecked by hip-hop connoisseurs for decades.
It's difficult to ascertain where it all began and how the French cognac became a call to arms for the hip-hop community but some point to Busta Rhymes and his 2001 hit, Pass The Courvoisier as when things peaked. A love letter to cognac, P Diddy and Busta trade lines about "Henny", mulling on the good life and all the best brown liquor.
However Bianca Holman, who wrote about Hennessy's connection with Black culture, says these ties go back decades, even before Busta's ode. "And that’s because Hennessy was one of the first spirit brands to authentically invest in a minority audience," she writes.
Hennessy was founded in 1765 by by Irish Jacobite military officer Richard Hennessy. Though, the iconic cognac found its French roots hundreds of years later in the '70s, when Kilian Hennessy — a fifth-generation direct descendant of Richard — became CEO. Kilian led the company's merger with Moët et Chandon to create Moët Hennessy. The new company merged with Louis Vuitton in 1987, to create LMVH, a French multinational corporation and conglomerate specialising in luxury goods.
However, there's so much more to Hennessy and its ties to hip-hop than luxury goods.
Hennessy was one of the first brands to feature ads with Black models in the '50s, placed in publications like Ebony and Jet. The brand was also an early supporter of the NAACP and the company itself has continued to open doors for greater corporate diversity. During the height of the civil rights movement in the US, Hennessy hired Olympian Herb Douglas in 1963 to serve as its Vice President of Urban Market Development. He stayed with the company for over three decades. By acknowledging the buying power of Black people in the US, Hennessy managed to carve out an unflinching sense of loyalty with them to its luxury cognac.
Hip-hop is merely a bright reflection of this loyalty.
While Drake might not have ads from the '50s top of mind when he sings, "That's why I need a one dance / Got a Hennessy in my hand" but that's exactly how we got here. Black culture is what hip-hop is created from, and since according to Nielsen it became the most popular genre in 2017, hip-hop now influences the world.
Before his untimely death, Tupac created "Thug Passion" (his drink of choice), a cocktail featuring one part Hennessy. In fact, the rapper was the cognac's biggest fan, even writing a song dedicated to his favourite brown liquor. Pac raps on the posthumous release of Hennessy, "Just Pour a n**** a glass/Hennessey, that dark shit (That's right)/That's right."
That was back in 1992 and the reign of Hennessy has continued without showing any sign of slowing down.
On his 1994 debut album, Illmatic, Nas references his drink of choice too. "Who got the Phillies? Take this Hennessy," he quips on opener Genesis. “I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Hennessy," Nas told Village Voice in 2015. "Like a family member, throughout my life."
At the 2009 MTV VMAs, Kanye West was pictured holding a bottle of Hennessy before he infamously interrupted Taylor Swift's acceptable speech to exclaim that Beyoncé had been robbed. In 2012, living legend Erykah Badu was tapped to be a brand ambassador for the Hennessy "Wild Rabbit" campaign.
Hip-hop is continuing the legacy of the French cognac too. In 2017 A$AP Ferg teamed up with Hennessy and promoted the campaign with an exclusive track, Family. Then there's Hennessy Carolina Almanzar who famously gave her sister the nickname "Bacardi", which went on to evolve into Cardi B.
In 2018, Saweetie namedropped the liquor on breakout hit, Icy Grl, while Pink Sweat$ brought in 2019 with the release of Coke & Henny Pt.1. From Ski Mask The Slump God's Catch Me Outside and Kanye's Wolves to Travis Scott's Through The Late Night, the proliferation of Hennessy in hip-hop is virtually unmatched.
Though what makes the liquor that much more special is that unlike other brands that have talked down to its consumers, questioned how their liquor is consumed and even made outright racist comments towards hip-hop juggernauts like Jay-Z, Hennessy has remained authentic. A constant supporter of hip-hop, even when things are ugly, they've cemented their spot as the unofficial drink of the biggest genre in the world.
By the way, if you're fuming you missed the Hennessy x DB Music x Cool Accidents party we threw earlier this year, check out the wrap video below.
This article was written in partnership with Hennessy. Please drink responsibly.