When the New York Jets met the Indianapolis Colts for one of the NFL’s wildcard playoff games, Hip Hop listeners and NFL fans might have been surprised to see Talib Kweli rapping alongside Nick Javas during a Pepsi advertisement. Kweli wrote a custom rhyme about the Jets, and joined the ranks of Drake, Jay Electronica, KRS-One and other Hip Hop artists who have rhymed for soft drink companies.
When HipHopDX posted Jay Electronica’s Mountain Dew advertisement, some readers took to the Comments section to call him a sellout. But Kweli says such talk is part of a misconception he’s been trying to fight for a long time. He faced similar criticsm after appearing on a song with Gucci Mane.
“There’s a segment of my fan base that wants to believe that I’m in some basement somewhere with a notebook, with a backpack on, writing rhymes to Eminem instrumentals or something,” Kweli recently told Billboard. “So the idea that at this point [is that] I’m 35 years old and there’s no music business, and I have grown man responsibilities, so of course I’m going to get paid for my craft. And I’m going to work with companies that are willing to support the lifestyle.”
The Jets/Colts wildcard game was televised January 8 and drew a 10.3 Nielsen rating. According to Bill Gorman of TVByTheNumbers.com, that translates to roughly 29 million viewers. With his Gutter Rainbows digital album slated to drop on January 25, the commercial served as paid advertising for Kweli to become more visible to those viewers before his album went on sale.
Kweli pointed out many of the people throwing around the “sellout” label don’t support music by legally purchasing it. He added, “You’ve got to maybe loosen your idea of what selling out is, when you’re not participating in supporting the culture.”
It seems like Talib Kweli has been fighting the notion of being an underground, backpack emcee since his days at Rawkus. The perception is such a sticking point that he tentatively named his next major label album, Prisoner of Consciousness. One emcee who would likely empathize is KRS-One, who drew criticism for commercials with Sprite and Nike during the 90’s. Like Kweli, KRS also shrugged off any notion of being called a sellout.
“I was building my character,” KRS told HipHopDX, when asked about his commercials during a 2009 interview. “It gave me an opportunity to argue my point of view, write articles and actually be a teacher. Believe it or not, this is what I warned other people about. If you don’t have a thick skin for this…You can go online right now and probably find a million people who will say, ‘Fuck KRS-One! He’s a goddamned idiot.’ You’ll probably find 2 million more who say, ‘I love KRS, and I want to have his baby,’ and those are dudes talking.”