The Art of the Sell — Young MC for Pepsi Cool Cans

These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of art. 

pepsi cool cans

In the spring of 1990, Public Enemy released their third studio album, Fear of a Black Planet. The incendiary record continued the group’s leveraging of the thumping forcefulness of rap music against the bigotry-driven injustice perpetrated by the nation of millions engaged in a futile effort to hold them back. As much or more than the vaunted protest rock of the nineteen-sixties and early-nineteen-seventies, rap was the soundtrack to revolution. It reverberated with danger and possibility. The emergent musical form was simultaneously in the process of being ruthlessly consumed by the relentless forces of capitalism, which never met a rebellious force it couldn’t co-opt.

That same year, the epitome of a declawed rap star was cheerily making his way through the commercial landscape. In 1989, Young MC released his debut album, Stone Cold Rhymin’, which included the irresistible Top 10 single “Bust a Move.” Besides the enduring mystery of why about-to-be-married Larry would bypass his brother Harry for best man duties in favor of Harry’s closest chum, “Bust a Move” delivered Young MC a Grammy win (besting De La Soul and Public Enemy, among others) and a robust docket of endorsement deals. As Chris Rock noted in a comedy routine at the time, rap music had so quickly and thoroughly transformed from menacing to cuddly that even the Pillsbury Doughboy was spitting out rhymes. (The example sounds like comic hyperbole, but in this instance Rock was an accurate reporter.) And Young MC was eager to play along with the corporate taming of rap music, showing there wasn’t all that much distance between club jam and joyful jingle.

The team player ethos of Young MC was probably best demonstrated by his commercial for Taco Bell, for which he skillfully incorporated the chain’s “Run for the Border” slogan into a closing rhyme. But the ad I remember best found the fresh-faced rapper touting the designer packing gimmick employed by Pepsi, one last charge for supremacy in the waning days of the Great Cola War of the eighties. The commercial included the indignity of translating Young MC’s lyrics for the presumably square audience watching, as if he use of terminology like “hype receptacles” was going to require a kindly airline passenger stepping forward to explain she speaks jive. Mostly, though, the ad sticks in my mind because no matter how many times I saw it (and the thing was in near-constant rotation when it was current) I always expected the couplet “Cool cans are comin’, so don’t be afraid/ And if you get lucky, then you might get paid” was instead going to end with a different rhyming word that suggested the desired outcome for an individual actively seeking a partner for sexual congress. If still wish Young MC had delivered that version of the line. There’s more than one way to fight the power.

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