The 90s had all of the world sprung on hip hop. After ten years of sparse but quickly growing media saturation, everyone had their eyes on an angle to capitalize on it. Enter Sprite. They had the only consistent hip-hop marketing campaign on network television: Obey Your Thirst. As a hip-hop head, I was all over it. There was nothing more epic for me as a teen than to see the music I identified with used in a capitalist ploy to get me to buy sugary drinks. Here’s that promo video. It is off the chain like Django in Candyland.
Sarcasm aside, this Sprite commercial was the first time the music of my generation was in the mainstream spotlight. Shit was nuts! It combined the brilliance of quasi-underground rap with the nerdy coolness of Voltron. Real talk, this video came out at a time when hip-hop needed it — The East/West beef was in flux after the passing of ‘Pac and then B.I.G. Diddy was going hard in the paint with the shiny suit rap videos with posthumous Biggie verses. The Midwest and the South were on the come up to fill the void. The culture needed a new hope.
The New Hope
That hope came in the form of Voltron *cue theme music*. Sprite rounded up the most popping rappers of the time and assigned them each a lion. The ad was split into five parts for maximum efficiency. Each twenty-second episode was half-animated, half-live action and all badass. The animation was tight. Like, opening animation for Thundercats tight.
The first joint jumps off with Zarkon talking all the trash about how he’s not feeling this thing called hip-hop. He literally hates on each element of the culture (and is totally self-aware of the galactic playa hating he is engaging in)! While Zarkon’s popping off at the mouth, he sends a RoBeast to the ‘hood where the most ambiguously urban ethnic dude peeps game and “pages” the lions. There’s a lot going on here: I fucks with playa hater Zarkon more than anyone else in this commercial, but that’s neither here nor there.
Paladins, Find Your Lions!
The second ad reveals the first up to tackle the RoBeast is the Blue Lion! Piloted by The (entire) Goodie Mob repping ATL and the Dirty (dirty) South! The only things you can make out are Big Gipp’s platinum fronts and Cee-Lo Green’s vocals. The Blue Lion is bounding through the southern swampland before getting its ass handed to it by the RoBeast and a close up of the Goodie Mob taking a nap. Next up, the Green Lion is perched on the crown of the Statue of Liberty. Who from NYC is repping the East Coast? Don Cartagena aka Fat Joe aka Joey Crack aka drop a single every summer and get a Grammy! He drops a dope 4 bars before taking an L. The homie with the pager is hella optimistic and calls another two lions!
The third spot opens with the Red Lion, driven by The Chi’s own Common Sense (there was a legal thing with some band and he had to change his name to ‘Common’, but yeah)! He does his thing off the Sears Tower, and catches his fade while rocking goggles and a durag (what was we doing back then?). Who’s gonna pick up the slack? The West Side!! Your boy Mack-10 hits the three-wheel motion on the Yellow Lion and ‘skrts’ from the Hollywood sign to the action and takes his L in record time. Errbody passed out at the wheel. Game over, right? Nah, Sprite ain’t done engaging this high-spending demographic!
The fourth, and penultimate jammie comes for your whole soul. Four lions down, so who’s left? That’s right: the Black Lion. The leader of the outfit. Top dog. Who’s gonna get this work? The video opens with the Black lion whipping it through the skies being run by none other than Afrika Bambaataa (and one Soul Sonic dude)! Bam sounds the call (asking for peace between regional MCs) that wakes the other lions from their respective fades and sets up the moment the world (just my brothers and our friend from the upstairs apartment really) was waiting for… But you gotta wait for the next one!
Finally, the homies form Voltron! Everybody kicks two bars, Voltron forms the Blazing Mic, and lets the RoBeast have a healthy serving of those hands. Then your boy Yung Zarkon gets on his sore loser WWE smack talk on the TV. Looking like Jimmy Hart talking trash after his mans got washed up in front of the whole world. Homie with the pager rolls up and changes the channel on him! Just cuts him off. Wild casual too, like he didn’t look at the button to see which channel to change to, he just knew he wasn’t trying to hear Zarkon’s ass no more.
Check the video and talk it out in the comments. This was one of the commercials that brought hip hop into advertising, but more importantly, it was another hip-hop nerd homage done beautifully.