- Rolls-Royce has been a status symbol in recorded hip-hop music since nearly the genre’s beginning.
- Throughout the history of the genre, rap artists often mention or show Rolls-Royce cars in videos.
- Jay-Z and Beyoncé are rumored to have commissioned the $28 million Rolls-Royce Boat Tail.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: Hip-hop loves Rolls-Royce. According to Bloomberg, from 2014 to 2017 the top 20 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 mentioned Rolls-Royce more times than any brand, including other luxury car companies like Porsche, Lamborghini, and Ferrari. So what makes Rolls-Royce so special? And how did it become so popular in rap?
The obvious answer is that it’s luxurious. Just look at customization options like the Starlight Headliner, Bespoke audio system, and Champagne cooler, and it will become clear why the price can fluctuate from 300k to nearly half a million dollars. But there’s something more here that isn’t superficial.
I listen to hip-hop every day, so I started writing down every time I heard Rolls-Royce mentioned in rap lyrics. And it turns out Rolls-Royce is everywhere.
But what I found most surprising was that mentions went back further than the ’90s… and even the ’80s.
Released in 1979, “Rapper’s Delight” is arguably the first commercially successful hip-hop record. But that’s not the only important thing about that year. 1979 also marks what is most likely the first-ever mention of Rolls-Royce in hip-hop history. It’s on the track “Superrappin'” by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five.
“And if a Stutz break down, I’ll make another choice. I will-a dog my grill in a new Rolls-Royce.”
Mark Skillz: Around ’79, many hustlers drove Cadillacs. So the Cadillac was the premier car. The Mercedes-Benz was like, “yo, you on some other level driving a Benz.”
Narrator: That’s Mark Skillz, a hip-hop writer and historian who has interviewed many of the genre’s pioneers and has documented the origins of hip-hop for the past 18 years.
Mark: Now I’ve done my own research, and I can’t think of anyone at the time that was driving a Rolls-Royce. It was not a common car in the streets. Mentioning Rolls-Royce in an early record like this was like, “untouchable luxury.”
Narrator: In the late ’70s the only people you’d see driving Rolls-Royces were aristocratic elites. Take Queen Elizabeth, who was often chauffeured in a Phantom IV, a luxury vehicle that was exclusively built for the British royal family and heads of state.
So, even before the birth of hip-hop in the ’70s, Rolls-Royce had a reputation as a status symbol.
OK, so why did Rolls-Royce start being mentioned in the earliest days of rap? To understand its inclusion in lyrics we have to break down why status symbols became so prevalent in rap music.
Mark: The streets influenced hip-hop. Nowadays people think of it as the other way around. It was the streets that influenced the artists.
Narrator: Before the ’80s, wealthy crime bosses and flashy preachers introduced the Bronx to status symbols like tailor-made suits, jewelry, and of course, luxury cars. In the early 80’s, hip-hop became profitable due to hits from artists like The Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow and Run DMC. In the mid-late ’80s rappers started to sign record deals, and there was only one thing to do with all of the extra cash. Rappers started to emulate the larger than life figures they saw in their communities, shifting rap into the braggadocious genre we know today.
But one duo in particular took things to a whole new level. In 1988 rappers Eric B. and Rakim were among the first to elevate their rap personas by posing next to Rolls-Royces. The luxurious car was featured on the cover of their second studio album, “Follow the Leader.”
Mark: Eric B. said he got the Rolls-Royce because everybody else was buying Mercedes Benz’s and Jeeps. But Eric was like, “no I want to separate myself from everyone else” and so he bought the Rolls-Royce.
Tashfiq Patwary: A lot of rappers come from the streets and come from nothing. You want to attain nice things no matter what you’re doing in life. So that Rolls-Royce is definitely that top tier “I made it here car.”
Mark: As guys started to have money it became about the one-up-man-ship. This is a Hip-Hop DJ and emcees first time they’re able to stunt on a drug dealer.
Narrator: The two posing with a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow marked the success of not only the duo but rap as a genre.
Speaking of the success of rap, let’s flash-forward to 1997. Diddy and Mase were at the top of the Billboard charts. During that year Diddy and Mase each had four top ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100, the most top 10s of any artist that year.
One of those hits, “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down,” peaked at #1 and spent 16 weeks in the top ten. And as Diddy struck mainstream success he celebrated it all in.. you guessed it: a white Rolls-Royce.
In the iconic music video, Diddy and Mase walk away from a white Rolls-Royce Corniche in slow motion. The imagery of the $156,000 vehicle exploding behind them proved that the cost was nothing for a rapper as big as Puff.
Datwon Thomas: In the ’90s, they’re starting to take on these personas of people with a lot of money, a lot of power and a lot of influence. And with those things, you have to have the accessories to go along with that status. So if I’m a king and I’m a queen, then this is my chariot.
Narrator: And it seems that ’97 may have been responsible for the spike of Rolls-Royce mentions in subsequent years. Out of the 7 rap songs that mentioned Rolls-Royce that year, 5 were on the Billboard weekly singles chart, or were on albums that had Billboard chart success.
Nothing shows the effect of this influence more than Cash Money rap group the Big Tymers, who came out of the South in the early 2000s with a very different spin on luxury.
Tashfiq: I think the most iconic lyric that I remember was definitely from the #1 Stunna Video.”
Datwon: What Wayne is talking about is “I have the Rolls” and you know how slow they be. So I’m gonna get seen in this.
Tashfiq: When you usually picture who would have these types of cars you’d see them suited up with a chauffeur exiting them out. But when you saw people like Mannie Fresh and Baby and Lil Wayne and Juvenile, these guys were wearing baseball caps and white tees and actually driving them. They were breaking molds and stereotypes of what you can do with these cars.
Mark: They wanted to still retain the street flavor and be in luxury. Because if you remember Diddy and the white suits and Mase in suits. The southern players were like, “No we’re gonna take this luxury as we are.”
Narrator: And as Trap has emerged from the South and taken over the charts, Rolls-Royce accompanied that ride. Just listen to the chart-topping Migos track “Bad and Boujee,” and you’ll hear Offset mention “Pull up in Ghost.”
I tabulated at least 338 studio-released hip-hop songs from 1979 to 2017 that mentioned Rolls-Royce or its popular models.
Datwon: People want the best of the best. Rolls-Royce is that. They only make so many per year, it’s a hand crafted vehicle, it’s from overseas. It’s like all the different checkpoints and then there’s the price point.
Narrator: But these price points pale in comparison to the new Rolls-Royce Boat Tail, which in May of 2021 broke the record for the most expensive new street-legal car ever at $28 million. And its creation may be hip-hop related.
Datwon: The fact that they’re not just hip-hop royalty but American royalty. And I mean the Boat Tail, that’s when you know that you’re uber rich, when people say, “well we know they got it.” (laughs)
I think that Rolls-Royce became the signifier of success, especially in hip-hop, because it wasn’t easily obtainable.
Narrator: And the brand has played into this idea. I reached out to a Rolls-Royce representative to ask why they think the luxury brand is so influential in Hip-Hop:
Gerry Spahn: The one thing every Rolls-Royce patron has in common is success. Nobody needs a Rolls-Royce motorcar, it’s something that everybody wants.
Mark: Word spread through the streets and it became the ultimate symbol of luxury and affluence. And it’s held its status ever since, and it’s not going anywhere.
Datwon: Benz rhymes with so many things: friends, lens, Benz, again. But with Benz rhyming a lot, don’t get it twisted, Rolls-Royce is still the one that everyone loves to mention, like that’s the one.