The association between smoking and creativity is an old one, almost stereotypical. In the nineteenth century the painter Edouard Manet, for example, used the upward drift of cigar smoke in his famous portrait of the celebrated French Symbolist poet Stephane Mallarme to symbolize the wafting elusiveness of the poet's mind and sensibility. And of course it's difficult to picture the Parisian existentialists, the American jazz giants of the 1950s, or the Beat writers without ashtrays near at hand. In addition, from Rudyard Kipling's "A woman's just a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke" to the folk "cigar songs" of Cuba, that relationship has often itself been the subject of art as well.
Unsurprisingly, one of the defining modern art forms has been used in praise of cigars on many occasions: hip-hop.
From its origins as a party-warming technique used in major urban centers during the 1970s, and in the protest poetry of Gil Scott-Heron, the Last Poets, and members of the Black Arts Movement, among other sources, hip-hop has always been about both protest and celebration. The defining early rap songs capture both sides of that dichotomy: Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," the first rap single, is a party song pure and simple, albeit one that enfolds everything from Superman's girlfriend to bad food in its long and rambling rhyming narrative. And yet, only a few years later, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message," with its powerful indictment of neighborhoods full of "broken glass everywhere," returned the sounds of radical social protest to pop radio waves after years of Eagles-style, self-satisfied me-rock.
During the 1990s and afterwards, the celebration of personal financial success became a popular trope in hip-hop music. And at the same time, the cigar became a popular symbol of such success for the first time in decades. After years of declining sales, cigars took off in 1992, partly because a new generation of stressed-out workers was in need of an emphatic way to relax and celebrate the end of a long workday (or week). As cigar magazines sprouted up, with some of the world's richest entertainers and political figures lighting up on their covers (everyone from Rush Limbaugh to Michael Jordan), a new generation took to the cigar as either a self-administered reward for business success, or as a symbol of hoped-for success.
With rappers from Jay-Z to Notorious B.I.G. flaunting their own wealth, and Donald Trump emerging as a folk hero among rappers (he even turns up on a few Method Man tracks), it was only a matter of time before cigars became part of the mythology of the successful capitalist-rapper. After all, there'd already been recorded tributes to gin and juice, Krystal, Lavoisier, fine cars, and other trappings of success - why not the fat premium cigar as well?
And the use of cigars in rap lyrics has, accordingly, flowered. Just check some of these rhymes (yo):
Hit rapper Lil' Wayne's fifth album, The Carter III, namechecks the Cohiba brand on the track "Hustler Musik," as does his erstwhile duet partner Birdman on their team-up track "Leather So Soft."
50 Cent is also on record as a fan of Cohibas - millions of Americans are on record as fans of 50 Cent. You can see them in the video for his song "Window Shopper," and he also mentions them in his song "Slow Dough."
Talib Kweli - lauded by critics as a "conscious" hip-hop artist, one whose lyrics aim for a higher level of sophistication than do those of some of his peers - mentions Cohibas as well on "Rush."
Jay-Z has also posed with fat cigars on multiple occasions - making it a safe bet that this is one reference that trend-spotters will continue to see in hip-hop lyrics. Jay-Z, after all, has (despite various Ross Perot-style "retirements" that didn't really last long) acted as a bellwether for his genre since his debut album, Reasonable Doubt, made pop-culture history in 1995.
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