When your brand has a name like “Hennessy” — over 250-years-old, hugely established, and recognized as the best-selling cognac on the planet — you don’t tend to mess with it. Sometimes, however, an occasion so momentous rolls around that it warrants a little playful rebranding. And, as the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of hip hop, the storied cognac house has marked the milestone in suitably name-twisting style, unveiling a collaboration with Grammy Award-winning rapper Nas that the brand calls “HenNASsy.”
Of course, this playful limited-edition moniker won’t permanently replace the Maison’s iconic name — the one you’ll find carved into white stone above the French estate’s entrance on the banks of the Charente River. It’s just a temporary, tongue-in-cheek rebrand — a mash-up remixed specifically to refer to a new custom-designed bottle of Hennessy V.S. Cognac. You won’t even find the tweaked spelling on the bottle (it’s emblazoned on the box). But you will find a literal love letter to the musical movement — one that first kicked off during an epic 1973 dance bash in the Bronx — penned by Nas and wrapped around the bottle’s golden neck.
That party that birthed hip hop saw 18-year-old DJ Kool Herc put his own unique spin on old dub and reggae remixing techniques using two turntables — thereby inventing the “breakbeat,” a sound that would go on to inspire a new subculture; transform contemporary music, fashion, and visual art; and revolutionize the world of dance.
Born only one month after that momentous gathering in the Bronx, Nas (whose father was a jazz musician) was raised in an era of possibility, one pulsing with new forms of artistic expression. He went on to build his reputation as a legendary rapper at age 20, when he released his debut album, Illmatic, which was an instant hit and widely considered one of the greatest hip-hop records of all time. He soon became known for his storytelling and poetic glimpses of life in the inner city, but he also set himself apart from the crowd by offering something beyond the bleak imagery that dominated much of the music of the era. Today, Nas has sold over 13 million records and released 15 studio albums, 10 of which are certified gold, platinum, or even multi-platinum.
So it makes sense that the artist, who also turned 50 this year, would want to celebrate both anniversaries. “It’s an honour to collaborate with Hennessy to commemorate this moment for the art form,” says the rapper of the project.
“Hip hop has always had a special connection with Hennessy, and I’m excited to celebrate the culture’s 50th anniversary with a brand and product that pays tribute to its history and impact.”
But why does Hennessy share such a special connection with hip hop culture? Aside from the fact that “the brown” is one of the most appreciated spirits produced worldwide, historians including renowned drinks writer Camper English have traced cognac’s popularity in the African-American community to the Second World War. Black soldiers stationed in France would often revel in and celebrate their status as liberators and heroes, which, for the many who came from segregated states, represented a vast departure from the society they knew at home. A bottle of fine cognac became the ultimate souvenir of this experience — a symbol of the possibility of a different life.
Hennessy was aware of this significance and soon began supporting Black arts and culture, including advertising in magazines like Ebony, founded in 1945 to shine a spotlight on the African-American community. Over the years, a legacy of partnerships between the cognac house and Black artists in North America has developed, and, in turn, these relationships have helped Hennessy become the world’s leading cognac — now sold in more than 160 countries. “Henny,” as the spirit is affectionately known, has been name-dropped in well over 1,000 hip hop songs over the last few decades.
“Hennessy has always had a strong connection with the music industry, particularly hip hop,” says Laurent Boillot, Hennessy’s CEO. “Hennessy is truly the original spirit of hip hop, which the culture embraced as a badge of success and good taste. We, as a brand, are particularly honoured by this recognition. We leaned into this and continuously supported the culture. To celebrate this heritage, we couldn’t have a better partner than Nas.”
Every detail surrounding this special new release pays tribute to that heritage, beginning with the bottle’s design. It’s a blend of Hennessy’s iconic branding and the aesthetic of hip hop, with packaging that showcases a portrait of Nas framed in bright orange (his favourite colour), graffiti references from one of his most recent albums, and that hand-written letter extolling the power of the musical style.
“Hip hop, you are the vibration of the people,” the ode reads. “You never stop, never settle. You are poetry on beats, people taking to the streets. You are rhythm, art, and motion. Through your reflection, we can see where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.”