Earlier this week, rapper Jay-Z acquired the Armand de Brignac champagne brand for an undisclosed amount from Sovereign Brands. The champagne, made in the town of Chigny-les-Roses, comes in a gold bottle embossed with a logo from a deck of cards (hence its nickname of Ace of Spades) and sells for about $300 each.
But for much of the recent history of rap Armand de Brignac was not a champagne that anyone cared to boast they were drinking—if anyone had heard of it. It was all about brands like Moët et Chandon and, especially, Cristal.
Jay-Z recounts in his memoir, Decoded, how he would be drinking Cristal in clubs in 1994, when few of his contemporaries had heard of it. “It told people that we were elevating our game, not by throwing on a bigger chain, but by showing more refined, and even slightly obscure, taste,” he says. “We didn’t have a record deal yet, but back then we’d show up at clubs in Lexuses and buy bottles of Cristal, while most people in the clubs were buying Moët. It was symbolic of our whole game—it was the next shit.”
And at the start of another song, he even teaches listeners how to pronounce Cristal properly (the French way) if you’re feeling “grown and sexy.”
What happened? In 2006, The Economist interviewed Frederic Rouzaud, the managing director of the company that makes Cristal, on how its owners felt about seeing rappers drink the champagne in their videos. “That’s a good question, but what can we do?” he replied. “We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Pérignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.”