This year marks the 10th anniversary of a seminal moment in the history of cognac: the release of rapper Busta Rhymes’s “Pass the Courvoisier Part II.” The hit triggered a boomlet in sales of Courvoisier and other cognacs and opened the floodgates to references to “yak” in hundreds of hip-hop numbers. It wasn’t long before some rappers were negotiating marketing agreements with venerable brands (as Snoop Dogg did with Landy Cognac), while others created their own labels (such as Ludacris’s Conjure cognac and Ice-T’s French brandy, Original Gangster). The informal partnership reached an apogee of sorts in 2009, when Kanye West was filmed guzzling from a bottle of Hennessy on the red carpet of the MTV Video Music Awards, just moments before his infamous Taylor Swift outburst.
With that, cognac became cartoonish, a symbol of untamed luxury. It got blingy.
Of course, this new stereotype had to be layered onto a more established one: that of a snooty drink served in snifters in exclusive gentlemen’s clubs. As with the rap association, this image was anchored in reality. Cognac has long been a prized and valuable liquor, particularly since a pesky insect called the Phylloxera vastatrix devastated French grape crops in the late 19th century. Today, you can visit the Library Bar of the Lanesborough Hotel in London and see investment bankers sip pre-Phylloxera cognacs priced at up to $6,500 for a less-than-two-ounce tipple.