For decades luxury references have been sprinkled into music, incidentally helping root the songs in a particular era. Think Sister Sledge singing about Gucci and Fiorucci in the 1970s or Drake rapping about Hennesy in 2016. Still, the most notable hook-up has to be between hip-hop and watches, starting in 70s New York. The Sugarhill Gang were among the first artists to start flashing their cash with diamond-encrusted watches. Now the diamonds are bigger and the watches are heavier. We took a look at the brands that get the most musical mentions, and why most of them are from hip-hop.
Hip-hop has truly been the trendsetter of the wealth status mentality. A study on the role economy plays in hip-hop suggests that, because these artists come from a suppressed subculture, when the genre became more commercial their music became more about celebrating their new lifestyle. Luxury items, and specifically watches, became the diamond-studded way to signify a new wealthy status.
We searched through AZ Lyrics to find out how many times watch brands have been named in lyrics, with Rolex coming out on top with 2,380 mentions. In fact Rolex was one of the first names that singers started dropping, probably because the public tends to associate the brand with wealth and status. Rolex is a favourite among many top-flight musicians including Kanye West, Jay Z, Bono, even Bruce Springsteen. Most of all, though, it is a favourite of hip-hop artists, some of whom even named songs after the brand, such as Iggy Azalea and Ayo & Tayo.
The brand also gets an honourable mention in “Otis” by Kanye West and Jay Z, with Kanye even wearing a Rolex Oyster Perpetual in yellow gold in the video. In the same video, Jay Z namechecks the Hublot Classic Fusion he’s wearing. Compared to Rolex, Hublot features less in lyrics, confirming that Jay Z is a watch lover and knows his brands well.
Musicians and watch connoisseurs
Like Jay Z, more and more hip-hop artists are opting for less mainstream brands. This is the next step up from simply flashing your cash; it’s showing that these musicians are also watch connoisseurs with refined tastes. Despite scoring only 869 mentions, Patek Philippe is dropped into lyrics by more contemporary artists such as Future, Young Thug and Gucci Mane. There are songs named after the brand too such as Patek by Soulja Boy.
In January this year Future and Drake released Life is Good where Drake raps “Virgil got a Patek on my wrist going nuts” – a hint that the designer Virgil Abloh would be collaborating with Patek Phillipe to design a watch for Drake. A few days later, Drake posted the watch – an all-green Nautilus 5726 set with emeralds – on his Instagram, making this one of the first times a watch had been heard about in a song before it was even released.
When it comes to namedropping, Audemars Piguet is out to rival Rolex, with 808 mentions. Jay Z set the trend in 2002 in “Show You How”. In it, he raps “Audemars Piguet, with the alligator strap”. He used his feat. on Frank Ocean’s Biking in 2017 to remind everyone that he’s a long-time fan of the brand, rapping “Audemars before all of y’alls”. Younger musicians are catching on and ditching Rolex for Audemars. The brand gets a mention in songs by Young Thug, Offset and, in a different musical genre, David Guetta.
So for decades watches have been tied in with any music genre that values wealth, status and flashing the cash – hip-hop being where the trends are set. Though brands like Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek Phillipe are the most frequently mentioned, a new generation of artists is emerging who are more savvy about who they associate themselves with. They tend to choose lesser-known brands as a way to show off their expertise.
The likes of Richard Mille and Breitling are beginning to trickle into the mainstream, with around 200 mentions each in our AZ Lyrics search. Artists such as Offset, Migos and other rappers all namedrop the brands, as do pop and RnB artists like Chris Brown and Pharrell Williams, who is an ambassador for Richard Mille and happily sings about a “Richard Mille flat double skeletal tourbillon” in Can I Have It Like That.
This could signify a move into niche collaborations, such as the one by Virgil Abloh and Patek Phillipe for Drake, along with a new trend of artists aligning themselves with less well-known but high luxury brands as watch knowledge, rather than the number of diamonds, becomes the new wealth indicator.