Jay-Z, 50, Pharrell Blaze The Next Frontier Of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship: Computers

Computer companies tap rappers for help targeting urban market.

In hip-hop, the entrepreneurial wheels are always turning, with rappers endorsing a mind-boggling array of products including clothing lines, clubs, jewelry and alcohol.

But after all the standard wares, what's left? Behold the next frontier of hip-hop marketing: computers.

Jay-Z gave the computer-geek stereotype a serious makeover in a 60-second commercial for Hewlett-Packard, which aired during the recent NBA Finals.

As part of a several-hundred-million-dollar global marketing campaign for its Personal Systems Group, HP recruited Jay to promote its the Computer Is Personal Again campaign. Although his face is never shown in the ad, the MC is heard explaining how his personalized computer enables him to mix music, play online chess, plan tours, operate the Rocawear clothing line and store vacation pictures "you won't see in the tabloids" all in one place.

"I think that we're more interested actually in finding people that really appeal to some of the demographics that we traditionally have not had," said David Roman, vice president of worldwide marketing communications for HP's Personal Systems Group.

Through the use of Jay and Olympic snowboarder Shaun White, the company is directly targeting a younger generation. Pharrell Williams is also slated to star in a similar spot for the HP campaign.

And while Jay-Z and 50 Cent are accustomed to competing on the charts, the two rappers/businessmen might next be taking sides in the Mac-versus-PC feud: Turning his attention from G-Unit to central processing units, 50 is in negotiations regarding a branding deal with Apple, which would produce a line of affordable computers directed at less-affluent customers.

"I'm creating a foundation that will be around for a long time, because fame can come and go or get lost in the lifestyle and the splurging," 50 Cent told Forbes in a recent interview. "I never got into it for the music. I got into it for the business."

Obviously, plugs from hip-hop artists have boosted sales of many products in the past. The release of Busta Rhymes' "Pass the Courvoisier" in 2001 increased sales of the liquor by 18.9 percent, according to Impact magazine. Hennessy liquor had similar success after mentions in several rap songs.

"This could be an attempt to reach urban America in general," said Dante Lee, an author and CEO of Diversity City Media, a multicultural marketing and public relations firm. "Millions of teens — black, white, Asian and Hispanic — listen to hip-hop music and are involved with the culture."

Computer manufacturers are hoping a little street cred can help them reach a largely untapped segment of the population.

"I think this is an extremely effective marketing strategy," Lee said via e-mail. "It works really well for music (obviously), clothes, shoes, alcohol, automobiles, etc. I don't see a reason why it wouldn't work. People love hip-hop, and whatever the industry says to do — they do it."