Why Rolls-Royce became a status symbol in rap lyrics and among artists

  • Rolls-Royce has been a status symbol in recorded hip-hop music since almost the genre’s inception.
  • Throughout the genre’s history, rap artists often mention or show Rolls-Royce cars in videos.
  • Jay-Z and Beyoncé reportedly ordered the $28 million Rolls-Royce Boat Tail.

Here is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Hip-hop loves Rolls-Royce. According to Bloomberg, from 2014 to 2017, the top 20 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 mentioned Rolls-Royce more times than any brand, including other luxury car makers like Porsche, Lamborghini and Ferrari. So what makes Rolls-Royce so special? And how did he become so popular in rap?

The obvious answer is that it’s luxurious. Just look at the customization options like the Starlight Headliner, Custom Audio System, and Champagne Cooler, and you’ll see why the price can fluctuate from $300,000 to nearly half a million dollars. But there is something more here that is not superficial.

I listen to hip-hop every day, so I started writing whenever I heard Rolls-Royce in rap lyrics. And it turns out Rolls-Royce is everywhere.

But what I found most surprising was that the mentions go back further than the 90s… and even the 80s.

Released in 1979, “Rapper’s Delight” is arguably the first commercially successful hip-hop record. But that’s not the only important thing about this year. 1979 also marks what is probably the very first mention of Rolls-Royce in hip-hop history. It’s on the track “Superrappin'” by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five.

“And if a Stutz breaks down, I’ll make another choice. I’ll dog my grill in a new Rolls-Royce.”

Mark Skillz: Around 1979, many hustlers were driving Cadillacs. The Cadillac was therefore the first car. The Mercedes-Benz was like, “yo, you on another level driving a Benz.”

Narrator: That’s Mark Skillz, a hip-hop writer and historian who’s interviewed many of the genre’s pioneers and documented the origins of hip-hop over the past 18 years.

Brand: Now I’ve done my own research, and I can’t think of anyone at the time who drove a Rolls-Royce. It was no ordinary car on the streets. Mentioning Rolls-Royce on a first record like this was like “an untouchable luxury”.

Narrator: In the late 70s, the only people you saw driving Rolls-Royces were aristocratic elites. Take Queen Elizabeth, who was often driven around in a Phantom IV, a luxury vehicle exclusively built for the British royal family and heads of state.

So even before the birth of hip-hop in the 70s, Rolls-Royce had a reputation as a status symbol.

OK, so why did Rolls-Royce start being mentioned in the early days of rap? To understand its inclusion in the lyrics, we need to explain why status symbols have become so prevalent in rap music.

Brand: The streets influenced hip-hop. Nowadays, people think it’s the other way around. It is the streets that have influenced the artists.

Narrator: Prior to the 1980s, wealthy crime bosses and flashy preachers presented the Bronx with status symbols like tailored suits, jewelry and, of course, fancy cars. In the early 80s, hip-hop became profitable thanks to the success of artists like The Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow and Run DMC. In the mid-’80s, rappers started signing record deals, and there was only one thing to do with all the extra money. Rappers began to emulate the larger-than-life personalities they saw in their communities, transitioning rapping to the swagger genre we know today.

But one duo in particular took things to a whole new level. In 1988, rappers Eric B. and Rakim were among the first to elevate their rap personas by posing next to Rolls-Royces. The luxury car was featured on the cover of their second studio album, “Follow the Leader”.

Brand: Eric B. said he bought the Rolls-Royce because everyone bought Mercedes Benzes and Jeeps. But Eric was like, “no, I want to separate myself from everyone” and so he bought the Rolls-Royce.

Tashfiq Patwary: A lot of rappers come from the streets and start from scratch. You want to achieve great things no matter what you do in life. While Rolls-Royce is definitely that next level “I did it here car.”

Brand: When guys started getting money, it became one-up-man-ship. This is the first time a hip-hop DJ and entertainers have been able to fool a drug dealer.

Narrator: The two posing with a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow marked the success of not only the duo but also rap as a genre.

Speaking of rap success, let’s go back to 1997. Diddy and Mase were at the top of the Billboard charts. During that year, Diddy and Mase each had four top ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100, the most top 10 hits of any artist that year.

One of those hits, “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down,” peaked at number one and spent 16 weeks in the top ten. And as Diddy found mainstream success, he celebrated it all in…you guessed it: a white Rolls-Royce.

In the iconic music video, Diddy and Mase pull away from a slow-mo white Rolls-Royce Corniche. Imagery of the $156,000 vehicle exploding behind them proved the cost was nothing for a rapper as big as Puff.

Dawton Thomas: In the 90s, they start to assume these personalities of people with a lot of money, a lot of power and a lot of influence. And with those things, you have to have the accessories to go with that status. So if I’m a king and I’m a queen, then that’s my chariot.

Narrator: And it seems that 97 may have been responsible for the spike in Rolls-Royce mentions in the following years. Of the 7 rap songs that mentioned Rolls-Royce that year, 5 were on Billboard’s weekly singles chart or were on albums that had success on the Billboard charts.

Nothing shows the effect of this influence better than rap group Cash Money The Big Tymers, which emerged from the South in the early 2000s with a very different spin on luxury.

Tachfiq: I think the most iconic lyrics I can remember are definitely from the #1 Stunna video.”

Dated: What Wayne is talking about is “I got the Rolls” and you know how slow they are. So I’m going to show myself in there.

Tachfiq: When you usually imagine who would have these types of cars, you would see them equipped with a driver who would take them out. But when you saw people like Mannie Fresh and Baby and Lil Wayne and Juvenile, those guys were wearing baseball caps and white t-shirts and driving them around. They were breaking the molds and stereotypes of what you can do with these cars.

Brand: They still wanted to keep the flavor of the street and be in luxury. Because if you remember Diddy and the white suits and Mase in a suit. The southern players were like, “No, we’ll take this luxury as we are.”

Narrator: And as Trap emerged from the South and took over the charts, Rolls-Royce accompanied this ride. Just listen to Migos’ chart-topping track “Bad and Boujee” and you’ll hear Offset mention “Pull up in Ghost.”

I’ve compiled at least 338 studio-released hip-hop songs from 1979 to 2017 that mentioned Rolls-Royce or its popular models.

Dated: People want the best of the best. Rolls-Royce, that’s it. They only make a limited number per year, it’s a hand-built vehicle, it comes from overseas. It’s like all the different checkpoints and then there’s the price.

Narrator: But those prices pale in comparison to the new Rolls-Royce Boat Tail, which in May 2021 broke the record for most expensive new road-legal car ever at $28 million. And its creation can be related to hip-hop.

Dated: The fact that they’re not just hip-hop royalty, but American royalty. And I mean the Boat Tail is when you know you’re super rich, when people say, “well, we know they got it.” (Laughs)

I think Rolls-Royce became the hallmark of success, especially in hip-hop, because it wasn’t easy to get.

Narrator: And the brand has played into this idea. I reached out to a Rolls-Royce rep to ask why he thinks the luxury brand is so influential in hip-hop:

Gerry Spah: The one thing every Rolls-Royce customer has in common is success. Nobody needs a Rolls-Royce car, it’s something everyone wants.

Brand: The news spread through the streets and it became the ultimate symbol of luxury and wealth. And he’s kept his status ever since, and he’s not going anywhere.

Dawton: Benz rhymes with so many things: friends, goal, Benz, again. But with Benz rhyming a lot, don’t get me wrong, Rolls-Royce is always the one everyone likes to mention, as it is the one.

James V. Hayes