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When rap stars do wine


from Paso Robles

Seems there’s this rapper, Lil Jon, who started a wine company, Little Jonathan Wine Company, that made a Central Coast Chardonnay that just won a silver medal at the L.A. International Wine & Spirits Competition.

Now, readers of my blog may know what I think of such competitions, but that’s beside the point. What’s really interesting is that Lil Jon tweeted about the award, in caps: “FOR ALL YALL SUKKAS THAT WERE HATING ON MY WINE CHECK THIS OUT!! WE WINNING AWARDS TWITT!!! GET U SOME.”

We can presume that this is the written equivalent of the way Lil Jon talks on the street. It’s a form of urban speech I hear all the time, living in Oakland. Invented by black kids, it’s now been appropriated by some Asian and Latino kids (at least, those who yearn to live the hip hop lifestyle), as well as every white Eminem wannabe in the land.

On his winery’s website Lil Jon writes:

While traveling the world, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to experience some of the world’s greatest wines. My passion for enjoying those fine wines has led me to pursue my lifelong dream of starting my own winery. Our premium collection is simply some of the best wine that California has to offer. I’m very proud to present our rich, complex blends and world class varietals from the finest vineyards in the Central Coast, Monterey and Paso Robles regions. Our wines are hand-crafted to ensure excellence in evnry bottle and I personally invite you to try our wines and share in my passion.

How does he go back and forth from hip hop talk to the King’s English, with such ease? On his tweet he provides an insight: Jonathan Little Wine Company sounds “a little bit more upscale than regular ‘Lil Jon.’ … This is not no ghetto Boone’s Farm; this is some real wine.”

What’s notable about this, aside from a rapper turning into a winery owner (just another version of celebrity wines), is the glimpse it provides into the different ways we relate when we’re in different groupings of society; also, the way that Jonathan sees wine, which is probably the way most people see it. Lil Jon sees the world one way, and sings it the way he sees it, because his listeners see it the same way as he does, and he wants to relate to his listeners. But when Lil Jon becomes Jonathan Little, he’s no longer a rap star, or, more properly, he’s more than just a rap star: He’s a businessman, selling a product. So he has to act in a way that’s more appropriate to the business world, which is to say, speaking and writing the way business people, and most people in the wine industry, talk and write. No double negatives, no deliberate misspellings or mispronunciations.

We all do that, don’t we? When I’m in New York with New Yawkahs my speech reverts to the Bronx accents of my boyhood. When I’m with serious winos, such as my San Francisco tasting group, we talk in a way that would be as incoherent (and probably sound a lot more pompous) to outsiders as Lil Jon’s urban speech may be to some. Wine geek-speech is no different, in substance, than urban hip hop speech. Both are forms of communication that allow us to function in and bond with specialized groupings of people.

Hey Lil Jon, if you read this: let’s get together and drink some wine. I can teach you geek-speak and you can teach me hip hop talk.

  1. “Excuse me. stewardess, I speak Jive”

  2. Hey Steve,

    Enjoyed this. Thought you might enjoy a piece I wrote recently for Appellation America recently in a similar vein:

    Called: “Why Can’t We All Be Gangsters? Or, What Lil Wayne Can Teach Us About Winemaking”

    Cheers! CC 😉

  3. Woody Allen of the Wine World… That Steve Heimoff…. He’s such a sketch.

  4. I really do hope Lil Jon takes you up on that offer. You also illustrate a very important point, which is, we are multidimensional beings. People often take for granted that they see someone in one particular setting and are incredulous to them having lives or personality outside that realm. As you said in a prior post, sometimes you don’t want to be treated as Steve the wine critic and you want to be “just Steve.” And, rightly so. Depending on the company, the environment, and given sentiment of the situation we find ourselves being social chameleons. Does that mean something inherently duplicitous? I’d like to think not, in fact, if anything I would say it shows how much more we are just being another part of ourselves.

  5. Airplane! Classic.

  6. Sheeeeeeee’…. [“Golly”]

  7. Let me just say that Jon is one complex man and is not to be underestimated-like the wines we make together!

    Alison Crowe
    -Lil Jon’s Winemaker

  8. Tell him I’d love to meet him and taste.

  9. And let Little Jonathan Know I will gladly send him a little wine decanter with a big impact.

  10. Excellent take Steve. The Chameleon is the winner in life.

  11. So there is a term for this, it’s called code-switching. Found often in urban communities, we will communicate in an impassioned way, complete with hand gestures, facial expressions and, funny social references. Steve, I too live in Oakland and travel N. California for work, I must admit that not a day goes by I don’t hear a middle class white person use terms (formerly known as ebonics) such as “chillin'” “Girl!” and “Oh, no he didn’t?”

    As you stated, we all have a tendency to let our hair down with friends or change our speech a bit when we leave the office or boardroom. It’s a special code that let’s us know we belong, right?

    With that said, Go Jonathan!


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