Hip-hop has been designated as the testing grounds for a new crop of energy drinks. Old-schooler Ice-T has just dropped Liquid Ice, his alternative to Red Bull, which he guarantees will "give you stamina for every game you're about to indulge in." Nelly recently unveiled Pimp Juice, from his song of the same name. Def Jam head Russell Simmons has just put his new "energy soda" DefCon3 into stores and into your soon-to-be-shaking hands. And then there's Lil' Jon and his drink Crunk!!! for those of us who like a little B12 and guaraná with our bass, oookaaay? The majority of these drinks claim to enhance well-being, contain essential vitamins and minerals, and promise to add some pep to your game.
Since I'm a glutton for punishment and have no game, I decided to spend a whole night with Ice-T.
Wednesday night started around 11 p.m. at Karma Lounge with Liquid Ice. (OK, it actually started around 8 p.m., when I downed two.) Ice-T's drink comes in two flavors: Electric Blue and Frosted Chrome. As a rule, I try to stay away from beverages with the word frosted in the name, so I decided to stick with Electric Blue. The taste is somewhere between watered-down Sweet Tarts and Mountain Dew; the color is that of Windex. DJ Danny Bled is spinning a retina-shaking set of drum and bass for a generously gelatinous crowd. I sneak drink number 3 from my bag, and the bartender eyes me suspiciously. I shoot her a sidewards glance until my left eye starts twitching. My eye continues to twitch in time with the beat, as does my left foot. The guy next to me does that side-to-side sway, like Axl Rose, which is pretty cool.
My cohort and I continue to Himmarshee to find some action, because you can't just sit on a barstool when you're hopped up on the goofball juice. Gotta keep walking. Keep walking. I offer him a sip of my fourth eight-ouncer; he spits it in a potted plant with disgust. Nice. I down the rest, its tart, fizzy flavor going straight to my heart. It's about midnight, and my eyeballs are struggling to break free from their sockets. I've started to sweat profusely but only under my left armpit. We round the corner and spot Art Bar. Oh, delicious irony! There are two blue Liquid Ice PT Cruisers sitting out front, and there are blue and white balloons adorning the entrance of the club. The crowd inside is really excited. So am I! I love to dance!
[Half an hour later in front of Capones for the hot body contest. ] Energy drinks are the worst idea ever. Isn't hip-hop culture all about being laid back? Chillin'? Isn't everyone supposed to be cool? It's a conspiracy; it's gotta be. A conspiracy to keep everyone alert and on guard. I bet the government actually tested it on innocent schoolchildren who giddily exclaimed, "It tastes like candy!" And now it's on the streets. It's all making sense. Can number 5. Gulp, gulp, gulp. I'll have the next four hours to think about this conspiracy. Unravel it.
It's 1:30 a.m. at the Poor House. A respite from all the dancing and the strobe lights and the jiggling booty. I down my sixth drink, swallowing a dry heave in the process. My back and neck have started itching. Overhear a conversation about Africanized killer bees, which begins to blend in with a nearby car blasting Jay-Z's "99 Problems." It now sound likes "I've got 99 bitches and Sting ain't one." I go home and organize my shirts by color.
Imbibing these drinks on a regular basis is -- surprise!-- not really good for your health. So, what is the point of these drinks? Yes, current hip-hop is certainly about image, and what's more tangible than something in your hand as a symbol of cool? Would the same marketing work for rock 'n' roll? Well, would anyone actually want to drink, say, David Lee Roth's Just a Gigolo Juice? Phish's Bong Blast Energy Soda? Like, gag me with a pimp cup.
Still, just as hip-hop figures have become a commodity, so have their products. This doesn't leave a lot of room for, say, the creativity that has been sorely lacking in much of the new hip-hop music. It'll be interesting to see what happens when the hype wears off and the energy-drink industry starts crashing. Then what? Outkast's Low Carb Cheesecake?