Boosting street cred with hip-hop

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There exists a delicate balance when using hip hop music in a spot. Most songs don't have usable lyrics for broadcast, but clean lyrics can jeopardize street cred and sound cheesy. In Boost Mobile's "Anthem," agency Berlin Cameron/Red Cell New York balanced street cred with quality and a message resonant with the product by getting the top acts in the business and giving them creative control when creating original rhymes for the pre-pay phone network's walkie-talkie function. "Anthem," directed by HSI's Chris Robinson, features Kanye West, the producer whose debut album won raves and sales, making him one of the hottest acts in the music business. He's joined by Ludacris and G-Unit member Game, who recently launched a solo album. In the spot, each raps about his home town-Chicago for West, Atlanta for Ludacris and L.A. for Game-over Nextel's Push to Talk service. Each is shown in his home town while West is in the studio laying down the track, which promotes the service as clear enough to record. "That was important to the spot," says creative director Ewen Cameron, who co-wrote the spot with art director Julio Pardo. "The MC battle is a musical conversation. So what we told the artists to do is to represent their place and say it's the best. They're battling about their neighborhoods. It's easy to tell if it's bad rap music. We said, do something that you're proud of, that you would release. Your job isn't to make an ad. Our job is to make an ad."

Containing elements found in a music video such as hot cars, women and shots of the 'hood, the look and sound are less heightened than a clip, bringing an authenticity to the message and perching performances somewhere between live performance and lip-sync. The effect was one that Robinson planned out-after recording in the studio, the spot was shot twice, once MOS with the artists lip synching as if shooting a video, and then with the artist rapping on-set, including the well timed chirps that signify Nextel's walkie-talkie technology. In some scenes, the tracks were layered. "For this young audience, authenticity is crucial," says Cameron. "If it's not authentic, it isn't cool."

Another factor in authenticity is that the artists wrote their own lyrics, and interpreted the beat in their own styles. "They were given a brief, but we also wanted to give them the most creative freedom, considering that [West is] the biggest producer in hip hop right now," says music producer Blythe Barger, who traveled to Chicago, Atlanta and L.A. to record and shoot the three artists, who true to concept were not in the same place at the same time until the spot's press event at the MTV Video Music Awards. "We didn't want to place any limitations on them creatively. It's about each artist and where he came from and where he is now. Each artist achieved that in their own specific way, and told their story."

The story links to the product as well, as each rapper spits about his home, following the idea of a boost, or elevation to the lavish lifestyle. In the lyrics and images shown, viewers get a general picture of each city as well as inside jokes for residents only. The final authentic touch was the autobiographical ending, in which West effectively hangs up on Ludacris and Game and decides to keep the song as his own. "It's the idea that Kanye, who is a producer, is also working as a performing artist," says Barger. "Now people are calling him, and he has to decide if he wants to give a beat to another artist or keep it for himself. It's a real story that would happen to him."

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