References to Hennessey and Courvoisier have been par for the course in rap lyrics since the ‘90s, but how did this exclusively French beverage get so popular in both the songs and in the African American community? Slate has a fascinating look at the reign of cognac in the states, which started long before Busta Rhymes and P. Diddy recorded “Pass The Courvoisier.” Behold:
"Cognac’s relationship with African-American consumers started later, when black soldiers stationed in southwest France were introduced to it during both world wars. The connection between cognac producers and black consumers was likely bolstered by the arrival of black artists and musicians like Josephine Baker, who filled Paris clubs with jazz and blues during the interwar years, according to Dr. Emory Tolbert, a history professor at Howard University. France appreciated these distinctive art forms before the U.S. did, continuing a French tradition dating back to Alexis de Tocqueville of understanding aspects of American culture better than Americans did. For African-Americans, the elegant cognac of a country that celebrated their culture instead of marginalizing it must have tasted sweet. Back in the states, the more common option was whiskey, a spirit made by companies that named brands after Confederate leaders or appealed to southern nationalism with labels such as Rebel Yell. It’s no wonder many African-Americans found that cognac left a better taste in their mouths."
It’s a long, interesting history, full of tales of marketing, Napoleon, and the French love for scotch, and well worth a read, both for fans of hip-hop and fans of spirits in general.