Cognac’s Corrupt Compromise—Converting Cultivated Caché To Criminal Cash

‘There will always be a kind of love story between myself and that odd, unpredictable collection of bourgeois chauvinists who call themselves la France.’

– James Baldwin, Negro

Jenny and a vajazzled vajayjay.

Based on the existence of a perennially popular Paris Hilton, a mystifyingly in-demand Tom Cruise, an actual Jennifer Love Hewitt poozle-artform called vajazzling and well-received hip-hop albums by Ron Artest and Kobe Bryan, you’d think that your average cynic would be entirely sheathed in scar tissue by now.

But it’s a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world, Lola—and you’d think wrong.

You see, for every fatalistic sigh of resignation we breath, a fresh and fuming phoenix of fury foments whenever a legendary name dumbs itself down in the quest for a bottom-barrel bottom-line and worse—from a needless need for ‘street cred’ among weenies who are given way, way too much airplay to begin with.

No, I’m not talking about Rolls-Royce trading down from a $1.2 million special-edition Phantom to an online $19.95 doggie t-shirt.  Nor am I speaking of compelling in-house brand rivalries like Levis vs. Dockers or Sony vs. Aiwa.  Not even the second labels released by all the first growth Bordeaux.

I’m referring to the nouvelle tendance français to cater to a group of Americans who embrace—or pretend to embrace—a misogynistic, megalomaniacal, nefariously violent, bling-blaring lifestyle.

I’m talking about their thirst for thugs.

Vive la France; Mort aux Africains

Ever since Marie Antoinette quipped, ‘Let ‘em eat chicken feets and hog maw grits’ on the way to her photo op (topless, literally) with le guillotin, white French people have had an strange love/hate relationship with blacks.  Whereas they saw nothing squirrely about torturing black Algerians in the ’50s, nor the French Foreign Legion’s murdering black civilians in the Ivory Coast, nor in ‘Operation Turquoise’—a 1994 military action that assisted in the fully armed escape of the French-backed perpetrators of the Hutu-Tutsi genocide, the jazz-loving nation have also taken many African Americans under their protective wing, including Josephine Baker—whose trademark banana skirt can be seen as a precursor to vajazzling—former World War I military pilot Eugene Ballard, controversial poet Richard Wright and any number of authors attached to the Harlem Renaissance movement of the 1930’s.

Far from a being cultural mimicry of the Black Plague, of course, it is a textbook example of ‘Wigger Syndrome’…

First identified in 19th century minstrel shows, later in Al Jolson films and currently during Eminem concerts, ‘Wigger Syndrome’ is a social phenomenon known by scientists as allophilia—Greek for ‘love of the other’—and is a well-established French Paradox 2 that causes Parisian youth to sport powder-blue Nike track suit, drink sugary drinks named for colors, not flavors (purple, red, orange), eat chicken feets and hog maws while listening to Wiz Khalifa.

It is referred to as a ‘paradox’ because, alternately, you can find no black youths in New Orleans, Chicago, Gary or Detroit who wear berets and striped shirts while drinking Orangina Rouge, eating snails and poached veal pancreas while listening to Maurice Chevalier warbling ‘Dans la vie faut pas s’en faire’.

This disparity of pop affection is the urban equivalent of an economic trade imbalance, and if you ignore the inherent implications, you may be confusing David Ricardo’s principle of comparative advantage with Adam Smith’s principle of absolute advantage, specifically ignoring the latter.

Or, you may just be a dolt.  I know I am, because I have no idea what the stuff I just wrote means.

In any case, non-dolts include Cristal Champagne godfather Louis Roederer, who spent years exploiting hip-hop’s fascination with their iconic, clear, gold-foiled bottle—an image of conspicuous consumption and, in the case of most rappers, of class conquest.  As you recall, the bubbly bevvie had Jay Z barking, ‘You can’t roll a blunt to this one; You gotta, you gotta well, ya gotta light a J, You gotta puff a J on this one.  You can’t even drink Crist-OWL on this one; You gotta drink Crist-ALL…’ up until the time that Roederer hired a new managing dolt called Frédéric Rouzaud who dissed Jay-Z and his uppity tastes—at which point Jay Z called for an immediate Cristal boycott and switched to Ace of Spades—potentially, the only other Champagne he could pronounce.

Either way, Ace of Spades is also French, so the trade ledger remains this side of black.  No pun.

And Then There’s Cognac…

Bordeaux’s wonderful distillate is the other alcamahol d’affluence that has seized hip-hop’s snootiest snorters, and for years it was Hennessey, then it was Courvoisier, then it was Rémy  Martin, then it was upper-scalier XO (stands for X-tra Overpriced) versions of all three.  The rappers I know envision Cognac not so much as a classic tipple of sophistication, breeding and subtlety, but simply a drink that really successful, really rich, really old and really Caucasian dudes drink, and invariably, they add a note of vulgarity to the par-tay by mixing it with Coca Cola.  Then again, I don’t know anyone that can lay a claim to class.

Even so, as proven by French people’s ready, willing and ableness to sell fabled Châteaux to Chinese investors, Cognac producers are more than happy to promote their wares via thugs—few of whom have the slightest knowledge of or interest in the Appellation d’origine contrôlée’s long and storied history, and many of whom have police records longer than their left Armagnacs.

Strange bedfellows?  And how.

And Suddenly…

…All of the bungs have been pulled from the Limousin or Tronçais hogsheads; all pretense has been shed, and a new product has been foisted upon—and directly marketed to—the public (enemies) in a shamelessly corporate bid for a bigger body of brandy bux.

OG XO is being fronted by one of L.A. rap’s founding fathers, Ice Cube—an ideal spokesperson, because his thuggery is all imagery.   With no criminal record whatsoever, the former O’Shea Jackson—a Phoenix Institute of Technology architectural drafting student-turned-mock-mafioso, first hit the scene in 1987 with the seminal sub-genre act of gangsta rap called N.W.A. (Non-Wigger Attitude) and went on the have a successful spin-off career that included films, tv specials, a clothing line and four law-abiding mini-Cubes: Three sons and a daughter named ‘Kareema’, whose middle name, I was disappointed to learn, is not ‘Wheat’.

And Now He Has OG XO

Negro With Attitude Adjustment

For the record, OG stands for ‘Original Gangster’, which is where my lily-white honey-cracker agita begins.  Because there is no reason under the spherical-yellow-dwarf-consisting-of-hot-plasma-interwoven-with-magnetic-fields that any Cognac steeped in the lore of antiquity, with 3rd century Roman occupation origins and a history that is as filled with heroes, villains and charlatans as any Dumas novel, should pander to street kids in Bed-Stuy simply to feather the nest.

Except for one thing, also for the record: If you actually read the fine print, it turns out that Original Gangster isn’t a Cognac at all.  It’s brandy, which is under a whole lot fewer legal strictures than Cognac.

For starters, unlike Cognac’s varietal laws requiring that ugni blanc, colombard and folle blanche are the only grapes used, brandy can be made from Thompson Seedless if it strikes your fancy.  Brandy does not need to be aged in wood and can legally be colored with caramel to simulated oak extracts; Cognac does require oak aging—up to two years in barriques.  What’s more, Cognac must come from a very specific and authorized area; brandy does not even have to come from France, although Original Gangster claims a French pedigree.

Last, and most importantly, the label XO—which actually stands for ‘Extra Old’—designates a Cognac blend in which the youngest brandy is stored for at least six years but on average for upwards of 20.

For a brandy, XO is meaningless, since the law only applies to Cognac and Armagnac.  To use it without legal import is a scam worthy of the most disingenuous playa—it attempts to wedge OG into a category known as ‘veblen goods’—commodities for which people’s purchasing preference increases as the price goes up, as greater price confers greater status.

So after all that, how does the product itself rate?  I have no idea; I received no sample and I’m hardly going to shell out $90 for any brandy whose last name isn’t Norwood.

So, send me some already, Original Gangsters, wherever you are.  I’ll try it.  Send me some Coca Cola, too, and I’ll try it in its native habitat.

See, ultimately I think it’s just a scam meant to stroke some gangster egos; a French/African game as old as Josephine Baker, Eugene Ballard, Richard Wright and the Harlem Renaissance authors, all of whom were so soul-weary of being mistreated in the United States because of their race that they found France a refreshing, cleansing, edifying change of pace.

And let’s be honest.  What would I do if some Languedoc brandy maker released a bottle called ‘Original Maligned, Misunderstood, Whiney and Infantile Wine Critic XO’?

I’d become a friggin’ Frigger, that’s what I’d do.

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