Al Kapone: Hustling for Hustle Vodka 

Hard liquor and hip-hop music go together like, well, gin and juice. The Beastie Boys' "Brass Monkey" was named for their circa-1980s cocktail of choice, Olde English 800 malt liquor and orange juice. In 2001, when Busta Rhymes' "Pass the Courvoisier" climbed the charts, sales of the cognac brand increased by 30 percent. Nine years later, Sean Combs boosted Ciroc's sales by an astonishing 70 percent when he became a brand ambassador for the premium vodka.

Researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health and the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at John Hopkins examined the 2009-2011 Billboard charts and searched lyrics of top-sellers to determine just how frequently musicians talk about booze. As Time magazine reported in a 2013 follow-up on the Johns Hopkins study, nearly 38 percent of hip-hop songs reference alcohol — more than country and pop hits from the same years combined.

Now, Memphian Al Bailey — aka rapper Al Kapone, known for lyrics like "If I had some Crist' or some Mo' then I'd be poppin' it" — is leveraging his success by crossing over to the liquor game.

Since 2010, Bailey has worked with Illinois-based liquor purveyor Bill Brooks to promote novelty spirits. Recently, the duo collaborated on a pair of brand-new brands, Hustle Vodka and Memphis Heat Cinnamon Whiskey, now available in stores around town and at clubs such as the Hard Rock Café, PurpleHaze Nightclub, and Club 152.

Last weekend, Bailey did a meet-and-greet at Gordin’s Liquor & Wine on Prescott Avenue. The team at West Tennessee Crown Distributing, says Bailey, is setting up more regional promotional dates for September and the fall.

click to enlarge Al Kapone
  • Al Kapone

What was your first drink?

My first drink was the hardest drink, the rotgut stuff — Mad Dog 20/20. I got drunk as hell, and then I threw up everywhere. I wanted to feel what it feels like to get drunk, so I drank a lot. [Laughs] Mad Dog 20/20 has made an everlasting impression on my life.

When do you usually drink?

First, I'm a light social drinker. I might have a drink when I just want to relax at home. And then there are the times I just want to have fun, kick it, and get turnt up. For that, I usually go to the Hard Rock or DKDC.

"Get crunk, get buck?"

You already know.

Any rules about drinking when you're going onstage?

I drink very moderately before a performance, just enough to knock the edge off. Then I take a little cup on stage with me and take a sip here and there.

Hustle Vodka — how do you like to drink it?

With cranberry juice. It's a corn-based vodka, and it's actually pretty smooth. A lot of premium brands give me a headache, but I don't feel hungover from this the next day, which is a super-plus. Hustle Vodka is for that drink you make yourself after a hard day. You've got to hustle to eat and survive in this world, and this brand is meant to be the alcohol that you take to drink and relax.

And the Memphis Heat?

At first, I wasn't sure about getting behind cinnamon whiskey. I wanted to work with Bill, but I have to like the product, too. My reputation is more important than making money. But the more I tried Memphis Heat, the more I loved it. It's like Fireball, but I think it tastes better. I drink it on the rocks, or I mix it with Sassy Girl, a cream liqueur, to create a cocktail called the Bonnie & Clyde.

Any other go-to drinks?

If I'm not drinking a brand I'm associated with, Jack and ginger.

What can the public expect when they run into you at the liquor store?

Well, we can't give away any free alcohol. I'll be handing out CDs and signing autographs, making it a fun event. You know how I love to represent Memphis!

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