Selling Hip Hop

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    “When Jimmy releases boy it pleases/
    But what do you do about all these diseases?…
    Now in winter AIDS attacks/
    So run out and get your Jimmy Hats”

“Jimmy” is slang for the male reproductive organ, and with these 1988 lines hip hop legend KRS One established the new lingo for condoms: Jimmy Hats.

A generation later, the term lives on, and the new “social-venture” company Common Ground USA wants to capitalize on its resonance. The for-profit group works with AIDS educators in New York and around the country to market a line of sexual health pamphlets and a brand of condoms called Jimmie Hatz.

Drawn as colorful cartoons with graffiti-style text, the ads and condom logos don’t apologize for sexuality. One pamphlet depicts a young black woman in a strapless midriff and low-cut jeans; the tagline plays on a Missy Elliot lyric, reading, “Ain’t no shame ladies do yo’ thang/ Just make sure you safe in the game.”

Political scientists would call Common Ground’s mission an effort to “mobilize indigenous organizations.” One theory of why the southern civil rights movement gained traction where others failed is that it plugged into institutions–namely churches–from which members took their civic cues. Now hip hop–the DJs, the magazines and T.V. shows, and the artists themselves–may form a disparate, modern version that can engage black America.

But while most efforts to tap hip hop’s power have been fitful, this one seems to show promise. Project Wave, a national nonprofit that links urban radio stations with AIDS groups, recently convinced New York City’s popular Power 105 to spearhead a year of HIV-testing campaigns. Nationally, only about two-thirds of people who take HIV tests come back to get their results; Project Wave’s radio partnerships regularly get an 85-percent return rate. A December testing event with New York’s WBLS only got 26 people to test, but amazingly, 23 came back for results. Meanwhile, a year-old Viacom initiative to raise AIDS awareness among hip hop heads through its massive stable of urban-market programming got 6.5 million visits to its website last year.

Common Ground has struck a note as well: Every stripe of hip hop ‘zine did a story on Jimmie Hatz when they hit the shelves last summer, and local AIDS groups say clients love them. DJ Red Alert put it succinctly: “Jimmy Hats are now in style/ ‘Cause you can’t trust a big butt and a smile… So all you super-hoes, wear your hat/ ’Cause drippin’ Jimmies is straight up wack.”