Hamburger Hip-Hop

Watch the Stove Actually Isn't Horrible

By Aimee Terravechia

On April 1, Hamburger Helper, a food brand best known by suburban parents with busy schedules, dropped a mix-tape album. The bigger news? It isn't horrible.

The brand joined the ranks of other food products appropriating popular music to sell goods. From California Raisons singing the Temptation's "Heard it Through the Grape Vine" to Jack in the Box's faux-Spice Girls band Spicy Crispy Chicks, Hamburger Helper has joined a long-standing tradition. What makes Hamburger Helper's foray into musical marketing so noteworthy is that it isn't just one song, or one shtick — it's a fully conceptualized mix-tape album with topical and decently produced music. This album takes its musical stylings seriously while still maintaining a hell of a sense of humor. And somehow, it works.

The album, titled Watch the Stove, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Kanye and Jay-Z's Watch the Throne, toes the line of being self-aware and painfully PC. The album features five songs, all focused on the product and consumer needs that it aims to meet.

The idea of such an album is the antithesis of cool. It's comprised entirely of music designed to sell a boxed food product. But the album's attention to detail and musical stylings make it the perfect parody.

Hamburger Helper recruited Minneapolis-based artists to work on the tracks. The producers were able to tap into current trends and pay homage to old standards. The songs range from commercial-sounding beats to Southern-rap inspired sounds. Its balance of commercialism and style is a work of art — one designed to sell boxed pasta with seasonings.

Since it dropped on April Fool's Day, one might think that the company would have stopped at just one song, or promised an album as a joke without actually delivering. Instead, what the public has received is a comprehensive study of hip-hop, brought to you by General Mills. The album has succeeded in garnering attention for the brand. It's been written about on a variety of sites and shared on multiple platforms. There are more than 18,000 followers of the album on SoundCloud where the tracks were released. It's been an unqualified marketing success — able to cut through the white noise of the Internet.

Other brands have attempted to tap into the commercial appeal of hip-hop to sell their products. This month alone has seen clever advertising by Spotify and Disney in the weeks after Hamburger Helper's album drop. Spotify created a clever ad for those threatening to move to Canada during election season, featuring a "Moving" playlist complete with "My House" by Flo Rida. Disney released a clip of Star Wars actors John Boyega and Daisy Ridley delivering their own rap from the set of the film. Rhymes sell, and companies have been catching on since hip-hop's inception.

Hip-hop's history with advertising has been lucrative. As early as the '80s we saw Run DMC working with Adidas, and the Wu-Tang Clan with St. Ides malt liquor. Those in advertising sought to tap into the genre's marketing potential. The music became the brand ambassador — pushing products and establishing a lifestyle message for companies that might have otherwise felt out of touch. While others worked endorsement deals, some companies focused on musical parody. Hamburger Helper's album is peak parody — an impressive combination of creative content and brand messaging.

The best thing about the mix-tape isn't that it uses a genre of music well-suited for advertising and reaching younger demographics. It's that it's so self-aware. Yes, the album features a variety of styles. Yes, it makes reference to established artists. And yes, it isn't half-bad to listen to. What makes this even more bearable is the realization that this is all ridiculous. On the brand's SoundCloud page they write, "Doesn't have to be fancy to be good. Mission: feed the internet. Trolling lame diners since 1971."

The whole endeavor proves that the brand takes itself just seriously enough put in the effort, but also have some serious fun.

Published April 20th, 2016

Aimee Terravechia is a writer, teacher, and grilled cheese connoisseur. She is currently working on her second novel Memes Anonymous . She has written for The Powder RoomScary Mommy, and The Cubic Lane. Her fiction has been published in Apocrypha and Abstractions. When not writing she can be found teaching college composition and creative writing, herding cats, or wrangling her toddler.