Forgotten Elements: Cristal The History
Tsar Alexander II, then ruler of Russia, was a champagne connoisseur who prided himself on having the best bubbly. One day he observed that nothing distinguished the champagne he served from that tasted in other royal courts, so he called upon Louis Roederer II of the Champagne House Louis Roederer, to create the very first prestige champagne brand.
A stickler for details, the Tsar insisted that the bottle should also be distinctive, so Louis Roederer II called upon a master glassmaker who designed a crystal bottle for the Tsars tipple, hence the name. Some speculate that the Tsar wanted clear bottles for Cristal so his guards could better inspect them for poison, a feature many of todays Hip Hop elite could probably find useful for the same reasons.
Sadly for the Tsar, his precautions could not save him from his multitude of haters. In 1881 he was killed by a bomb thrown at him by a Russian activist. Today the bottles arent made of crystal anymore, but Roederer continues the clear bottle tradition for nostalgia.
In 1909, Alexanders grandson Tsar Nicolas II named Roederer the official supplier of the Imperial Court of Russia. But after the 1917 Russian Revolution, demand for Cristal fizzled and the label was retired. Three decades later the brand was revived and presented to the general public for the first time as competition for Moet & Chandons Dom Perignon.
Louis Roederer is one of the oldest champagne houses in the world, and has been owned by the same family since its inception 1776. Before the creation of Cristal, Roederer champagnes were already popular among the worlds wealthy. Between 1832 and 1870, sales of Roederer champagnes reached a high of 2,500,000 bottles worldwide. Today, Roederer easily sells at least that many bottles each year.
That seems like a lot but its nothing compared to say, the number of Coke bottles sold each day just over twenty-five mil in the U.S. alone. The limited availability is a factor in Cristals steep price. Unless you have a major hook-up, you wont taste the luxury bubbly for less than a hundred dollars a pop from specialty wine shops. At fine restaurants the asking price is at least two hundred a bottle a far cry from old school favorite Champale, a funky pink or piss yellow malt beverage which in its heyday cashed in at about a dollar and twenty-five cents a can.
A sweet champagne with citrus and ginger undertones, Cristal is the fave fizz of celebrities across the board. It was the choice champagne at the wedding of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. Mariah Carey demands it in her dressing room for every show she does - along with a box of bendy straws. And of course Hip Hop stars just about bathe in it. Lil Kim loves to slurp it with real niggaz. In Sugar Hill AZ fantasized about having it by the cases. Jay-Z claims he was drinking it when everybody thought it was beer.
Jay-Z is currently the favorite poster boy for Cristal and has received approval from Roederer to use it in several of his videos, along with more than a few free cases. Why? According to a company spokesperson, its because Jay always presents Cristal as a status symbol, and despite their hoity-toity history, Roederer relishes the eager consumption of Cristal by Hip Hop stars. So much so that, according to a recent article in the Washington Post, theyd rather see Cristal in Hip Hop videos than movies. An upcoming film starring Sandra Bullock and Liam Neeson was promptly dissed when the films prop peeps put in a request for some Crist to use on the set, basically because the scenes in which the bottles were to be used just weren't jiggy enough.
The Washington Post article also attempts to trace Cristal's history in Hip Hop, concluding that the Notorious B.I.G. was the first to mention Cristal on Jay-Z's 1996 debut album, Reasonable Doubt. Well Washington Post, you were wrong, and the next time you guys decide to run a piece about Hip Hop, please try to find a writer who knows what the fuck theyre talking about.
Now for those of you who are going, Huh? I just knew it was Big! the fact is, although Big regularly rapped about fine beverages, prior to 1996 he was always spittin about Moet and Alize. It wasnt until Reasonable Doubt, on the song Brooklyns Finest to be exact, did he start saying the name Cristal.
Tupac even mentioned Cristal before Big in his song Thug Passion off his album All Eyez On Me, which came out a few months before Reasonable Doubt. In the song, Tupac talks about a concoction consisting of one part Alize, one part Cristal.
But Pac wasnt the first either, and nor was Jay-Z, whose first Cristal mention came via his 1994 single In My Lifetime.
The cigar actually goes to the most unusual of suspects: Rakim. He was the first to mention Cristal in his 1992 song Juice (Know The Ledge) from the soundtrack of the film Juice, in which Tupac, coincidentally, starred.
Peep the lyrics below:
Late for school, I catch the train
Girls sip "Cristal" and whisper my name
I push up like an exercise,
Check the intellect and inspect the thighs
Select the best one, pull her to the side
Keep her occupied for the rest of the ride
Read my resume she's know I'm 'ready, cool
Just meet me after school,
We can moan and groan until your mom come home
And you be calling me Al "Dope" Capone.
Note however that although Rakim was the first to say Cristal on wax, it is another MC who is credited with setting the trend of Cristal sipping in Hip Hop. That MC is Raekwon the Chef, who blew the Cristal floodgates wide open with his 1995 masterpiece Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.
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