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What’s not to like when you’re Travis Scott? At 28, he’s arguably the most vital rapper in the world earning more than $100 million through chart-topping singles (“Sicko Mode”), a multiplatinum album (Astroworld) and the top-grossing rap tour in 2019. The latter is key: Scott is a famously raucous MC. Once he takes the stage, fans are “ragers” (his term), and he is “La Flame” (ditto), the spark that sets it all off.
What’s far more interesting, though, is how La Flame lights up the business world. For decades, celebrities have translated their renown into remunerative gigs as corporate shills. Then, for much of this century, fame instead yielded entrepreneurial opportunities far more lucrative than typical endorsements. Scott, to successful effect, has pursued a hybrid model in which he’s working with and within big brands, but in ways where he’s telling them what to do or say, rather than the reverse. “Those guys are allowing us to really dive in and create our own world,” he says.
Scott’s endorsement roster is formidable, ranging from brands that revel in their appeal to youth (PlayStation, Epic Games) to staid old brands that need to recapture it (General Mills, McDonald’s). Either way, he’s not interested solely in spiffed-up TV ads. For Epic, he conceived a new type of performance art, playing a live concert within Fortnite that drew 12 million viewers. For McDonald’s, he developed a Scott-branded menu item, one so popular the restaurant giant suffered a rare calamity: supply shortages. Not that the company minded much. “Travis is a cultural icon,” says Jennifer Healan, vice president of U.S. marketing for McDonald’s.
“The larger story here is that brands historically have told celebrities how to say their message. I think it’s very clear that Travis Scott and his team have gotten through to these brands that they have a very clear aesthetic, messaging and strategy,” says Blake Robbins, a partner at Ludlow Ventures, a Detroit venture capital firm that focuses on the overlap of consumer goods, media and gaming. “If he can make McDonald’s cool—the thing of pop culture right now—that’s the ultimate sign he’s made it.”
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