Everyone is familiar nowadays on social media with the meme format, “You can only keep three.” These rubrics are attempts at producing miniature best-of lists for the products or media forms in question: for example, you can only keep three HBO series, video games, chocolate bars, or potato chip brands. It’s as if we were all preparing imaginary time capsules of our most important cultural artifacts, to preserve, to protect, to define who we really are.
Hennessy’s Sound Box installation, now on at the W Hotel, is a gesture in that direction, a sort of fantasy Hip Hop Desert Island Discs—but boozy. The concept is uncomplicated: you can reserve a private VIP lounge decorated to resemble a plush baller’s living room on MTV Cribs circa 2002, and furnished with a selection of coffee table books, a turntable, a stereo, and a handful of Hip Hop’s most defining albums. Three Hennessy cocktails accompany the cost of admission.
Hennessy—otherwise known as the ‘H’ in the enormous Paris-based luxury goods holding company, LVMH, which also carries Louis Vuitton, Moët & Chandon, Dior, Tiffany & Co., Givenchy, Fenty, and many more objects of desire under its gilded aegis—organized this unique installation to highlight the relationship between the cognac brand and the musical genre.
Indeed, Hennessy bubbles up in many of rap’s iconic tracks, notably Tupac Shakur, who wrote an ode to his “role model in a brown bottle,” and rhymed in the song “Thug Passion,” “I’m going to turn this Hennessy into a robbery.” On Wu-Tang Clan’s now-classic 1997 double LP, Wu-Tang Forever, the opening number, “Reunited,” features RZA boasting, “[We] spread like plague, we drink Hennessy by the keg.” Ever since, everyone from Snoop Dogg to Drake has drizzled Hennessy into their lyrics, as a marker of social status, of financial success, and now as an homage to Hip Hop’s history.
There are other records available for listening here, too, by Eminem, a Tribe Called Quest, Run DMC, and more contemporary artists like The Weeknd and Nicki Minaj. The Montreal designer Madame Bombance decorated the Sound Box in swanky furniture, mood lighting, and curated the space with paintings of the Notorious B.I.G., Aaliyah, Nas, and other of rap’s most recognizable visages. Is it kind of cheesy? Yes. It is also fun? Yes! There are beautiful publications to leaf through, including a photo book of Hip Hop’s more photogenic artists, a bound history of Hennessy, and a collection of Ricardo-Cavolo Amarillo’s psychedelic Simpsons-inspired artworks. It is a cool and comfortable space to spend two hours in. Plus, they serve those delicious cocktails.
There is a bit of a dark side to consider here, however. Some of the artists represented suffered from drug and alcohol abuse and even succumbed to overdoses. Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Mac Miller are just two that come to mind. What level of cynical irony is pouring one out for the talent that was lost to addiction in a room sponsored by a major alcohol purveyor?
Nonetheless, as an ex-drinker myself, the W Hotel staff happily served me mocktails instead. So you can still have a great time in the Sound Box even without hitting the Henny. There is more than enough in this little Hip Hop time capsule to take in—the ageless music to appreciate, the fascinating literature to pour over, and a cozy niche to reunite with a fine beverage.◼︎
Reserve Sound Box by Hennessy on Open Table.