Aqua Boogie

A local company is leading kids to water. But can it make them drink?

Singing and drinking. Drinking and singing. There have been drinking songs for about as long as there's been alcohol. But only recently have there been singing drinks.

I haven't exhaustively researched this, but Scott Joplin didn't have a "Ragtime Refresher" named after him. Miles Davis probably had some drinks named after him, but he also probably has a type of heroin named after him, too. None of it made it to the mainstream.

But St. Louis has had its share of musical beverages. Just head down to Blueberry Hill sometime to check out the display of Rock & Roll Beer that Joe Edwards and Chuck Berry used to be into. The Lou's Falstaff brew once hired the supergroup Cream to sing a jingle for them. (Check out this week's B-Sides for more on this masterpiece.) And of course, there's the Jolly Rancher-green sippable playa-in-a-can, Pimp Juice.

But none of them have been as healthy, or inexplicable, as Hip Hop H2O. The only musically themed filtered St. Louis tap water in a bottle, Hip Hop H20 is entering its second year of trying -- and somehow succeeding -- to make water look cool. In the past year, it's moved from being a "what the hell is that" novelty item to being available in 150 locations around town, as well as showing up in New Jersey, Kansas City and Atlanta.

According to HHH20 spokeswoman LaTonya Collins, the mix of hydration and hip came together from different generations.

"[President of the company Bernice McKinney]'s idea was the water," says Collins. "She came at it from a health perspective. The doctor tells you to drink your eight glasses of water a day. It was [her grandson, Eric Mayes Jr. ]'s love of rap that gave it the name."

Grandmothers being involved in rap marketing is a little frightening: Would you let your grandmother market to teens? Does she wear dooky gold chains? Do her pants sag? I could have asked, but I didn't want to have my dream crushed.

The folks at Hip Hop H20 have a way of making it sound like they're running a nonprofit instead of a business, talking as if they were on a mission to slake instead of selling a product. Considering what other folks are selling the hip-hop community, we can let it slide.

"We're here to provide a healthy drink alternative for kids," says Collins. "We know a lot of kids don't drink water. Kids love hip-hop. Hip-hop is the in thing right now. We've sponsored health fairs for kids, basketball tournaments for kids."

Don't feel left out, old folks. These bottlers are concerned about your moisture levels, too. Hip Hop H20 is even the "exclusive water" of Club Isis. You've got to love that. (Although you could always stick your head in one of the bathroom sinks and drink away if you weren't in an exclusive mood.)

They've also got advertisements on Q95.5 and other stations featuring local up-and-coming rappers like Kapeli, Legion and Remy. While these guys may not be big yet, they're also still part of the community. Nelly might swig Pimp Juice, but he's doing it somewhere very far away.

"Remy is still a high school student," says Collins. "So kids say, 'I know Remy, and he rhymes about that. Let's check it out.'"

But what's to check out? Hip Hop H2O, along with all bottled water, is a fascinating exercise in branding. After all, it's just water.

"No," responds Collins. "It's not just water. It's purified bottled water. That means its got no additives." Which makes it...just water. Hip Hop H20 is reverse osmosis-purified St. Louis tap. I've had it several times (the savvy marketers at the company always have a coolerful at CD-release parties), and it is, in fact, water. Tastes like nothing, yet delicious when it's cold and you're thirsty. It's water; yee-haw for it. The fact that we have to give water a name to get people to drink it is a sad little part of America (he says as he opens his third Diet Coke of the day).

But Hip Hop H20 isn't stopping at branding water. They're getting ready to roll out flavored water as well. They wouldn't tell me the names of the new flavors because they aren't copyrighted yet, but they would say that they're fruit flavored and named after rappers. 2Pac Punch? Murphy Lime? Notorious G.R.A.P.E.? Only time will tell. They would, however, share the name of the flavored water spokeschild: Flavr Bayb. (It's pronounced "Flavor Baby." Hip-hop spelling will be the death of me.) Flavr Bayb is a local six-year-old whose cute little mug is going to be popping up all over town.

When does flavored water stop being water and become some other type of beverage? If you add a squeeze of lemon to water, it's still water. Throw in a few more lemons and some sugar, and it's lemonade. When does it stop being one and become the other? These are the kinds of questions I plan on asking Flavr Bayb when I get him alone.

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