Cognac is up there with champagne, baguettes, and the Eiffel Tower in the “stuff that is stereotypically French” category. The brandy is even subject to strict labeling rules to protect its essential “Frenchness” – anyone can twice-distill wine in copper pots and age it for two years in oak, but if production doesn’t take place in the Cognac region of France, then it doesn’t count as cognac.
A closer look, however, reveals that cognac’s storied French reputation isn’t exactly what it seems. According to figures reported by Slate from the tourist board of Poitou-Charentes (where Cognac is located), the French export more than 97% of cognac they produce, with the US as its single biggest consumer. Of course, anyone who’s listened to US rap over the last two decades or been turnt off Henny in the club isn’t surprised to hear that Americanos, and Latinos in particular, love cognac.
Take Hennessy, for example. What began in Louis XV’s France, served in the royal courts of Paris, today is virtually omnipresent in the nightlife and creative scenes of young Latinos all over the US – from clubs in Alto Manhattan to movie premieres in LA to fine art galleries in Miami.
As Hennessy celebrates its 250th anniversary this year, they invited Remezcla to head back to la Patrie with them to see where it all started, and learn about the brand’s roots and journey to where they are today. That’s how I found myself on a Paris-bound plane, gearing up to see where Hennessy actually gets made, and to hang out with some of the new Latino brand ambassadors they’ve brought into the fold: Bay Area via Panama rappers Los Rakas, Julissa Bermudez (TV personality and former co-host BET’s 106 & Park), and LA radio host DJ Mando Fresko.
Over three days in Paris and Cognac – which we were all visiting for the very first time – I learned about what drives these creatives, how they see their work pushing Latin culture forward, and why they decided to partner with Hennessy.
Hennessy has been focusing on their “Wild Rabbit” Campaign, the “Wild Rabbit” being a metaphor for the thing that drives every person toward achieving their dreams and goals, what is your “Wild Rabbit”?
Raka Rich: My family is my wild rabbit, thinking ahead, you know. At certain times it becomes real hard, sometimes we’re like “Maybe we won’t be able to do this three more years.” We’ve seen many people quit around us. But for us to be young and keep going, that’s what it’s all about. We always thought that we were going to blow up way before this but we never quit. We’ll keep going until the world knows about who Los Rakas are.
Raka Dun: Passion for music and knowing this is my tool to help my family. I want to break the cycle of being content and saying “I am never gonna have more than this.” I feel like a lot of people do that where we live.
Julissa Bermudez: My wild rabbit was definitely influenced by my upbringing and growing up with hard working parents. My goals have been fueled by my surroundings, and when I say that I mean being an urban Latina, growing up in Queens, New York, and going to high school in the Upper East Side. New York is a city that opens you up to so much and once you set a goal for yourself and then you accomplish that, you start setting other goals.
Mando Fresko: Changing the status quo when it comes to the “Latino” in American media. We are not portrayed correctly, it’s always the stereotype, with heavy accents… and we aren’t all just that. We need to be portrayed as the heroes that we are. I am currently the only Latino at MTV2 and before that I was at MTV tr3́s. I want bring my culture and heritage to the foreground and have people learn more about us, but I also don’t want to be boxed in as the “Latino host.” I think we all share in that quest, to really push the boundaries and have our culture be part of, but not the totality of who we are. We don’t have to be sub-categorized. I also want to leave a legacy on the way traditional and new media work together. It’s a time of discovery and new media is new to everyone, it doesn’t just stop at Twitter.
What does “Never Stop, Never Settle” mean to you?
Los Rakas: Never quit, you know what I’m saying? As Los Rakas, we started with the music but we’re thinking much bigger than that. We’re trying to do more work with clothing. We want to get our clothing line “Soy Raka” in stores in California and Panama, and eventually have our own store. And we always want to pass on whatever help we can from our generation to the next and the next, because we don’t really see that where we come from. Hennessy’s “Never Stop, Never Settle” motto is one we stand by.
Julissa Bermudez: I think success can be defined in many ways, there are people who are “successful” but also very unhappy. My “Never Stop, Never Settle” is to constantly be searching for happiness, and it’s a goal and dream that I don’t have a Plan B for so…
Mando Fresko: When they first brought me on to the team, I told them that [the motto] couldn’t have fit any better to my lifestyle, to who I am. Even before being a partner, I wanted to use “Never Stop, Never Settle” on instagram captions just because it really is what we aim for. I work every single day – for example, they asked me if I wanted someone to cover my show while I was here [in France] and I said no, I’m going to do my radio show from Paris. I always want to push my own limits and test myself. I have been on two hours of sleep but this is what I do, this is my passion and it’s the reason that I live.
How has it been working with Hennessy? Why did you agree to work with them?
Los Rakas: First of all it’s because we love the brand, we were fans of the brand way before we started working with them. Our music is the same as the making of Hennessy. They have a lot of different barrels and not all of them are done at the same time, some take more time than others. In music it’s the same thing, sometimes a song isn’t ready, so we aren’t going to drop it until we feel it’s ready. Hennessy has also supported dope artists since day one, they saw the future. They‘re thinking ahead, so it speaks to us. Latinos are the new normal. With the hard work we are putting in, our grandkids won’t have to struggle the way we did.
Julissa Bermudez: This venture with Hennessy is very new, and it’s been pretty epic so far. Being associated with a brand that’s been around for 250 years and continues to maintain so much quality and clout was really exciting for me. Being a girl from Queens and having their main ambassador be Nas is really cool, especially after growing up with three older brothers who introduced me to hip hop.
Mando Fresko: I think this is the ideal partnership because of the foundation that both our brands follow: hard work, dedication, and passion. A lot people just see the final product, but we’re dedicated from the very start, from the start of barrel-making or of planning the next big interview or mixtape. With Hennessy, there are so many people who have dedicated their lives to this product, and it’s cool to see everything that goes into it because I can relate to that.
How was the tour in Cognac and learning about where Hennessy is made?
Los Rakas: Being here just made it more official – we got to see how organized [Hennessy] is for the next generation. They are doing it how they did 250 years ago, they work hard to be the best. The do it for the quality.
Julissa Bermudez: When you literally have been drinking Hennessy for so long and you don’t know the craftsmanship, dedication and passion behind the brand, it’s pretty crazy to learn about. I feel like this trip to France has really opened that up for me. Cognac is indescribable, it is really a place out of a fairytale. I joke and say “I sure won’t be pouring out anymore for the homies,” after I saw the craftsmanship and the amount out time it takes to perfect the cognac. I mean it really is an art, they have completely turned it into the art of making the best cognac in the world. We actually did a tasting and we were able to take a class about the various cognacs.
Mando Fresko: I learned about the process, you know when I put out a mixtape no one sees that it took me four hours to record, that it took me days to put this playlist together, it took weeks to make the artwork, the time it took to upload and have meetings. People just see the new mixtape. With Hennessy we just see it in our cup but we don’t think about the handmade barrels, growing the grapes, the distillation and everything. There is a lot of inspiration and the final product is worth it.
Favorite type of Hennessy or mixed drink?
Los Rakas: Pineapple and Hennessy.
Julissa Bermudez: Hennessy with a little ginger ale and a lime, it’s so good and so refreshing. Neat in the winter.
Mando Fresko: Hennessy, mint leaves, and apple juice