In the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, black entertainers made considerable sums of money selling ghetto wine and malt liquor to their less fortunate brothers and sisters. “Liquid crack” was dirt cheap and fortified with alcohol and shitloads of sugar to get you higher faster. As Billy Dee Williams said in his TV pitch for Colt 45, “It works every time.”
40-ounce warriors were macho, sexy and hip…at least that’s what the commercials wanted the black community to think. The reality was much more grim. Malt liquors like Schlitz, Colt 45, Olde English 800, St. Ides, King Cobra and bum wines like Thunderbird and Wild Irish Rose were responsible for an increase in alcoholism, violence and crime in black neighborhoods. High alcohol content and the cost of a bottle being under two bucks was a deadly combination. Add to that the veneer of coolness that Kool and the Gang, Fred Williamson, Biggie Smalls and Snoop Dog brought to the mix and you got a problem that went viral.
Nowadays, low-rent white hipsters drink the poisonous piss in order to give them some kind of street cred while hip-hop artists have moved on to Cristal and Dom. But the high-end shit hasn’t trickled down to Skid Row yet.
While the product sold was crap for sure, the ads themselves are fascinating time capsules, some sending signals that are incredibly politically incorrect: making light of drunk driving, intimating that women will give it up after a few drinks, and using racial stereotypes that border on Stepin Fetchit caricature. And Blacks weren’t the only ones denigrated—check out the East Indian guy in the “Gunga Din” Colt 45 commercial below.
There’s also an interesting clip of Johnny Cannon wielding a Colt 45 pistol and a can of Colt 45 beer. A wise combination, don’t you think? Johnny’s expression of disgust as he guzzles the malt liquor is priceless.
Then I ask a question you brother
What the fuck is you drinkin’
He don’t know but it flow
Out the bottle in a cup
He call it gettin’ fucked up
Like we ain’t fucked up already
See the man they call Crazy Eddie
Liquor man with the bottle in his hand
He give the liquor man ten to begin
Wit’ no change and he run
To get his brains rearranged
Serve it to the home they’re able
To do without a table
Beside what’s inside ain’t on the label
They drink it thinkin’ it’s good
But they don’t sell the shit in the white neighborhood
—Public Enemy, “1 Million Bottlebags”