Rap Beef: The Story Behind Hamburger Helper’s Viral Trap Mixtape
Watch the Stove, Hamburger Helper’s trap mixtape, started as a joke–until it wasn’t. This post originally appeared on Contently.
Niles Stewart was up late the night before the mixtape dropped, so he woke up a little groggy on April 1. He checked his phone. Nothing.
The 18-year-old rapper, comedian, and social media star from Maryland started to go about his day, like any normal Friday. A little later, he checked Twitter again. His notifications page had more mentions than he could count. “Oh,” he said, looking up. “It dropped.”
Then he started listening to the mixtape, a five-track release from Hamburger Helper called Watch the Stove. Yes, that Hamburger Helper. The one owned by behemoth food company General Mills. An honest-to-god trap mixtape made by Hamburger Helper with a title inspired by Jay-Z and Kanye West. The cover art features the Helper mascot, “Lefty,” a single white glove, with liquid gold streaming down its body.
Take a second to think about it.
Stewart, who goes by the stage name Retro Spectro, had created the second track on the tape, but he’d never heard the other four songs until that point. He wasn’t sure what to expect. “My response was the same as everybody else’s,” he said. “This is, like, an actual full mixtape. That sounds good.”
When Stewart said “everyone else,” he was talking about the four million plays the mixtape had on SoundCloud just by Monday morning. Listeners all seemed to have the same reaction. At first, laughter: Hamburger Helper just released a mixtape? I’m sure it’s cute and cheery. Then, about a minute into the first track, “Feed the Streets”: Oh, shit. This is a real trap mixtape, and it’s good.
That’s what made Watch the Stove a rare corporate project that actually went viral in a positive way. People who started to listen kept listening because it sounded like a real release—not a business-driven attempt at one. And if listeners liked it, they shared it.
A small, young team at General Mills with practically no budget created something they personally enjoyed and hoped others would enjoy too. Somehow, they did it within the confines of a big corporation. If there’s a lesson for marketers here, it’s that virality strikes more easily when you don’t try to force it.
Unofficially, the project started on October 8, 2014, when Hamburger Helper posted a photoshopped version of Drake’s Nothing Was the Same album cover on Twitter with the caption, “The mixtape is almost ready.” The account already had a reputation for chatting about hip-hop news; any time a big artist dropped a new single or album, @helper had something to say. It was a fun way of engaging with followers, who soon started to ask: Well, when is the mixtape coming out?
The mixtape is almost ready. pic.twitter.com/KRAB7iTxpd
— Helper (@helper) October 8, 2014
It became a running joke in the Hamburger Helper offices, on the sprawling General Mills campus in Minneapolis. When are we going to drop the mixtape?
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