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Ludacris, Bill O’Reilly, and Russell Simmons: The Lost Pepsi Endorsement Deal and the Karma That Landed Years Later

On a recent episode of Men’s Health’s “The Rewind,” posted on Aug. 10, Ludacris said losing a Pepsi deal due to a national boycott financially hurt him.

US rapper-actor Chris “Ludacris” Bridges arrives for the Mercedes-Benz exclusive WILL.I.AMG. concept car reveal party at the Mercedes-AMG Brand Center Experience in Miami, Florida, on May 5, 2022. (Photo by Marco BELLO / AFP) (Photo by MARCO BELLO/AFP via Getty Images)

Ludacris has been running his own charity organization, the Ludacris Foundation, since 2001. The foundation partners with Fortune 500 companies such as Pepsi to provide support to youth and families of color in underprivileged communities.

In addition to supporting the foundation, Pepsi has inked an endorsement deal with the rapper.

Foundation Funding Stopped

Unfortunately, Pepsi withdrew its support for the foundation in 2002 after a negative segment about Ludacris’ music and lyrics on Bill O’Reilly’s then-popular Fox News show.

“‘Most challenging career moment that you survived,’ first thing that comes to mind is Bill O’Reilly talking mess and making me lose my Pepsi endorsement, which is very ironic because years later, if you look it up, he came and he lost his job based off some sexual allegations,” Ludacris said on “The Rewind.” “So, it’s very funny how the world works and the world turns.”

Losing the endorsement deal during his rise to fame was a significant setback for Ludacris, whose real name is Christopher Brian Bridges and has an estimated net worth of around $30 million.

O’Reilly’s criticism highlighted the rapper’s sexually explicit and profanity-laden lyrics in Ludacris’ music, which some viewers found offensive. This led to calls for a boycott of PepsiCo products, The Guardian reported in 2002.

“I’m calling for all responsible Americans to fight back and punish Pepsi for using a man who degrades women, who encourages substance abuse, and does all the things that hurt particularly the poor in our society,” O’Reilly said, according to The Guardian.

Pepsi decided to pull the 30-second commercial featuring Ludacris due to its “responsibility to listen to our consumers and customers,” a number of whom the beverage brand said “were uncomfortable with our association with the artist,” Newsweek reported.

It is unclear how much Pepsi paid Ludacris for his endorsement deal back in 2001, according to The Los Angeles Times.

In Steps Russell Simmons

However, in 2003, Russell Simmons threatened to boycott Pepsi products unless the company brought back the ad and donated money to Ludacris’ charitable foundation.

Ludacris is signed to Def Jam, which was founded by Simmons and owned by Vivendi Universal.

A compromise was eventually reached, with Pepsi agreeing to contribute $3 million to various charities chosen by a committee consisting of representatives from Pepsi, the Network, and the Ludacris Foundation. Additionally, they donated $5 million to the Ludacris Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Atlanta that Ludacris’ mother co-runs.

“This whole thing started because Pepsi culturally disrespected hip-hop,” said Benjamin Chavis, president of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, said at the time. “Pepsi is going to distribute funds that will positively impact the hip-hop communities. That’s a complete turnaround.”

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