From its dawning on the Bronx streets to its permeation through modern mainstream culture, hip-hop’s influence on its followers’ sartorial choices has been immeasurable. We look at the crazes and phases that have accompanied the genre’s ongoing transmutations…
1981: Gang Disco
Looking not unlike The Warriors attempting to blag entry into G-A-Y, hip-hop’s founding fathers weren’t afraid of making a sartorial statement. With the infant genre deriving musical genealogy from funk and disco, the likes of Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa also adopted their trademark flamboyance – albeit fringed with the fur and leather garb favoured by New York’s gang culture. And the result? A bit like your Nan at an Eighties family wedding.
Got their freak on: Afrika Bambaataa
1983: Adidas Shell Toes
And so it began. With hip-hop now established as more than just blokes talking over someone else’s record, the need to give the burgeoning social tribe a defined uniform was becoming acute. RUN DMC cannily opted to append their leather and chains with a box fresh pair of classic laceless Adidas shell toes; thereby granting any chancer with a JD Sports gift voucher the ability to emulate their heroes.
Got their freak on: RUN DMC
1986: Big Neck Ware
Back in the Eighties the Beastie Boys were second only to pedophilic E’s in terms of tabloid ire. Alongside the libelous bollocks concerning alleged assaults on kids in wheelchairs, a key factor in their vilification was down to Mike D’s repurposing of the VW badge as a sartorial trinket – sparking a NATIONAL OUTRAGE as people sought to liberate their own piece of Brooklyn magic via a crowbar and the neighbours’ Golf. The middle class were rattled, letters were written and hip-hop officially usurped rock as the soundtrack to generational divergence. And the less said about Flava Flav’s clock the better…
Got their freak on: Beastie Boys / Flava Flav
Scaring the shit out of Middle America with their pantomime nihilism, N.W.A. were a band who saw hip-hop as a social enema. Understanding that image is intrinsically linked to a culture’s centrifugal force, N.W.A. established a style guide that was fiercely territorial in its employment of LA Raiders Starter jackets and acutely aware of the parallels which would inevitably be drawn between themselves and the Black Panthers. Juvenile on paper, incendiary in practice; N.W.A. dragged Compton into the wardrobes of a nation.
Got their freak on: N.W.A.
1989: Hi-Top Fades
Music operates in reactive cycles. It was therefore inevitable that the cluster-fuck dropped by N.W.A. and Public Enemy begat a period of calm introspection. Opting to convey their aggressively inert politics through mellifluous rhymes, De La Soul et al. ignored the posturing of their peers and fashioned an Afrocentric template which perfectly complimented their tidal cadence. Heavily patterned fabric, chunky metal and flat-top hair sculptures all coalesced into something which looked ruddy ace on Yo! MTV Raps. On a dank Saturday afternoon down the precinct? Maybe not…
Got their freak on: De La Soul / Will Smith
1993: Gangster Chic
‘Hello, my name is Puff Daddy. I am a multimillionaire wank-shaft who confuses my MTV persona with that of a real life hoodlum. You can tell just how hard I am by my attire; tasteless silk shirts, garish suits and grotesque jewellery all topped off by the subtle addition of alligator shoes. I prefer to call them gators. It further underlines by connections to the street and in turn my gangster credentials. I am Puff Daddy and I am a fucking prat!’
Got their freak on: P Diddy / Notorious B.I.G.
1997: Baggy Jeans
If there is a single item of clothing which encompasses all hip-hop stereotypes, then it is undoubtedly a pair of baggy jeans. A staple of any dapper rapper’s wardrobe, the baggy jean has been evolving since the late Eighties – beginning as a relatively modest arse-sag and escalating to the knee chewing absurdities of recent years. However, 1997 represents the crotch of our timeline – with the stylistic template sewn into the global lexicon and trailed around city centres ever since. Pull ’em up!
Got their freak on: Jay-Z
A universal axiom dictates that as wealth ascends taste and integrity plummet. Proof of this is currently being lugged around by the hip-hop aristocracy in the form of grinted molars, encrusted goblets and a Ratner’s clearance sale of bejeweled detritus. Placing an obsession on the transient notion of perceived wealth, hip-hop became little more than a playground boasting session wherein stars sought to outdo each other’s Midas complex in a manner that undermined any artistic merit proffered within their musical output. Put a fucking ring on it.
Got their freak on: Lil John / Snoop Dogg
In a clear reaction to the materialistic excesses being flaunted by tossers such as 50 Cent, the sudden proliferation of a tailored preppy aesthetic evoked the early days of hip-hop – with flamboyance and style not a synonym for boorish gasconade. Tugging influences from a spectrum that encompassed Louis Vuitton’s pastel collection, Vivienne Westwood golf chic and James Lock tailoring, the rejection of grandstanding trinkets in favour of Fashion Week couture signaled a rift in the genre’s uniform that gave hope to anyone with eyes.
Get your freak on: Kanye West / Andre 3000
2011: Cultural Magpie
Take a look around. It’s a honking great mess out there. Where you could once glean a person’s musical taste by the clobber they wore, our cultural ADD has seen the nation’s high streets resemble a suicide bombing at a jumble sale. And hip-hop is not in the Green Zone; taking shrapnel from all corners as skinny jeans and geek specs are matched with sparkly T-shirts and plaid shirts. To survive music must reflect and define its era – and right now we’re all on shuffle. Hip-hop don’t stop.
Got their freak on: Tinie Tempah / Lil Wayne
Words by Adam Park