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Rappers and stylists – The history of Hip-hop’s influence on design

By Jimmy May – 04/12/2018

Hip-hop and fashion have danced hand-in-hand for as long as the genre has existed. Over time, as the music has evolved and been accepted into the mainstream consciousness, its fashions have transformed from being a statement of belonging to a statement of influence and power – designed by some of the most cutting-edge stylists in the world and influencing modern fashion and youth culture for millions, hip-hop is still firmly placed as the leading trendsetter.

The history…

But before hip-hop, there was disco. Disco fashion bled into early hip-hop style – but as the music and culture quickly developed its own identity, the “b-boy era” took hold, with tracksuits, shell toes and Kangol bucket hats being the go-to style. Sportswear brands such as Adidas and Reebok noticed this exciting new youth culture and took the first opportunities to see hip-hop as a vehicle for successful advertising of their clothing. Frank The Butcher, a long time fan and rising star in the streetwear and fashion industry states: “Hip-hop was the genre of music where it was accepted, promoted, and preferred that the artist looked like the fan.”

As hip-hop quickly took over the world as a way of life, rappers name-dropping their favourite brands in songs, resulted in spikes in revenue for said brands that many CEO’s didn’t understand. Once entrepreneurs within the hip-hop world began to notice this, they created their own fashion labels, to test the theory that if they mentioned the brands on record, they too would sell. FUBU, Wu-Wear, Rocawear and many others were all born out of this era, and all enjoyed successful sales from name drops in the biggest records of the time.

Today’s influencers…

Fast-forward to today, and a lot has changed. Between 2005 and 2015, hip-hop culture has moved to the cutting edge of the fashion world, influencing style worldwide. Helped along by iconic collaborations between brands and artists, advancement and immediacy of social media and sleek modern looks crafted by gifted stylists such as June Ambrose (Jay-Z) Dianne Garcia (Kendrick Lamar, SZA) & Fatima B (Nicki Minaj & Wiz Khalifah) it’s safe to say that hip-hop has been embraced by the fashion industry; and the realisation that musicians make powerful influencers, has led to million dollar revenues in a “fast-fashion” world which shows no sign of slowing down.


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Hip-hop style isn’t as specifically defined now as it was during the b-boy era – many artists now focus on individuality in their style, wanting to appear different to everyone else, rather than wearing a Hip-hop “uniform”. However, there are still elements that tie musicians from the genre together – currently in 2018 there seems to be a general focus on luxury, lavish living – whilst staying true to hip-hop’s accessible roots.

These modern styles include a mix-mash of casual; worn with high-end brands or expensive jewellery, influenced heavily by subcultures and fashions past. A notable development in this particular attitude came from stylist Fatima B who dressed Wiz Khalifah for his 2012 album cover O.N.I.F.C, “in a time when every rapper was wearing chains” Fatima gave Wiz a look reflecting Lenny Kravitz, bare-chested in a Dalmatian print fur with striped slim fit trousers – which caused notable outrage when it was revealed to his fans via social media. This era of experimentation has exploded, with even established rappers like Jay-Z changing his style for fashion concentrated albums, depicted with longer hair, bare-chest and sporting a teal suit on his latest album cover.

The pressures of a growing industry…

Along with the colourful experimentation of this new lavish style, comes a different side of the industry – with fast fashion brands creating pieces that echo more expensive garments, you too can dress like your favourite rapper for a fraction of the price. Developments in social media mean that we consume more imagery each day, so much so that there are no longer 4 seasons in fashion – it evolves on a daily basis. The damage this is doing in countries like India where big brands manipulate cheap labour is not only damaging their economy and families but also the water supply, as chemicals used in producing cheap leather are pumped into the oceans and rivers at an alarming rate. Just one of many negatives the fashion industry faces, as the second most polluting industry in the world.

A new world for designers…

Now that fans from around the world can connect with, and see their favourite artist from anywhere, at any time – this not only adds extra pressure for the artist but also for the stylist to provide new looks regularly – may be more than twice a day for some influential figures. This in turn impacts the fans; who feel their wardrobe will never be complete, spending huge amounts of money to keep up with the latest trends – Which then affects clothing designers, constantly churning out new ideas that will be almost immediately discarded in favour of something else within a week, or even days of it being worn. This high pressure, rapid turnaround of style today, is leading to some interesting and conscientious work – but it’s also worth noting the considerable how long it can continue at the current pace. We’ve moved a long way in hip-hop fashion since the tracksuits of the B-Boy era, but whether or not this is for the better, is without question, still up for debate.

Jimmy is a music enthusiast and DJ based in Manchester. He enjoys short walks on the beach, then a long sit down in a deckchair. He writes for fun on topics that matter, depending on your opinion or own personal bias.

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