How Hip Hop Fashion Got Back To Basics

Anyone who spends a significant amount of time browsing the likes of 2dopeboyz or illRoots has been fooled at least once. Fooled into clicking the download link for a track by an artist that looked an awful lot like a legitimate rapper. They probably played the part – fitted hat, the latest streetwear and a clean pair of retro Jordans. The unfortunate part is when – after taking the time to download their music– they turned out to be about as talented as Nick Cannon.

It’s really a shame, but, as the saying goes, fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice, I’ll hate you rappers more than Pack FM.

Luckily for us internet types, the track is usually pretty good. It’s just every once in a while, listening to that track makes you feel like more of a dumbass than an English goalie staring at what should have been an easy save (Team USA!). That’s the power of aesthetics – the ability for first impressions to shape actions. While it may lead to more regrettable mouse clicks than porn pop-ups in the office, fashion’s role in hip hop is actually changing an entire dynamic. It’s role in judging an artist has gone from defining factor to petty insignificance – and that change is opening up hip hop as a culture and returning the music to the common man.

Fashion has always been a part of hip hop, as Seattle emcee J.Pinder explains “Hip hop is fashion, overall hip hop was a statement, people expressing themselves, and fashion is the biggest way for people to express themselves non-verbally.” From baggy jeans to FUBU, clocks to big chains, and Nikes to Supras, rappers have long been the trendsetters for kids across the globe. According to J.Pinder, “hip hop is one of the leading pace makers in all genres of music, it is the most mainstream genre, so it sets a lot of the trends.” It’s also been one of the ways that rappers have employed successful marketing and become entrepreneurs.

But, when the internet became such a prominent player in the music game, this effect was amplified, and with it came a sense of precaution. The importance of pictures plastered above a download link initially became more prevalent, and in many cases it allowed artists to compensate for their lack of talent with their hip fashion sense. TH, an MC from the Seattle group State of the Artist (SOTA) says, “It’s fucked up because the clothing will start making the rapper, and the rapper won’t make the clothing.”

In following the music blogs, there are dozens, even hundreds, of songs posted daily. With this many songs available and the growing skepticism of blog visitors, tracks from quality artists used to get skipped over while artists who have attempted to make a name for themselves with their fashion rather than their talent continued to pollute the pages.

Although these overcompensating artists began to receive undeserved opportunities, the importance of fashion for an artist’s success began to regress as readers became more savvy. While the mold of what is “cool” in hip hop will always remain, the “cool” people are no longer the only one’s getting plays. The past decade has opened the door for absolutely anyone to be a rapper, regardless of race or appearance, as emcee Hyphen8ed (SOTA) says, “Kids aren’t discouraged anymore, you can walk down the street, and have no idea who’s a rapper.” Artists like Outasight and Travie McCoy have become successful in hip hop, despite appearances defined by high fashion and even looks more becoming of rockers or skaters than rappers. An artist wearing cargo shorts and an old shabby sweatshirt is just as likely to have an on-point flow as a guy wearing Louis Vuitton and a giant chain.

Ten years ago, no one would have listened to (one of Seattle’s most well-known emcees) Grynch, if they saw his picture on a blog, but they also would have missed out on a promising young west coast artist just because he wasn’t rocking a chain or streetwear. With this change, hip hop has found growth that’s given it a larger crop of talent than a Hugh Heffner party.

Hip Hop Fashion

Fashion has also created cross-promotional marketing opportunities for artists. One of the biggest streetwear brands, Lifted Research Group (LRG), has presented mixtapes with a variety of up-and-coming artists, including one that helped fuel the rise of now-superstar B.o.B. The mixtapes have helped the artists gain notoriety and simultaneously helped the brand gain credibility within hip hop crowds. Even on a local level, J.Pinder and Seattle streetwear/skate boutique, Goods, collaborated on a shirt and skateboard deck to coincide with the release of Pinder’s recently-released Code Red EP. Pinder sees this as an opportunity to “create a brand and continue the music.” As a culture, this has provided the opportunity for designers and emcees to grow together, moving the art forward and achieving the hip hop dream of making it big.

Fashion’s place in hip hop is taking the culture full circle. Artists will always be conscious of their appearance, “you always have to think about the aesthetic and design when presenting your product,” says SOTA emcee/producer Parker – the product of course, isn’t just the music, but the artists themselves. And, while fashion will remain important, it’s back with the people. The fashion doesn’t have to be expensive or flashy, and it’s re-opened an opportunity for artists to come from nothing and make a name through raw talent. This progression has led to an expansion in the number of rappers trying to do just that. While some may kill your eardrums, there is now more talent in the genre and the culture as a whole is expanding as fast as ever.

Category: Fashion

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