Hip Hop

In the 1970s,  a new type of groove called hip hop  that  relied on rhythm, technology, and  poetry  became the music  of choice  within  African American and  Latino communities in  New  York  City,  particularly in  the  Bronx.  Borrowing from  African  American, West  African,  and  Caribbean forms  of musical expression, hip hop  artists  would  combine the  flavor of rhythmic phrasing, percussion breaks, and melodic sampling to create  dance  hits that  were often  politically  charged and socially  relevant. Using  large  stereo  systems, DJs  would  manipulate turntables, intertwining, overplaying, and  undercoating beats  over  which  artists  could  rap and  slam. As the  art form  became increasingly popular and  recognized as a new form  of giving voice to marginalized communities, DJs, MCs,  word  stylists,  and singers  would  perform at  neighborhood block  parties, using  call and  response chants, involving  the  people  into  the  work  itself. Break-dancers found their  role in the  performances early, inventing body  flows, freezes, power  moves,  top rocks, and  down  rocks  in time  to the  syncopation and  the  complications of the  music. B-boys  and  B-girls became permanent fixtures  and  new personalities in the  formation of youth identity among many African Americans and Latinos.

Emerging from  hip  hop  was a distinct style of dress,  of aesthetic, of swagger. Although more mainstream and traditional critics called this new art form noise, a degeneration of youth, and delinquent, others praised the music  as finally speaking the truth to the social, economic, and political  realities  of oppressed and marginalized  communities. For those  who  found voice in hip  hop,  the  hip  hop  look became a part of owning the identity. Although certain garments, hairstyles, and makeup were considered hip  hop  cool,  the  aesthetics of hip  hop  became much more  associated with  an  attitude, a gangsta reputation, a street  cred.  It was not until  hip hop  became part  of the MTV  generation, with music  videos and  documentaries introducing an underground movement into  a wider, whiter  mass  and popular culture that  the term  hip hop  became a branding that  could  be sold to a much broader market.

Fashion Trends

Hip  hop  artists  such  as Grandmaster Flash  and  the  Furious Five, Sister  Souljah, the  Sugar  Hill Gang,  LL Cool  J, Public  Enemy, Dr.  Dre,  Notorious B.I.G., Roxanne  Shante, and  Tupac Shakur wielded  unprecedented power  and  influence in American youth culture. Distinct and talented artists, together they helped to give an edge, a particular flavor to a subversively political urbanity. Just as the messages about inequality, racism,  and prejudice in America  were communicated loud  and clear  through hip  hop,  so  too  were  the  clothes and  aesthetic bold,  bright, and bombastic. Hip hop  fashion harmonized with the attitudes and expressions of hip hop  culture—at times  outrageous, many times in your face, and  at all times  creative.  In the 1980s,  as hip  hop  moved  from the  streets onto the  television screen and radios,  boom boxes, and stereo  systems  everywhere, name  brands such  as Timberland, Adidas, Nike, Le Coq Sportif, Carhhart, and  Kangol sold themselves as outfitters to B-boys and B-girls. For men, tracksuits, bomber jackets, sneakers with phat laces, Clarks shoes, harem pants, low-rise jeans,  and  leather work  boots became identified with the male swagger of the new culture. Hairstyles ranged from  dreadlocks  to hi-top fades,  braids  to Afros.  Accessorized with  large eyeglasses,    nameplates,   bold belt buckles, big gold rings, heavy gold chains, and blinged-out pendants, hip hop fashion for males was in control and on display.

Although many  saw hip hop  as a predominantly male genre,  many  female artists demanded a place in the new world and  a mic to express  their  views. Women such as Missy Elliot, Queen Latifah, Left Eye Lopez of TLC, MC Lyte, and Salt-NPepa rapped their  way into  starring roles in the hip hop  and  rap worlds.  Inspired by black nationalism in the late 1980s,  many  of these  female artists  adapted their look  to the  political  movement, dressing in the  red, black,  and  green  of the  panAfrican  flag, wearing  kente  cloth  head  wraps,  and  playing  with the stereotypes of male and female clothing. In her video, “The  Rain (Supa  Dupa Fly),” Missy Elliot pushed the  definitions of masculine and  feminine with  various  outfits  of baggy overalls,  black  leather, sci-fi  shiny  blown-up pleather, and  track  suits.  Some  female  artists  wore  what  male  hip  hop  artists  wore—baggy  jeans,  work  boots, and jerseys,  but  with  makeup and  flair. At the  same  time,  other women such  as Lil’ Kim and  Foxy Brown  used  sexuality  as part  of their  modus operandi, donning tight,  glamorous, and sexy outfits  that  celebrated their  curves  and played on their roles  as women who  controlled their  own  desires  and  the  satisfaction of those needs. While  the outfits  often  manipulated ideas of gender, makeup tended to be feminine, sexy, and sensual. Haloed by a multiplicity of hairstyles, from weaves to braids,  from  short to long,  from  curls  to straight, women often  had  glossy, dark lips; long,  luscious lashes;  and  glowing,  lustrous skin.  Blinged  out  in nameplate necklaces, oversized  gold doorknocker and hoop earrings, and large shiny  rocked rings, hip hop  females played with the nuances of gender and sexuality.


In juxtaposition with these  strong female  figures,  however, were the  women cast in the music  videos of primarily  male artists. Cultural critics and feminists decried the  objectification of women in these  videos,  often  scantily  clad, sexually  posed, and  derogatorily depicted, as sustaining and  perpetuating the  patriarchal, hyper sexualized stereotypes of African American males  in the black community. Many male  artists  referred to  women as ho and  bitch, and  described cases  of physical abuse, rape,  and  psychological violence  in the  song  lyrics. Accused of being  misogynistic, hip hop culture has been heavily criticized for exacerbating male/female power  relations and advocating male dominance and violence  toward women.

Designers And Artists

As the  hip hop  movement became increasingly visible and  popularized by MTV, hip hop artists  defined  the parameters and limits of the art form and soon  realized the potential of their  influence on youth culture. While many hip hop  artists  wore designers such  as Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, and Polo Ralph Lauren in the 1990s, other artists ventured out of the music  industry into the fashion and beauty  world. Sean Diddy Combs, to whom  the term  ghetto fabulous is commonly attributed, was one  of the  first producer/performers to use  his image  and  reputation to sell his own brand of clothing. Sean  John  earned critical  and  commercial success, taking hip hop  from the streets into couture. Russell Simmons, producer and cofounder of hip  hop  label  Def  Jam and  brother of Rev. Joseph  Simmons (also  known as Run of Run-DMC), created the Phat  Farm  clothing line. Simmons’s now ex-wife, Kimora  Lee Simmons, took  the  Phat  Farm  line one  step  further, expanding into women and  children’s fashion and  offering  hip  hop  fashion-forward fabulous clothing to the wider American public. Jay-Z and Damon Dash started Rocawear, 50 Cent  runs G-Unit Clothing, Kanye West  is slated  to debut Pastelle,  and  Eve relaunched her Fetish clothing line in 2008. Female hip hop artists  have also been involved  in the makeup industry. Queen Latifah  is a spokesmodel for CoverGirl; Kimora  Lee Simmons has started her own makeup line, KLS Cosmetics; and Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliot, and Eve all represented the M.A.C. Viva Glam  series.

Global Influences

Hip   hop   fashion  and   beauty   has   also  had   a  strong  international  influence. In Italy, southern youths and young Arabs living in Rome have appropriated the art form, the mode  of dress, and the lifestyle as a way to communicate their  own dissatisfaction with Italian  politics  and  society. Hip hop  artists  in France have found voice  through poetry  and  beat  as the  country struggles with  racial  integration, anti-Arab racism,  and nationalism. In Japan, where  hip hop  was part of an underground club  scene,  the  art form  has  become part  of the  mainstream as Japanese hip hop stars have made their own albums, speaking their own poetry, telling their own  stories. Throngs of youth crowd  record stores  looking for the  latest  albums by such  artists  as Schadaraparr, Rhymester, King Giddra, and  Hime.  Beyond  the music, the fashion has hit the streets of Tokyo as well—more than 300 stores  selling hip hop  clothing have been  doing  fast business with Japanese  youth.

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