Just like the music itself, the fashion of male rappers has changed since the early days of Hip Hop. This evolving style is more than just making a statement, it’s become a cultural event that’s big business.
The Late 70s and Early 80s
As Hip Hop began in the late 1970s, sportswear and fashion brands like Le Coq Sportif, Kangol, Adidas, and Pro-Keds quickly jumped onto the emerging music scene. By the early 1980s, Hip-Hop fashion began to really evolve.
Some of the greatest Hip-Hop icons sported clothing items such as brightly colored name-brand tracksuits, sheepskin, and leather bomber jackets. Groups like Run DMC popularized the use of sneakers. Specifically, Adidas white sneakers were worn with bulging thick white laces. Other popular brands were Clarks, Britishers a. k. a. British Walkers, Pro-Keds, Puma, and Converse’s Chuck Taylor All-stars.
Accessories included large sunglasses, Kangol hats (which resemble a standard hat but with the top pushed down), nameplates, name belts, and heavy jewelry. Kurtis Blow and Big Daddy Kane were two performers that helped popularize gold necklaces and other jewelry. Rappers rocked the Jheri curl, but Don Dapper also introduced expensive fashion house brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Fendi, and Gucci, with logos in custom-designed tracksuits, jackets, and mink coats.
The Late 80s and Early 90s
The fashion of male rappers changed drastically in the the late 1980s and early 1990s. Nike, because of the success of Michael Jordan, replaced Adidas as the shoe of choice. Other clothing brands like Reebok, Kangol, Champion, Carhartt, and Timberland were sported by the Wu-Tang Clan and Gangstarr. Black nationalism and traditional African influences were also seen in fashion and hairstyles. Fezzes, kufis decorated with the Kemetic ankh, Kente cloth hats, Africa chains, dreadlocks, and Black Nationalist colors of red, black, and green became popular as well. This look was promoted by artists like KRS-One, Public Enemy, and X-Clan.
Transitioning more into the 90s, acts like Kris Kross began to affect Hip-Hop fashion by spawning a new era of colorful baggy clothing. Meanwhile, MC Hammer popularized blousy pants and The Fresh Prince made the the hi-top fade the new hairstyle.
During this time, Hip-Hop fashion also experienced a new genre of artists that we call gangsta rappers. They sparked a west coast phenomenon of rap music and Hip-Hop fashion. Gangsta rappers wore khaki pants and white t-shirts, which kept things “gangsta” as they referred to it. Locs sunglasses, Chuck Taylors, black Raiders baseball caps, and Raiders Starter jackets were also worn by acts like N.W.A.
The Mid 90s to the Early 2000s
There was a lot going on with male rappers as the 90s headed into the new millennium. Velour tracksuits were big, thanks to the Wu-Tang Clan. Rappers were also wearing clothing from brands like Tommy Hilfiger, FUBU, Nike, Ecko Unlimited, Mecca USA, Lugz, Timbaland, harputs by Gus Harput, Boss Jeans by IG Design, and Enyce. Even rappers like Puffy and Coolio walked the runway in shows for Hilfiger.
Expensive throwback jerseys from Mitchell & Ness and baggy jeans were also popular in the Hip-Hop community. While on the East Coast, fashion inspired by the 1983 remake of Scarface was making the rounds. Male rappers began rocking bowler hats, double-breasted suits, silk shirts, and alligator-skin shoes (“gators”).
Bling also got huge during this time. Platinum replaced gold as the metal of choice in hip-hop fashion. Both artists, like Juvenile and The Hot Boys, and fans began to wear platinum (or silver) jewelry, often embedded with diamonds.
2000s to Current
As the new millennium goes on, Hip-Hop fashion is all over the place. While extra baggy clothes, jerseys, and bling are still big, trends from back in the day are cool again, like bright colors and snapback hats from Starter and New Era. Artists like Kanye West are rockin’ polos and fitted jeans. Usher, OutKast, and Jay-Z were wearing suits almost all the time. Brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton are all the rage. Fitted caps, penny loafers, and air forces are still popular. Basically, artists have taken fashion examples from the past to create their own style.
Tattoos are also now popular in the Hip-Hop community. Soulja Boy, Wiz Khalifa, Lil’ Wayne, and Tyga are tatted up from head to toe. Skater fashion is also influencing Hip-Hop Fashion with knit caps, bonnets, fitted pants or shorts, Vans, Nike SB (Skateboarding), and printed tees from brands like OBEY, Stussy, Adidas, Supra, Circa, DC, RDS, and Emericas.
The popularity, and success, of Hip-Hop fashion have lead to artists forming their own clothing lines, which include: Wu-Tang Clan (Wu-Wear), Nelly (Vokal), Russell Simmons (Phat Farm), Diddy (Sean John), TI (AKOO), Damon Dash and Jay-Z (Rocawear), 50 Cent (G-Unit Clothing), Eminem (Shady Limited), 2Pac (Makaveli Branded), OutKast (OutKast Clothing), and Lil Wayne (Trukfit).
Images via Wikimedia Commons