Hip-hop culture has had a great influence on street culture, setting many style trends and clothing brands that have become prominent. In just a few decades, Hip Hop culture has gone from a fringe subculture to the dominant force in pop culture. In the 1970s in New York, hip-hop was born as a reaction to disco culture. Caribbean immigrants and inner-city African-American youth began gathering for impromptu block parties in boroughs like the Bronx. Early pioneers like DJ Kool Herc, Grand Wizzard Theodore and Grandmaster Flash began using two turntables to extend the dance break in funk and soul records, creating a seamless sound loop ideal for dancing endlessly.
The breakbeat formed the backbone of hip-hop music and then led to the practice of sampling existing music to create something new. The rhythm of rap came from the practice of "capping", where two men compete with words on a microphone to win over the audience. The term "emcee" comes from the traditional acronym "MC", short for Master of Ceremonies. Before rappers, the role of the MC was to make noise between a DJ's songs and encourage the audience to dance. Early Hip Hop culture was made up of four elements: rapping, DJing, graffiti writing and breakdancing.
Let's look at how all these elements worked together to create what we know today: the influence of hip-hop on streetwear.
THE BIRTH OF HIP-HOP AND ITS COMMERCIALISATION
In the nascent era of hip-hop, photographers such as Jamel Shabazz, Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant documented the rise of the culture in New York's inner cities. Sophomore boys and girls wore adidas tracksuits and straight-leg jeans over Puma Suede trainers or custom adidas Superstars with wide laces. Cazal sunglasses were commonplace, and in winter it was time to break out a shearling coat or leather blazer. Jewellery and gold chains became a major asset to your peers, and no other rapper embodied this better than Slick Rick. Rick the Ruler's penchant for chains and stacked rings, and his self-proclaimed love of Bally shoes and Kangol hats is expressed in his 1985 song with Doug E. Fresh, "La Di Da Di".
From the beginning, this is what separated hip-hop from its rock-and-roll predecessors. Movements like punk were based on anti-fashion ideals and opposed consumerism and capitalism. Hip-hop fully embraced this from the start, with every rapper boasting that he or she dresses better than others. Ironically, the rappers were not the original icons of hip-hop style; it was the drug dealers who actually had the money and the high-end gear that most rappers boasted about lyrically. Much of the hip-hop uniform is influenced by what drug dealers wear.
In the days before streetwear shops, there were sports shops and old-school tailors selling trainers and workwear like Carhartt chore coats and Timberland boots. But if you really wanted to freshen up, there was one person you had to see: Dapper Dan, a Harlem tailor. Born Daniel Day, the man known as Dapper Dan grew up in Harlem on 129th Street and in Lexington. He got his name because he beat an older man named Dapper Dan at craps. After the defeat, he passed on his name and decided to call himself "Tenor Man Dan" afterwards, because he played the saxophone.
He opened a shop in 1982 at 43 East 125th Street, taking fabrics from popular luxury brands such as Gucci, MCM, Louis Vuitton and Fendi, and turning them into street-ready silhouettes such as tracksuits, bomber jackets and puffy-shouldered coats. The shop ran 24/7 for 10 years and served some of hip-hop's most prolific figures. Eric B. & Rakim wear Dapper Dan's designs - custom Chanel tracksuits - on their Paid in Full album cover. The shop was closed in 1992 for numerous copyright violations.
AN ALMOST IMMEDIATE EFFECT OF HIP-HOP ON THE FASHION WORLD
Beyond the appreciation of European fashion designers like Gucci, Chanel and Louis Vuitton, brands like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger were gaining popularity in hip-hop culture. Entire teams dedicated to rocking polo formed, such as the Lo-Lifes, who couldn't afford to buy expensive gear and so began to racket it. Sportswear brands like Nike and adidas have always been important in the hip-hop style uniform, and as hip-hop evolved, so did the trainer culture. The first sign of today's rapper-sneaker collaborations came in 1986, when adidas signed Run-D.M.C. to a $1 million contract that included a signature line for the group.
The story goes that the trio had just released their third album, Raising Hell, and their manager at the time, Lyor Cohen, invited adidas CEO Angelo Anastasio to a show at Madison Square Garden. Before performing their hit song "My Adidas", the band asked the audience to raise their shoes in the air. Impressed by the amount of three-striped shoes he saw in the building, Anastasio signed the band. On the West Coast, bands like Public Enemy and N.W.A emerged with their own sound and style. Baseball caps, coach jackets and a more militaristic dress code similar to the Black Panther Party contrasted with the hip-hop style of the East Coast.
As hip-hop entered the 90s, sports teams and Afrocentric colours began to infiltrate the style; so did early streetwear brands like Stüssy and X-LARGE. Filmmaker Spike Lee immortalised the Air Jordan trainer series in his films, often dressing characters like Mars Blackmon and Buggin' Out in pairs of crisp Jordan trainers, oversized glasses (ancestors of oversize) and African prints. The 90s and early 2000s saw an era of streetwear and 'urban' brands from hip-hop culture.
Graffiti artists such as Mark Ecko, Stash and KAWS turned canvas t-shirts into their work, making the graffiti t-shirt a central part of urban style. Women have not been forgotten in this movement, with graffiti t-shirts finding their way into various women's streetwear tops. Moguls like Russell Simmons and Puff Daddy decided to launch their own clothing lines rather than submit to designers outside the culture. Daymond John founded his label FUBU and got LL Cool J to wear one of his hats and shout out the brand in a legendary Gap advert in a legendary marketing launch moment.
HIP-HOP: BEYOND APPEARANCE, A WAY OF LIFE
If one needed further proof that hip-hop is not just about music but also about lifestyle and attitude, look no further than the evolution of NBA style. The stars of the basketball league have gone from Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson. Jordan was a style icon in his own right. His line of Jordan Brand trainers and clothing was a status symbol on the streets, sadly inspiring a Sports Illustrated article about people being killed for their shoes. Iverson, a tattooed star player for the Philadelphia 76ers, drew the ire of then-league commissioner David Stern.
Iverson often sat courtside or showed up to games in loose, baggy sweatpants, jeans, T-shirts and baseball caps, as was the hip-hop trend. This casual style of comfortable clothing inspired the fashion for jogging suits or the wide choice of sweatshirts that we know today: the hoodie. In 2005, Stern implemented a mandatory dress code for the NBA, requiring all players to wear "business or street clothes" when representing the NBA in an official capacity. This marked the beginning of a new era in athlete style, as NBA players struggled to adapt to the new dress code, away from casual fashion, but eventually gave birth to the next generation of stylish athletes, who learned the rules well enough to know how to break them.
Hip-hop fashion iconoclasts have also begun to rise. André 3000 of Outkast favours slim, tailored (almost slim) clothing, which contrasts with the more baggy styles of the time. Pharrell Williams favours skate brands (skateboard influences), mesh trucker hats and Japanese brands like A Bathing Ape (Tokyo). Kanye West has broken down the barriers between hip-hop and high fashion, proving that hip-hop artists can do much more for the fashion industry than just attend shows and buy clothes. It wasn't long before artists like Pharrell, Kanye, A$AP Rocky and Travis Scott were approached for designer collaborations.
Pharrell has collaborated with Timberland, Mark McNairy, Chanel and G-Star RAW. West has designed a capsule collection with A.P.C. Scott has been approached for a line with Helmut Lang. A$AP Rocky has done a campaign with Dior Homme and capsule collections for GUESS and cult Japanese sportswear line Needles. But it all came full circle when Dapper Dan, whose studio was raided by police at the request of litigious fashion brands, reopened his Harlem shop in 2018 as part of an official collaboration with Gucci. In addition to designing a capsule collection for the Italian fashion house, Dapper Dan's restored workshop is back to making one-of-a-kind custom pieces (jacket, down jacket) using official Gucci fabrics. Twenty-eight years after being forced to close, the respect due to the inimitable Harlem tailor has been fully repaid.
From the 1980s to the present day, the streetwear fashion born of the hip-hop wave has developed very widely. It has become so popular that it can be found in many collections, from sportswear brands to ready-to-wear, as well as from major fashion houses. Streetwear fashion has not finished being talked about, knowing how to surf on successive sartorial and artistic waves throughout the ages. Who doesn't have a hoodie or a pair of sneakers in their wardrobe?