On Hip Hop's Style Icons
By Jaylin Paschal
I EVEN HAD THE PINK POLO, I THOUGHT I WAS KANYE!
Hip Hop is flashy by nature; materialistic and arrogant, rappers have long emphasized their personal style and boasted their access to fashion. From streetwear to high end luxury brands, Hip Hop figures have incorporated style into their personal brands. For some, their style is almost synonymous with their rap personas. So much so, in fact, that the more invested we become in their music, the more we find ourselves wanting to dress like them or look like them or feel like them. Those are the rappers highlighted in this article--those whose look is tied so closely to their sound that you can't think of one without the other. Looking through the years, their are countless of super-stylish Hip Hop identities--here's who stands out to me.
Try to visualize any Run-DMC performance without seeing black Fedoras, thick gold chains, all-black with white adidas Superstars and tracksuits. The look is so 80's, but even today, it would be odd to pair the music with any other bravado. It's their brand, a sort of street classic that's undeniably cool. Building even further upon this brand, their hit song "My Adidas" led to a collaboration with the athletic shoe brand which was one of the first of its kind.
LL COOL J
Although a grade-A cornball for going with a name like Ladies Love Cool J, LL had to be mentioned for what he was able to do for streetwear. Anything that got the LL stamp of approval received some sort of unofficial validation that deemed it "cool." Not only did he sport black owned brands frequently, but his iconic GAP commercial--in which he wore a FUBU hat--really changed the game for stylists and designers who realized the "Hip Hop look" provided by streetwear could be incorporated into the mainstream.
A British Jamaican with an eye patch and a neck weighed down in gold. It's bound to stick. Slick Rick's nearly unmatchable storytelling ability was paired with a look it was impossible to recreate. Anyone else in an eyepatch and obscene amount of jewelry looks like a pirate. While Slick Rick looked like, well, Slick Rick.
Young women today are still trying to recreate Hip Hop's baby girl's effortless look. Aaliyah managed to exist right at the sweet spot: the intersection of tomboy and sex symbol. She seemed so much cooler than everyone else; totally laid-back but somehow totally high maintenance. Additionally, she did wonders for the Tommy Hilfiger brand, with an impact for the line that lasts today.
Never afraid to "go there," Andre 3000 has been pushing boundaries and breaking rules in both music and fashion for years. Known for plaid, bowties and wigs, Andre has tampered with patterns, gender norms and proportions when others played it safe.
The Queen has done more for the "ghetto fabulous" world of fashion than anyone. You can't talk about logo-mania, wigs or sex appeal without talking about Lil Kim. Her looks have become the stuff of cultural obsession. Every year people dress as her, pay homage to her or recreate her most famous looks. A colorful animal print and a matching wig gives you the instant "Queen Bitch" confidence boost only her music can provide. More than an icon, Lil Kim was a provocateur. So it's only right I add in a few more pictures.
Another woman who truly understands provocation and constantly disrespected the status quo was none other than Missy Elliott. "Funky fresh, dressed to impressed, ready to party," Missy's look was unmistakable. Track suits and giant hoops were the day to day, but when she went big, her looks were always smart and edgy. A true artist, her attention to detail ensured that all of her style choices in either performances or videos heightened her listeners' overall experience. She's the epitome of "Supa Dupa Fly."
CAM'RON + DIPSET
Cam'ron and Dipset wore t-shirts at least eighty sizes too big for them, styled with colorful coats and bright fitted caps. In typical Harlem fashion, their style was unique and impactful, and practically set the tone for late 90's and early 2000's street style.
Can you imagine what would happen to me if I didn't mention Kon the Louis Vuitton Don in this article? Would I be publicly stoned, or excommunicated from the cultural commentary church, or blocked by all of my closest friends? All are possibilities. Kanye West's style has gained somewhat of a cult following. From his own fashion line to his collaborations with other fashion houses to his everyday street style. This is why Kanye was right--"Are you venturing into the fashion industry" was a ridiculous question. Made obvious by not only his floor length fur coat, but by his regular participation in trendsetting.
TYLER, THE CREATOR + OFWGKTA
As the gawds of the Tumblr era, Tyler and OFWGKTA embodied the zeitgeist. We were young, ugly, awkward, weird and we didn't care. Their effortless style made them seem so relaxed and they brought to the forefront several streetwear brands, like Supreme. All of this made their look seem so cool. I mean, uncool. But cool.
A$AP ROCKY + A$AP MOB
Unsurprisingly for another Harlem group, A$AP Mob really understands style. With A$AP Rocky being catapulted to the lead of their aesthetic identity, their mix of street wear and high fashion is seemingly all that matters right now. Rocky has worked with Dior and can be seen casually rocking Gucci from head-to-toe. His cool, luxe look matches perfectly with the tone of his music, making his style an integral part of his overall brand.
Who's your favorite Hip Hop style icon, and why?