“How Hip-Hop Style Critiques Society” Ekow Eshun, BBC, 28 July 2015

“It’s impossible to track the development of rap without looking at who wore what when”

Earlier this year, in May, the magazine Vogue marked the release of rising rap star ASAP Rocky’s new album At.Long.Last.ASAP with a list of the many fashion references on the record. Hip-hop is often thought of as music of uncompromising authenticity in which staying true to the streets and ‘keeping it real’ is all-important. At the very least, that is the argument that runs through Fresh Dressed, As the film asserts through interviews with the likes of Kanye West, Pharrell Williams and producer Swizz Beatz, it’s impossible to track the development of rap music without looking at who wore what when. In the mid ‘80s the couturier of choice for the hip-hop world was Harlem tailor Dapper Dan. Rap stars such as LL Cool J, Eric B and Rakim and Big Daddy Kane travelled to Dan’s store on 125th Street for his signature creations. As one admirer put it, wearing one of Dan’s jackets “was like wearing a Rolls-Royce on your back. It was like luxury on steroids.” Today, the clothes adopted by rappers and their fans frequently offer their own commentary on the position of black people in America.  In 2012, Jay Z, who’d grown up in poverty in 1970s Brooklyn, had an estimated wealth of $450 million (£279 million) and was on first name terms with the President. The sad realisation that, however fortunate he’s been over the years, true social progress has eluded a majority of African-Americans, despite the promise of a black President. How could it be otherwise when, in hip-hop, status, hope, desire, ambition and self-worth and so many other factors remain so tightly bound up in the simple act of choosing what to wear? As Nas says: “Someone said to me your clothes are your wings. So you know if you want to fly, you’re going to put it on something nice… Once we put it on, it’s a whole different story. We take it to the next level.”

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“How Hip-Hop Style Critiques Society” Ekow Eshun, BBC, 28 July 2015


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