'Kill self': how rap culture has changed fashion
Jonty Mellman | 20 March 2016

We’ve all seen early rap videos. Littered with baggy denim, barely fastened by cliched designer belts, themselves peeping out from beneath XXXL ‘Ghetto Gown’ T-shirts, bombarded with blitzed out bling. A flash image, to say the least. What in the world were they thinking? Well, something good, apparently...


The relationship of rappers and designers has evolved considerably from the hateful mockery in the early nineties. Since then the rap industry has dimly diluted such scorn; its influence on fashion becoming a force to be reckoned with. That’s before we mention its influence on our ideals.


If ‘they wore it’, we bought it. In 1994, Snoop Dogg wore a Tommy Hilfiger rugby polo on live television, the next day all New York stores sold out of that model. Rather than fading, this copycat culture has only grown and evolved. Replacing Snoop Dogg and Hilfiger or Grandmaster Flash and Calvin Klein, it is now A$AP Rocky and Raf Simons, Kanye and Christian Dior, Pusha T and Mark McNairy. While listening to songs name-dropping designers - idealising the pursuit of economic wealth - internet culture has allowed smaller, more obscure labels to see the light, as well as maximising the market with resale on sites such as eBay: for better and for worse.



Image © Mike Barry, licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.


Most of us teens own an item of clothing influenced by rap, brought precisely for this reason. Gracing the covers of GQ, Dazed and Vogue, Pusha T, Kanye and A$AP Rocky are all classifiable runway models, and with their music videos vexing us on Youtube, they are overtly influential and inspirational. With an array of talents and tremendous tasks, such as rap flow, conceptual videos and cult-like followings executed by them, why should we not follow them?


Well, as rap-God role models, they feed us a vision: good points varying alongside acceptance of corrupting levels of consumerism. Buying items because our idols are wearing them is fine, great for our consumerist culture too! However, it is what we are buying for “What ridiculous prices!” And buying such scandalous items and buying unconsciously is the problem.  Delightful designers deserve the respect they receive, but rip-off-rip-offs, sub-standard street wear and rappers’ ‘own’ (I say this with deepest sarcasm) lines corrupt this. The Kanye West and Jean Touitou designed, £160 APC KANYE hoodie is… well, it speaks for itself - obtrusively overpriced. The resale of a Virgil Abloh (Kanye’s creative director) worn Supreme hoodie, in spite of mass-production or mass-demand, is even more ridiculous.  The ghastly Jay-Z and Barney’s New York collaboration? Diamond-encrusted delusion. Again, overpriced and uninspired.


Image © Shahril Affandi Radzali, licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.


The concepts of quality, rarity and functionality all factor into the pricing of an item. However, many rappers divert their focus, straining it onto name: theirs and the designers. Prestigious designers, materials and craftsmen or not, many recent rap designs barely hold an honour of the mentioned transaction trinity. The prime objectives of profit and flaunting wealth are evident, thus spawning detraction from the dedication of designers, the fabulous function of fibres and the sublime shock of scarcity.


The glorification of brands and personas over what matters - quality, rarity and functionality - is a huge problem. Surely timeless time-pieces by Omega, conceptual Kenzo trousers and stylish Celine scarves are all worth more than the ghastly garb we find ourselves amongst? Well, not according to the price. Designers, haute couture, cutting edge conceptual or well-rounded, fund their brand - the rap industry? Profiteering, all the while mocking them and their designs as in the nineties.


It is the pairing of pricing with overtly ‘inspired’ garments that presents us with massive problems. Where is the credit really due - designer or re-designer? Where is the credit on my card? Is rap music’s influence worth ten times the regular retail price? Worth the disgrace of dedicated designers? Worth our individual identities?


The rap-fashion relationship has excitingly evolved. The music surviving, the influence increasing... the clothing? The profiteering, the price, the lost personality.

James Routledge 2016