Hip Hop Fashion. Ambassador of Cool

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2012 13 Pages

American Studies - Culture and Applied Geography


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Hip Hop History

3. Hip Hop Fashion and Style
3.1 Hip Hop Fashion
3.1.1 Women and Hip Hop Fashion
3.2 Hip Hop Style
3.2.1 Genres

4. Hip Hop in Germany

5. Hip Hop Coolness

6. Conclusion

1. Introduction

One of the most important inventions of the 1970s was Hip Hop. Not just a musical direction but also a subculture. Hip hop culture originated in African- American communities, specifically within the Bronx, seems to be cool. This paper attempts to show in which way Hip Hop, especially Hip Hop Fashion, is an ambassador of Coolness. This essay has been organized in the following way. First, this paper gives a brief overview of the recent history of Hip Hop. Second, it deals with Hip Hop Fashion and Style in general in relation to coolness. Finally, the last chapter assesses the Hip Hop Coolness. The main methods of research I employed in my study were participant observation, one-to-one interviews and group discussions on set themes. To avoid confusion regarding the definition of cool I would like to clarify it ab ovo.

The Oxford English Dictionary offers this definition:

Cool: to lose the heat of excitement or passion, to become less zealous or ardent. Not affected by passion or emotion, unexcited, deliberate, calm.

The Dictionary of contemporary Slang (Green 1992) defines this term as:

Cool: 1. (street gang use) a temporary armistice between opposing gangs; 2. temper, poise, attitude to life and ability to deal with it;

Obviously, the term cool occurs with many different meanings and it is hard to give there a general definition. But I will use the kind of cool slaves brought with them to America. Throughout this paper the term cool will be used to refer to human behavior regarding to emotional attitude. As Schröder (2010) mentioned in his text Birth of the Cool, cool is someone who keeps control over a situation and do not react heteronomous.[1] Cool as a place where squares are not welcome.[2] Thus, the main question addressed in this paper is: In which way is Hip Hop (fashion) cool?

2. Hip Hop History

“My Mama used to tell me if you cannot find something to live for you best find something to die for.”[3]

Tupac Amaru Shakur

During the early 1970s, Hip Hop emerged in the ghettos of New York City. At this time the term Hip Hop was less common. Rap was used to describe the kind of music originated in the ghettos of Black America. The first and most important DJ Kool DJ Here[4] played in 1973 just beats not whole songs on his block-parties in The Bronx, New York City. At such famous blockparties, break-dance[5] and b-boys[6] occurred the first time. Campbell's DJ style was soon grabbed by figures such as Afika Bambaataa[7] and Grandmaster Flash[8]. In 1976, further DJ techniques[9] were developed by Grandmaster Flash. With his own group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, he rapped in The Message[10] about inner city violence, drugs and poverty. With this song a new dimension was opened in the year 1982. Instead of rapping about party- and nonsense texts, social contents and the life in a ghetto has been couched.

In addition, after the worldwide success of the first big rap-star Kurtis Blow[11] in the year 1979, it became clear that Hip Hop can yield money. The interest of several music industries were awakened. In 1986, cross-over pieces like Walk this way from Run D.M.C. and Aerosmith integrated for the first time rock music. In 1988, most important record It takes a Nation of Millions to hold us back by Public Enemy approached political issues and draw a conclusion for the previous definition of Hip Hop. Old School displaced New School. Gangsta Rap like this by N.W.A. described impassive about crime and violence. Critics reproached, this group apotheosize violence instead of doing something against it. The refutation to this statement was, those who do not like these kind of raps have to change conditions in a ghetto thus groups have other issues to rap about. In 1990s, Hip Hop replaced the previous expression Rap. During Westcoast artists like Left Eye[12], Dr. Dre[13] and Tupac made a name for themselves, center of Hip Hop moved from New York (became then Eastcoast) to the Westcoast. In mid-1990s a agent's war between Tupac (Westcaost) and Notorious B.I.G (Eastcoast) started due to rap battles. After Tupac's death[14] in 1996 (and a half year later the death of B.I.G.) the war between Westcoast and Eastcoast rappers collapsed. All Eyez on Me was the fourth studio album by Tupac and it has been said that “this is easily the best production he's ever had on record.”[15] California Love, a feature with Dr. Dre, was the most-sold single in the world at this time.

Back to the quotation at the beginning of this chapter, Tupac Amaru Shakur became a legend, a cult figure and he is until today indisputable the godfather of US-Hip Hop. A great number of teenagers would like to be like him and try to identify with his music and his life. To express their cool lifestyle, imitated of Tupac, many teenagers wear expensive brand-name clothes. One of the most known brands is Makaveli Branded, which was introduced into the international market seven years after Tupac's death. Some other well known brands are Karl Kani, Sean John, Fubu, Sir Miller and Southpole. But more about fashion will be found in the following chapters.

3. Hip Hop Fashion and Style

“Hip Hop made it from the streets of the Bronx to the Haute Couture fashion shows of London and Milan.”[16]

PBS Online

Hip Hop is more than a music genre. Hip Hop seems to be a lifestyle and an attitude. This manifests itself not only in the fact that you can hear the music. A real hip hopper is also distinguished by the fact that he wears the right Hip Hop clothes and thus carries the lifestyle of Hip Hop to the outside. But more about Hip Hop style will following later. First I would like to look at the development of Hip Hop fashion through the years and its relation to cool.

3.1 Hip Hop Fashion

In the late 1970s, sportswear and fashion brands like Adidas ascribed themselves to the arising hip hop scene. During the 1980s, clothing items such brightly colored name-brand tracksuits, sheepskin and leather bomber jackets, sneakers like Puma or Converse's Chuck Taylor All-stars as well as Adidas Superstars with oversized shoestrings were worn by Hip Hop icons. Popular accessories were large eyeglasses, bucket hats, belts with names on it and multiple rings.

In the 1980s, heavy gold jewelry was very popular and cool and it became an permanent element of hip hop fashion (men gold chains; women gold earrings). It suggested prestige and wealth. During the late 1980s, fashion reflected traditional African influences. Pants like known from MC Hammer were popular, Africa chains, dreadlocks and Black Nationalist colors of red, black and green became popular.

In the early 1990, baseball caps and neon-colored clothing were popularized by pop rappers such Left Eye of TLC. In addition, Reebok, Nike, Carhartt and Timberland were associated with the hip hop scene. Inspired by the 1983 remake version of Scarface, members of the hip hop community looked back to the gangsters of the 1930s and started wearing bowler hats and double breasted suits, silk shirts and aligator skin shoes. Sports jerseys have always been popular in hip hop fashion, as evidenced by Will Smith's early 90s video Summertime.

In the late 1990s, gold was replaced by platinum in Hip Hop fashion. Juvenile was largely responsible for this trend, which artists and fans alike wore at that time. Permanent platinum teeth or fashioned grills[17] also became popular. The song Grillz by Nelly in 2005 caused a revivification of the 90s trend. In addition, with the Jewellery culture luxury brands like Gucci or Louis Vuitton, made inroads into the hip hop market.

Furthermore, many hip hop artists started their own fashion labels and clothing lines. For instance, Wu-Tang Clan (Wu-Wear), Russell Simmons (Phat Farm), Diddy (Sean John), Nelly (Apple Bottom Jeans), Tupac (Makaveli Branded), Kimora Lee Simmons (Baby Phat) as well other prominent Hip Hop fahion companies as Karl Kani, FUBU, Southpole and Ecko.

Baggy Pants and Skinny Low jeans also came into style due to New Boyz's jerk dance from the song You're a Jerk[18]. Fashion trends of the 2000s changed constantly in comparison to the beginning of Hip Hop. Gucci and Louis Vuitton became popular amongst the Hip Hop community. Bright colors being used and cartoon graphic print hoodies made popular by artist and producer Pharrell. Instead of baggy jeans, skinny jeans became more fashionable and cool in the hip hop scene dominated by men. But also female style changed over time.


[1] Schröder 2010, p. 172.

[2] Schorder 2010, p. 173.

[3] DezeO 15. Online : http://tliinkexist.coin/quotes/like/iny-inaina-always-used-to-tell-ine-if-you-can-t- find/348107/ accessed Septembei 30, 2012.

[4] Clive Campbell is a Jamaican bom DJ, who is credited with originating İlip hop music.

[5] Breakdancing is a style of street dance.

[6] A practitioner of breakdance is called b-boy 01 breaker

[7] Afrika Bambaataa is an ex-street gang member as well as an American D J and he is known as the giandfathei of Hip Hop Culture who has spread it throughout the worid.

[8] Joseph Saddlei is one of the precuisoi of İlip hop.

[9] Cutting, Backspinning, Phasing

[10] The Message is a politically active Hip Hop song.

[11] Kuitis Walkeibecame woridwide successful with his single „Christmas rap“.

[12] Lisa Lopes was an American rapper and she is best known as a member of the İlip hop girl group TLC.

[13] Andre Romell Young is an American rapper and record producer. He has produced albums for many rappers, including Snoop Dogg, Eminem and 50 Cent.

[14] September 7, 1996; After leaving the boxing match (Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon) Tupac Amam Shakur was shot dead.

[15] Steve Huey. Online: http://www.alhnusic.com/album/all-eyez-on-me-mw0000183802, accessed September 27, 2012.

[16] What is fashion?. Online: http://pbs.org/newshour/infocus/fasliion/whatisfasliion.htinl, accessed September 28, 2012.

[17] Grills are removable metal jeweled teeth coverings.

[18] You ’re a Jerk is a song by the duo New Boyz from their debut studio album Skinny Jeans and a Mie.


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Saarland University
Cool Hip Hop Fashion American Literature Jazz Black Music



Title: Hip Hop Fashion. Ambassador of Cool