More so now than ever, there is a young and exciting wave of up and coming Hip-Hop artists that pull inspiration in regards to style of dress from various musical genres, such as (but not limited to): punk, metal, glam-rock, hardcore, and grunge. To some, they are merely seen as trendy, with little to no knowledge of the artists whose merch is being worn, or is of the “style.”
Artists such as Lil Uzi Vert, Young Thug, Vic Mensa, Wiz Khalifa, A$AP Rocky, and Kanye West (to name a few) have been spotted on countless occasions rocking clothing that once was widely viewed as being associated with a specific sub-culture of rock music, and “band tees” that many would go as far as saying are “Hot Topic” staples, featuring Metallica, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Nirvana, The Ramones, and so forth. Although not limited to those select bands, there has been a great influx of not only the artists themselves adorning such garments and styles, but their fans as well taking on the trend in communal fashion.
If the phrase “history repeats itself” holds any value to you, it shouldn’t strike you as foreign when I simply chalk this up to the natural life cycle of trends, and the evolution of musical expression meeting each other in just the right place at just the right time. I am a firm believer in the ideal that to truly and honestly express yourself, you must embody the art which you wish to create. If we the audience take a nonpartisan view on the music being produced from the artists listed above, and especially pay attention to the energy being given by them and reciprocated from the crowd at their live shows, the “sudden” shift in dress can begin to make more sense.
The rappers of today are realizing their power and social influence more than ever, whether from social media or from the position that most artists must be in to truly succeed in the ever changing climate that is the music industry. In short, the rappers are the fucking rock-stars. The luxury that we as the audience have while bearing witness to this shift in culture and self-expression is that we have a direct example or source material to relate it to.
As “rock” grew with age and started taking turns in different directions as far as sound and dress goes, a vast majority were either repelled or magnetized by what they heard and saw before them. I accredit many of the changes and sonic experimentation to the style of dress that the band or artist chose to represent themselves and what they did on stage, as well as on record. From Hendrix to Bowie, from Alice Cooper to Guns ‘N’ Roses, and from Prince to the Sex Pistols, fashion became (although I believe it always has been) just as essential as the music itself. This form of self-expression made it easier than ever to identify who listened to what, or lived what lifestyle.
As with any “fashion” that comes to fruition it will eventually evolve into a trend, ripe for the consumption of the off and on listener, the calf-legged newcomer, and posers alike. To some, the latter category is where most rappers fall into at this point in time. On the contrary, I believe that it is merely hip-hop coming full circle in its self-realization as a musical genre; an essential ingredient in evolution.
To be uncouth, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious 5 dressed far more “sus” than Thugger, Wiz, or Uzi ever has, and calling Young Thug or any other rapper that raises an eyebrow whatever homophobic epitaph you can muster simply doesn’t make sense if you frequently listen to Prince, Bowie, KISS, Zeppelin, Elton, or even Sly and The Family Stone for that matter. The immediate rejection that most tend to express when first “confronted” with the Hip-Hop artists’ images I’ve listed can stem from a number of things, insecurity being the most common factor.
Aside from being a firm believer in wearing whatever clothing stimulates you, assigned to your gender or not, I’m a proponent of artists exposing their audiences to shit that makes them go, “what the fuck!?”. As a result, these artists break barriers in the world of hip-hop, a genre and lifestyle that often stresses hyper-masculinity and bravado.
As Nina Simone said, “You can’t help it. An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.” Whether you like it or not, the rappers of today hold the ultimate power in reflecting the times, as well as dictating them.
With that said, what we see from the hip-hop artists of today in terms of self-expression through dress isn’t new. History repeats itself, and all we can do as the audience is keep up with it or stick with what we know and are comfortable with. Try all you want to hate or belittle the “style(s)” of today, but it ultimately will boil down to a phrase that my good friend Siah lives by:
“Get with it, or get gone.”