It’s no secret that hip hop culture extends past music, and the best hip hop artists have always been trendsetters. Rappers have made celebrities out of jewelers, introduced a seemingly infinite amount of phrases to the vernacular and dictated the orders of countless bottle service orders throughout the world. Aside from music, the biggest area in which their cultural impact can be found is probably in the world of fashion. As New York Fashion Week has comes to a close and we’ve seen Yeezy Season 4 on the runway, we’re going to take a look back at some of the clothing lines lead by hip hop pioneers that shaped the way youths have dressed from the city to the suburbs.
Phat Farm (Founded in 1992 by Russell Simmons)
“Ben and Jerry ass n****a sweeter than some cinnamon/ Ice cream sneakers, same color as the paint job/ And the inside same color as a ring pop/ I was pulling hoes wearing Phat Farm tank tops” – Joey Purp, 773 Freestyle
Russell Simmons has always been something of an innovator in the world of hip hop. Brother of Rev Run from Run DMC, Russell co-founded Death Jam Records with famed producer Rick Rubin in 1983 and has been making deals ever since. Heavily involved in a deal with Adidas that made Run DMC one of the first clothing sponsored rap acts must have had Russell thinking. A few years later Phat Farm was born. It was one of the first mainstream clothing lines made by an African American and its success was felt throughout the 90’s and beyond. As it empowered other successful young black men to take control over their business that extended past music into many other avenues.
Sean John (Founded 1998 by Sean “Puffy” Combs”)
“See that’s a little Don Juan game/ All across your chest like Sean John name/ N****s tryin to figure out since Kan came/ Who the rookie of the year, me or LeBron James” – Kanye West, Gettin’ It In
Sean Combs is a modern day renaissance man. He’s produced a myriad of platinum hits, performed on Broadway and Hollywood blockbusters and maybe most impressively, founded a brand of clothing that was not only worn across the neighborhoods of America, but on various runways across the world. As the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy has aged and matured, so too has Sean John’s fashion sensibility. Crossing over from baggy jeans and long tees into a designer realm, Combs was actually the first to produce a nationally televised fashion show for fall fashion week in 2002 for the E Network.
Rocawear (Founded in 1999 by Jay Z and Dame Dash)
“Tired of living no healthcare, I ain’t fucking with welfare/ But its rap down, Hells near, Sherm on every corner like fountains near/ G rock, mountaineer, chunk coats a cop would wear, double up, Rocawear/ Win or lose, none to spare, black jack safety pair” – School Boy Q, Kamikaze
Its no coincidence that Rocawear was founded shortly after the initial success of Sean John. Jay Z has never been one to be outdone and that is reflected on the amazing scope of the Rocawear brand. Now we can blame him (or maybe more aptly Allen Iverson) for the ill fated headband look of the early aughts, but we certainly can’t knock the hustle for which Rocawear expanded. As Dame and Jay Z’s relationship deteriorated, Rocawear still thrived, eventually selling for over 200 million dollars in 2007 to the Iconix Brand Group. Jay Z stayed on with equity and power and the brand eventually partnered with our next hip hip hop fashion trendsetter, Pharrell Williams.
Billionaire Boys Club (Founded in 2005 by Pharrell Williams and Nigo)
“A millionaire, I’m a real young billionaire/ Boys Club, Polos and Underwear/ My instrumentals can’t compare to weak samples, n****s flare/ Piano notes the hand sheet cuz i’m a fucking band geek” – Tyler, The
Creator, A Milli Freestyle
Pharrell has always been a little bit different. The Virginia born hip hop savant had a self described “skater style” when he created BBC with his partner Nigo, a staple in the Japanese style scene. The brand experienced many issues due to a pre-existing relationship that Pharrell had with Reebok but its important to talk about Billionaire Boys Club because it was one of the first fashion lines created by a hip hop artist that wasn’t overtly geared toward an already existing inner city style sense. Tighter fits predated a trend seen today and the line is clearly a unique vision comprised of a black eclectic southern style with a high minded Asian motif.
Yeezus and Adidas Collaboration (Formed in 2013 by Kanye West and Adidias)
“My lil’ n****a popping at your brain like yea hoe/ My n****a we switch, won’t do no same like hell no/ Brand new Yeezy Boosts they kick you in your face, you go/ If you got pepper spray you better back up you ain’t a foe” – Young Thug, Yea Hoe
It’s hard to imagine that just 20 years ago Kanye was an unknown producer from Chicago with no discernible ties to the mainstream. But in under 2 decades he created a brand for himself that his uniquely and wholly his own. Now it is impossible to separate Kanye the producer and rapper with Kanye the fashion designer. In many of his now famous Twitter rants, Kanye has alluded to the failings and successes that the fashion world has given him since he started on his clothing and shoe projects over 5 years ago. Kanye has said that he has always seen himself as a creator and dreamed of designing clothes for the runway in Milan. And as Yeezy Season 4 is upon us its impossible not to look back at the hip hop artists that came before and see that their breakthroughs in the fashion world propped up Kanye to where he is today. The motivation to not just make sportswear but fashion forward (maybe backward depending on your opinion) clothing that exists on the same catwalks as the biggest designers in the world.