When Art Collides: Hip Hops Influence on Fashion


As we celebrate the 44th year since the emergence of hip-hop, I find myself amazed by its influence worldwide. The essence of hip-hop has always been more than just beats and lyricism… it’s a blending of culture, art, style and finesse. I consider myself a purist, a lover of the 90s’ boom-bap sound, and I can’t help but wonder how that sound has influenced my own personal style. Over the last decade or so, we’ve seen more artists occupy both the world of fashion and music through their collaborations with high fashion and everyday brands. The merging of influential artists and brands is a part of the natural flow and demonstrates just how important hip-hop really is to the creation of culture.

As an art form, hip-hop tells us a story; it creates a vibe and mood of the lifestyle we’ve always dreamed.  As early as I could remember, I knew one day I would own a pair of Gucci socks, I’m not even joking… all I wanted was to stay Gucci down to the socksjust so that I could stunt on folks! Those lyrics, along with Biggie’s larger than life persona created an image of what it really meant to be young, fly and flashy.

Fast forward 30+ years later and the genre has moved far beyond the four Borough’s of NY.  It’s global  and mainstream status has become a lifestyle.

Influential Branding

Since it’s emergence, hip hop’s mass appeal dominated in American men’s fashion.  While the early to late-80s saw the culture evolving with New York’s dominating sound, many outside of New York had written the sound off. Thinking that hip hop was just going to be a fad. During this moment in time, the heavy hitting sound was synonymous with street style.  Powerhouse athletic brand Adidas, at the forefront of fashion, inked one of the first hip-hop endorsement deals with Run DMC. Adidas sweat suits, shell toes and Kangol bucket hats were somewhat of a uniform for the culture, in the early days. 

Adidas X RUN DMC

Adidas X RUN DMC

As the sound evolved, fashion kept apace. In the early to mid-90s the sound expanded and we were hit with the distinct vibe between the east and west coasts.  The style stayed street as we saw baggy silhouettes, heavy gold chains, paired with Timbs on the east coast and Chuck Taylor’s on the west!  This style created a wave of some of our favourite artists crossing over into fashion creating brands like: Phat Farm, Baby Phat, Rocawear, Sean John … you know the rest. 


Today, an artist like Kanye West is more than a rap superstar; he’s become a tastemaker.  The culture has shifted away from the effortless and organic look brought to us by street wear, into mainstream, couture branding. The Yeezy brand examplifies how artists are remixing classic couture fashion for men and women by adding non-traditional elements to keep it inline with hip hop’s ever evolving sound.

Ladies First


I wouldn’t leave this article without talking about the ladies in hip-hop, who have influenced my personal style.  As I was coming of age, I had more representations of beauty and style than I ever could have imagined. Trailblazers like Lil Kim, Foxy, and Salt ‘N Pepa, were at the forefront of culture with their depictions of bold, vibrant colours. More than the subject matter of their songs, their sense of style helped me to navigate and celebrate my beauty and quirky sense of style as a confident, young black woman.


Beyond my own personal experience, female MCs have been influencing culture and creating trends for several decades. Notably, the late-80s gave us Salt ‘N Pepa. Their asymmetrical hairstyles, bamboo earrings, body suits and colourful eight-ball jackets—all of which have been revisited by artist’s like Beyonce and Nicki Minaj. As we moved into the mid-90s, Lauryn Hill championed natural beauty. In fact, Lauryn still remains one of my personal inspirations. Her minimalist style, coupled with her natural beauty showcased that women can be lyricists and respected in their own right as Goddesses, without having to do too much.


Around the same era, the juxtaposition of Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown’s sex appeal presented a perfect balance of the range of feminine beauty and style.  Talented in her own right, Lil’ Kim brought unique hairstyles, colourful bikinis and furs to the stage.  Their sex appeal taught us that women could be fashion forward, sexy and bold, without having to explain themselves.  One of my favourite video’s is Lil Kim’s ‘Crush on You’, I loved the video’s playful vibe, but what stood out most was her colourful hair and assertive attitude.  Years later, I used that video as my own inspiration and wore bright pink hair to my senior prom!! (Thank God in my day cellphone camera’s weren’t a thing!)  


More recently, it’s clear that female artists have studied Lil Kim’s work to master their own style and appeal. Today female MCs like,: Junglepussy and Princess Nokia give me retro streetwear vibes, it’s clear that these ladies have full appreciation for their place in hip hop and its impact on fashion.





Coming full circle  

I wasn’t surprised when I saw the inspirations behind Marc Jacobs’ Fall 2017 collection at New York Fashion Week this past February.  You guessed it HIP HOP!!! It’s clear to me that there’s a new resurgence of classic hip hop street-style in fashion.

More recently, it’s been announced that Hip Hop fashion heavyweight, Dapper Dan will collaborate with Gucci and reprise his infamous Harlem boutique.  A taste of what is next for Dan and the Italian fashion house is shown in Gucci’s 2018 Cruise campaign. Next Spring, we can anticipate more previews of the collection to be designed by these powerhouses. Both artists and designers should pay homage to the leaders in hip hop, past and present, and acknowledge that without their influence, without their desire to turn nothing into something, and without their storytelling or their art, the very foundation of culture and street style would not exist today. 


Thank you Hip-Hop … here’s to another 44!

-Written By: Raquiya Grace


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