The other day I finished one of the best books I have ever read. Steve Stoute, music executive behind the launch of acts such as Mariah Carey and Nas, has written a masterpiece which thoroughly explains America’s immersion into our culture. His book, The Tanning of America has basically broken down how hip hop began bleeding into the mainstream until it ended up looking like a fucking Tarantino film. There’s a really interesting part of the book where Steve explains the first time hip hop merged with a brand to create a sponsorship and it got me thinking. We all know how cool the whole Run DMC, ‘My Adidas’ thing was and our parents still bombard us with corny stories about all the shitty weed they smoked while they ran around in tracksuits. But, when you pan out and look at the current rapper-sponsorship situation, it’s mind-blowingly bad. I mean, why was Juelz Santana doing Lot29? Who the fuck was the guy at Lugz who set up a meeting with Brian “Birdman” Williams?! Nobody bought those shoes thinking: “Dog, I’m going to buy these kicks and rub my hands harder than everybody on the block.”
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s shit was out of control. With the dominating success of Rocawear and Sean John came a bunch of rappers who decided they were going to align themselves with a brand or even worse… they were going to create one. The era of repositioning high-end gear was over. Artists that wore Ralph Lauren, Versace and Tommy in the early to mid 90’s were now partnering up with huge licensing companies to create bullshit like Nelly’s xVOKAL (which is still around, Google it) and Outkast’s clothing line called…Outkast. Then, in the midst of all the ill-fitting jerseys and split coloured du-rags came a saviour. A fresh-faced or rather, swollen-faced rapper-turned-producer-turned-rapper/producer named Kanye West appeared. Look, I’m not going to get into the details of his emergence because we’ve all listened to ‘Last Call’ like ten times but yeah, he fucked this whole rap shit up and I’m not even talking about his music. I’m talking about his style.
Say what you want but he’s right, after the POLO boom of the 90’s, it was in fact boring to wear Ralph. Before Kanye, rap artists had fans paying $300-$400 for throwback jerseys. The Louis Vuitton Don even inspired Hov to ‘Change Clothes’. Kids were suddenly looking to buy designer stuff they couldn’t afford, let alone pronounce. And for the first time in a decade, they were even buying it in their size! Now, every rapper coming out had to dress like they were front row at Fashion Week. Here is where I state my point… The birth of “fashion rap” fucked everything up. Nobody is trying to rap better than anybody else. They’re now trying to out-dress the competition. A$AP Rocky actually has a song called ‘Fashion Killa’ and guess what? It’s not his greatest song. By far. I mean, how can you even focus on making a great rap song filled with strong rhyme structures and flows when you’re stuck trying to figure out what rhymes with Raf Simons?
This is an extract from the Spring Issue of Viper Magazine. Read more from the magazine here.
Illustration by Will Prince
Words by Chris Mendez