Hip-Hop’s 50-Year Power Struggle

Designer hoodies, oversized logos, luxury tracksuits and the cult of the sneakerhead. It’s likely none of these would exist without the influence of hip hop. In fact, the fashion industry exists in its current form because of pioneering black stylists, artists and designers who paved the way for the likes of Kanye West and the late Virgil Abloh to become the most important designers of the early 2020s.

But hip hop’s relationship with fashion is a complex one. For 50 years, designers like the Harlem couturier Dapper Dan, and Misa Hylton, stylist for Lil’ Kim and Mary J. Blige who defined the look for hip hop’s women in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, have had their work co-opted by the fashion industry with little or no credit at all. In recent years, these artists have received that credit where it is long overdue, and here Osman Ahmed unveils the story of this rocky relationship, as well as hip hop’s rise from a small subculture in The Bronx in uptown New York into an international symbol of pop culture.

This week, we hear from Harlem couturier Dapper Dan himself on crafting the look of hip hop half a century ago, as well as Aisha Durham, author of Home Girls Make Some Noise: Hip Hop Feminism Anthology, who discusses the relationship hip hop has with mainstream culture, and the scholar Dr. Marquese McFerguson emphasises hip hop’s importance in communicating black experience in America. DJ Semtex foregrounds hip hop music as an art form, Cultural Curator Kish Kash retells the history of hip hop, as well as his own affinity with it as an Indian kid growing up in the UK, and Chantelle Fiddy highlights the hip hop artists-turned designers who changed fashion forever.

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