“Oh You Mad ‘Cause I’m Stylin’ On You?…”
Words By Drew Ricketts
I have every sympathy for my boy B. Sigel.
He's a great rapper with an insalubrious history of self-destructive behavior...never made the transition from "the street to the fame" so to speak. He fits in with many such rappers, nevertheless, with unforgiving candor and a world of talent unrealized. His diatribe over Kanye West's and Pharell's sartorial trend-setting speaks to a greater disparity between artists than jeans over slacks. Specifically, rappers carefully distill their masculine and social conflicts with other rappers through well-chosen insults about clothing choices. Beanie's sincere incredulity at "the chest hairs showing" mirrors Joell Ortiz's recent exhortation to "accidentally step on your white sunglasses" because this is Hip Hop. It's no different than "niggas in pink suits tryna git cute" as Jay once offered, or Cam'ron deriding the former for wearing open-toed sandals. This from the man who popularized a hue most nearly associated with the phrase "Pretty In..." it. More remarkable is the rift between these apparel archetypes and what they have come to mean as it relates to music and the accompanying aesthetic of each figure. When Puff invoked the shiny-suit rap era, flavored with disco glitz and luminescent studio glare, he was able to smooth its supposed edges in the same way that Sugar Hill gang did for eighties group rap. Hov also adamantly shifted his stance on wears, replacing throwback jerseys with suits and vests.
However, Beans' invective here is not pure resentment at the haves. He represents a faction of rappers dedicated to the preservation of the gruff, hypermasculine, blue-collar view of artists. Carhartt jackets and dark denims now represent street-tough, with all things equal. On the other end, Kanye and the like typify the playful, bourgeois, colorful lads who have forged personas out of collegial joviality and irreverent humor. Then again, there are rappers who fall between those two genres like Lil Wayne who is Gucci and Bathing Ape at once. Lupe Fiasco invaded the independent rap scene with skateboards and low-cut Dunks (which may have been a conscious choice to depart from the easily sketched portrait of New Rapper). The Clipse straddle the line of coke-rap bravado/noir-narrative and "The Hundreds" too-hip-for-last-week threads. Even more problematic is the attention rappers pay to colors and taboo items. For instance, Russell Simmons has appropriated a preppy style for his Phat Farm line, mixing argyle sweater vests with baseball caps and tennis shoes. Years before, it might have been a risk for ol' Rusty to try for this miscegenation when rap was clearly aimed at pleasing young black teens. But, as the money and the profile of Hip Hop grows, so then does the conception of its quintessential style.
How do you "dress Hip Hop"?
With Dapper Dan out of the picture and every manner of artist having his/her own clothing line, there are endless sources to consult about what garments are desirable or not. The For Us By Us guys wanted to stamp it as urban by draping rappers in it, but eventually the style evolved beyond those markers. During the Battle Rap craze, every Eminem admirer donned Triple 5 Soul to show that brand loyalty somehow translated to rap identifier. Designers like Marc Ecko, Maurice Malone and Karl Kani seized on this idea as well by trying for a concentrated market composed of black males and hip hop listeners. Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren also inadvertently inculcated the world of hip hop style with their high-class shirts and pants becoming the hallmark of a subversive street movement (i.e. Polo-Ricans, Raekwon the Chef, Lo-Lifes). Then, the evolution of individual artist style sprung forth from these more segmented movements. Andre 3000 went from skinny ATLien to iconoclast, choosing white wigs over Braves caps and further distancing himself from his counterpart Big Boi. Common underwent a similar make-over during what some call his Baduizm era. Aside from fans commenting on their conversions, tenuous links were made between their supposed lifestyle changes and their clothing. There is a premium on remaining real, true, masculine, hard, unchanged even when maturity calls.
The issue of style moves beyond even that obstinacy, however. In some ways, Kanye and Pharrell have surpassed their previous stratus and want to affirm that with an "escalated" style. It happens to all veterans of the game along with things like moving out of the 'hood, changing their songs to accommodate a broader audience, partying with artists of different genres, expanding their views and car collections. Beanie Sigel's not-so-subtle comments resonate more with the average Joe than with the Robb Report Rapper. Perhaps he's not feeling like a Black Republican or has no want for a summer home and linen pants. Of course, we must decide if his attitude represents more the rhyme or the reason.
Other Notable Vestment Conflicts
Jim Jones versus Kanye West...
The tight jeans and wallet-chain face off against ascot ardor.
Beanie, Peedi et. al. versus Dame Dash/State Property...
Thugs protest being peddled as a style for Roc sales. Dame lolls in another flash of his self-described entrepreneurial brilliance.
The Clipse versus Lil Wayne...
"I wore it first!" concerning BAPE...