Asymmetrical hair, tight pants, cheetah-print sneakers and a toothless smile. If you guessed hip-hop up-and-comer Danny Brown, pat yourself on the back.
Brown and many other up-and-comers such as A$AP Rocky, Odd Future and Lil B, have achieved moderate success while simultaneously ripping hip-hop identity conventions to pieces. From Odd Future’s knee-high socks and skateboard apparel to Lil B’s skin-tight pink v-necks and vans, the clothing is not only an indicator of hip-hop’s accepting unconventional artists– their interests and personalities– but of the genre’s widening scope.
Think about it; for the longest time hip-hop has been dominated by a hyper-masculine, hetero-normative culture. If you weren’t flaunting oversized, baggy clothing, you were not considered street or “hood,” and therefore not considered hip-hop. But artists like Pharrell Williams and Kanye West helped change that. Coming from eclectic backgrounds these artists embraced their upbringing, and brought a new look to hip-hop’s stagnancy.
Skateboarding was often received with scorn or disapproval from the hip-hop world, but Williams helped bring the two together. Declaring himself “Skateboard P,” Williams became the poster-boy for many other skateboard enthusiasts in hip-hop, “It’s thanks to Pharrell. He really sacrificed and put [skateboarding] on the map in the black community…now you can catch kids skating through the hood everywhere in America,” said rapper SpaceGhostPurrp in an interview with Pitchfork earlier this year.
Without Williams we would not have Odd Future, Lupe Fiasco, Kid Cudi–even present-day Lil Wayne, with his desires to stop rapping and commit to skateboarding.
Shouting out name brands has been a staple of hip-hop music since its inception. But West made it cool to floss about designer names like Givenchy, Louis Vuitton and even Jimmy Choo. What West had done was unprecedented at the time. Such name brands were new to hip-hop, and often frowned upon because of their anti-masculine and street-lacking look. West’s risk-taking worked in his favor. Soon he became one of hip-hop’s most fashionable artists, working with acclaimed designers Jeremy Scott, Olivier Theyskens and Azzedine Alaia.
Now it’s common to see A$AP Rocky sharing a front-page cover with Scott or Nicki Minaj flaunting Scott-made eccentric pieces for an Adidas commercial.
Williams and West proved that you could still be hip-hop, without adhering to its identity conventions. You don’t need to be the gang-banger turned drug-hustler, turned hip-hop phenomenon. You could use your own experiences and influences to bring a new story to hip-hop’s outdated tales of crime, drugs and violence.
And now so many artists with varied tastes and interests coexist in hip-hop’s realm. From the recent influx of female rappers– Nicki Minaj, Angel Haze, Azealia Banks, Iggy Azalea– to the wider acceptance of gay rappers–Le1f, Mykki Blanco, Zebra Katz, Cakes Da Killa– hip-hop is gradually becoming more welcoming of its artists, and their individuality.
This year alone marks some incredible feats for hip-hop identity: Azalea being XXL‘s first ever female (a white one, at that) for their annual list of hip-hop freshmen; Odd Future cohort Frank Ocean’s coming out, and the many artists supportive of his bravery. Hip-hop has become a much more open realm that is gradually diverging from its age-old identity conventions.
Now it seems, more so than ever, that hip-hop artists can be themselves without being judged as severely as they would in the past. Even a mere five years ago, half of the artists we see now dominating the hip-hop headlines, would not have been successful. Sure, artists still face the stigma of hip-hop identity conventions, but they are not as bad now.
Like any music genre, hip-hop is still evolving. These new artists accommodate to that change by embracing their identity, and creating something refreshing that will continue to push hip-hop in new and exciting directions.
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