Over the past few weeks there have been discussions and even Twitter beefs over black men wearing skirts or kilts. Rapper Lord Jamar had some choice words for Omar Epps for wearing a skirt when he made an appearance on The View to promote his new show Resurrection, even going so far as to compare him to a complicit Nazi, claiming that men like Epps should be put on trial for crimes against humanity. Apparently, Lord Jamar has been very vocal over the past few years about what he deems to be “the feminization of the black man.” Epps responded by saying that his ensemble was an ode to Zulu warrior roots, and that Lord Jamar is actually just uninformed about his own history.
Following Lord Jamar’s rant came 50 Cent who in his usual manner attacked rappers like Kanye West and Puffy for wearing skinny jeans and kilts, respectively. He’s quoted as saying “I ain’t with it. I asked it on a mix tape. N***as wear skinny jeans. I can’t fit in,” he said. “If you Google, ‘rapper in a dress’, do you know how many will pop? Young Thug is the one that actually said, ‘This is a dress’. The other ones will call it a kilt. What about that culture is making you choose to wear it for the evening?”
It is clear that hip hop culture has evolved over the years. Hip hop is not a monolithic culture, and I don’t think that it ever was. Even when it became a notable genre of music in the 80’s you had your gangster rappers juxtaposed with the culturally conscious rappers. There were the Adidas track suits and shell toe’s contra to the African garb donned by others, and everyone got along. Now that we have moved away from the baggy jeans, jerseys, and Timberland boots of the 90’s and early 2000’s, rappers have started to dress more clean cut, more fitted and more fashion forward. I think that this is attributed to the fact that a successful rapper is no longer one with thought provoking lyrics and five mics to prove it. In addition to talent, today’s successful rapper also has to be a brand. For many of the performers on the forefront of the industry today, fashion is an integral part of their brand. Kanye West is almost synonymous with leather sweatpants. A$AP Rocky has collaborated with designer Jeremy Scott, and both can be spotted sitting front row during Fashion Week. Jay Z who is so highly respected in the rap community did a capsule collection for high end retailer Barney’s New York.
Rappers have always had a casual relationship with fashion. One of the greatest fashion moments of the 90’s was when Snoop performed on Saturday Night Live in a Tommy Hilfiger logo shirt, and then the designer enlisted Aaliyah to do a full fashion spread as one of his models. I remember seeing those Tommy boxers peeking over her sagging jeans and saying that’s how I want to dress. That look became her signature. Run DMC is almost synonymous with Shell toe Adidas. “I’m clockin’ ya, Versace shade watching ya,” Biggie told us in his name dropping bars on One More Chance. The concept of rap x fashion is nothing new. However, as rappers have matured so have their tastes. As the business has grown, so have the opportunities for branding. As technology gives us more access to other fashion forms outside of what’s in our neighborhoods, our desires have changed. Television is no longer the only medium from which to draw inspiration, so it is natural that the relationship between fashion and hip hop culture would grow. When you achieve a certain level of success in any industry, your taste level changes, and this is the natural course of things. As a performer gaining noteriety you are being presented with more money than you’ve ever had, and you are exposed to different people and different cultures that you can now afford to emulate.
As we see the rap veterans like Lord Jamar get older, you also see the nostalgia permeate their opinions. One cannot hold hip hop culture to one standard. To call in to question a man’s sexuality or his masculinity because he takes fashion chances in accordance with his brand is a bit far-fetched in my opinion. I cannot help but feel that this is the source of good old fashioned hating. I would be more inclined to listen to a rapper that has put out successful music within the past few years than one that is trying to remain relevant and put out a new album. Yes things are different in the industry from what they were when you mattered, but it is not going to put any money in your pocket or any fans in your base to attack the people that matter these days. What they fail to realize is that the attack on relevant artists of the times will overshadow their legacy and talent. Does it really benefit black culture for one black man to attack another for taking a fashion risk or two?