Jul 17 2013
Style.com had an interview with A.P.C. designer Jean Touitou about his brand’s collaboration with Kanye West, which has to be one of, if not, the biggest event in menswear. For anyone familiar with the #menswear community, you know that Yeezus has an even bigger influence than most fashion entities, so when writers joke that the collab “broke the interwebz” understand that they’re being more serious than they let on. A.P.C. x Kanye was a match made in menswear heaven- wardrobe essentials designed by “the nucleus of pop culture” himself (his words, not ours) finally at the disposal of the masses. Finally, they can dress like Yeezy while they quote Yeezy on their borderline “Yeezy Appreciation”, menswear-centric Tumblr blogs.
The road to this collection was bumpy and far from peachy. Touitou admitted in the interview that working with West was difficult (although his words were less scathing than most headlines), and his inability to answer if there will be an A.P.C. x Kanye II makes us wonder if Ye will collab with Touitou or any other designers anytime soon or ever again. The most noteworthy part of the interview has nothing to do with Mr. West or the collection itself. It was a somewhat cryptic quote that looked more like Touitou was laying a curse on the Rap game. Touitou was asked if he’d like to add anything else before he and interviewer, Matthew Schneier, parted ways, and he added, “Fashion killed rock and roll. Fashion killed contemporary art, and turned it vulgar. And if hip-hop artists are not careful it will also kill hip hop.” Was A.P.C. x Kanye the nail in coffin of hip hop?
Before we choose hip hop’s coffin, grave and tombstone, we have to take a look at how hip hop reached this point and if it is really that bad. You can argue that hip hop died at Biggie and Pac’s murders, or that hip hop died when it became too emotional. If anything “killed” hip hop, (or at least made it terminally ill) it was when it went mainstream. The mainstream media kills everything, period. It’s built in its design. Popular marketing documentary, The Merchants of Cool, sheds light on “cool hunters”- people that fish for what’s hip, young, cool, and can sell a product.
When Ludacris struck his deal with Pepsi, it was the beginning of the end. The raw element of rap music was lost and suspending disbelief listening to lyrics about “guns clapping” and gang-banging became more and more difficult. The game turned into sales pitches of rappers that have been through hell and back trying to get out of the hood, but can’t help but stay. The rougher your past, the higher your credibility. In order to sell more music, labels needed more acts that were like Biggie and Pac- players and hustlers, guys with a smooth flow and dope lyrics, but most importantly, they had to be hard. This ended some time after 50 Cent, who was sold as one the hardest rappers out because he was shot nine times and lived, went corporate (although Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is one of the best albums to date.)
Since then, hip hop experienced some rebranding. Subject matter expanded past how “hard” one is and became more about the everyday struggles of life- relationships, the come-up, family. It was like hip hop was changing its subject matter for a broader audience. Now you can hear rap songs in between pop hits and on top 25 radio stations across the globe. Fashion is a part of this rebranding. Rappers freely mention designers to describe their wealth or how hot their girl is just like how they talk about their money and cars. The chorus of Drake’s ‘Successful’ sung by Trey Songz sums it all up, “I want the money, money and the cars, cars and the clothes…”
Fashion can’t kill music genres the way “going mainstream” can. Rock ‘n’ roll was once treated the way rap music was treated in the 90s. The mainstream media rejected it, but once they accepted it rock ‘n’ roll had to start all over again. The hottest bands made empty music that were accompanied by music videos where they played in concert and ran off to their helicopter to the noise of screaming, adoring fans (something like this Pepsi commercial featuring Michael Jackson during the Bad era). The mainstream media ravaged rock ‘n’ roll making it sellable, a marketing scheme, and then fashion picked up the pieces. Grunge music from the late 80s/early 90s revived rock music, because the acts were relatable and real, but by then it was too late.
Rap music has reached the point that rock music was in during the 80s. Will fashion kill it? No, but for as long as we have been listening to rap renditions of songs used to sell children’s products, you can argue that hip hop is already dead. Fashion is picking up the pieces now that the industry recognizes that rap music can sell a product. This can be good for hip hop artists that want to be seen as more than just a rapper however. The exposure takes them to another level of stardom and success, and allows for them to be perceived as real musicians when they’re offered to tour with big name pop and rock acts. It also helps listeners pick their preference of subject matter in rap music. If you’re not about getting super dressed up then listen to A$AP Rocky’s song ‘1 Train’. It’s basically every rapper that isn’t about that mainstream life.
Hip hop crossed over years ago, and fashion is finally catching up to it. Fashion can only help hip hop sell. It helped Biggie cement his iconic status with his Versace shades and Coogi sweaters, it’s part of the reason why Diddy is a multi-millionaire mogul, and it is helping A$AP Rocky become a household name. Fashion can’t kill hip hop, but then again you can’t kill what’s already dead.