In 2011, on the Watch The Throne tour, Kanye West rocked a leather kilt onstage so that we would talk about Kanye West having rocked a leather kilt on stage.
Now it’s 2014, and Lord Jamar still won't shut up about it.
In Jamar's interview with the Combat Jack Show, which posted online last week, the former Brand Nubian MC restated his distaste for Kanye's "skirt," Macklemore's "Same Love," and even the notion of a gay rapper having a single pop off in the club. And aside from not being down with rap’s latest fashion, Jamar is convinced that that hip hop has been emasculated—or, rather, "efeminized"—to a cosmopolitan extreme. Not just the androgynous skirts and the skinny jeans, but also the proliferation of white rappers, middle class sensibilities, and political correctness within hip-hop.
When Kanye donned the kilt at the Concert for Sandy Relief in December 2012, a year after premiering the look on the Throne tour, disbelief was spit from various corners of the Internet, including Twitter. Kim Kardashian, for one, thought it was “so cute.” But a season later, Kanye pressured stock photo agency Getty Images to delete all photos of him wearing the kilt on the Sandy benefit stage, possibly due to negative feedback from fellow rappers. As if Weezy or 2 Chainz would have room to talk.
But sure, it’s a fair observation that hip-hop fashion has evolved beyond the stern leather-and-fedora uniformity of Run-D.M.C. That said, has hip-hop really, universally, turned fem? e.g., Here is a photo of A$AP Rocky frolicking in the snow.
OK. But here is a photo of Kool Moe Dee from 1987, looking like a proto-R. Kelly.
Nostalgia for the masculinity and the pure gruff of hip-hop’s formative years, and its Golden Era, can be so self-delusional. Like the gods haven’t been rocking foul shit since way back. Indeed, a few weeks ago, the Combat Jack podcast crew hosted Big Daddy Kane, who atoned for a few of his most notorious fashion crimes, to wit: "A purple sheer suit, see-through; tailor-made." And then there was the sax-gold, frill-spangled bullfighter tux he rocked alongside Patti LaBelle in the "Feels Like Another One" video.
"Brother, I done rocked a whole lot worse than that," Kane lamented.
Fittingly enough, in the same Combat Jack episode, while Kane was reminiscing about the wardrobes and R&B dabbling that lost him a few fans, he went on to praise the present-day, cherishing the integration of hip-hop's sensibilities, both musically and aesthetically.
Big Daddy Kane: I think I'd rather have seen that hip hop's mind frame is today. How open they are to new things. I'd rather that have been the case back then.
Combat Jack: Had that affected you back in the day? In terms of cats being close-minded?
Big Daddy Kane: Absolutely.
Nostalgia for the masculinity and pure gruff of hip-hop’s formative years, and its Golden Era, can be so self-delusional.
Kane’s insight being that from 1989 to now, hip-hop hasn't so much "become" any one thing—e.g., become middle class, become "feminine," become Down South-ern—so much as it's expanded. Less so a linear, x-axis progression, more so a Big Bang bloom of creative outputs and influences. From disco breaks and funky drummers, to Motown choruses, to indie rock melodies. From red patent-leather ensembles, to red lumberjacks with the hat to match, to the "Red Octobers." There’s room for some funky shit, as there should be.
Kanye West, for one, has stretched several creative boundaries over the course of his career—both as a musician, and as a mainstream fashion icon. He’s bigger than hip-hop, you could argue, but stylistically hip-hop nonetheless. Even Macklemore’s iconic fur is that Pretty Toney look, word to Ghostface. And DJ Vlad himself noted—in the interview where Jamar first declared that “skirts have no place in hip hop”—that “when you look at the Furious Five and the Village People, there’s not that much of a difference.”
Whichever stylistic nostalgia Jamar chooses to indulge, let it never be said that hip-hop was so exclusively, monochromatically masculine back in his day. Hence I conclude with a photo of Eddie Murphy from his Raw stand-up special. Peep the black comedy god keeping it hip-hop back in 1987. Respect.
Justin Charity is a writer in Brooklyn, NY who shouts out Richmond and D.C. He has a website here and you can also find him @BrotherNumpsa.
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