As always, this year's Coachella festival was a mecca of music, molly, quirk, and kids showing their hairy asses.
On stage, in fact, Kid Cudi showed three mere inches of bare midriff and got everybody talking. As MTV so eloquently understated, "the response wasn't exactly positive." Not that shade is likely to discourage someone as young and rebellious as Cudi, or any other of hip-hop's stars who have elevated to a legendary status; a place where they are free to push sonic, behavioral, and aesthetic boundaries that was previously only occupied by rock 'n roll stars.
Beyond streetwear and sneaker loyalties, now hip-hop artists like Cudi, Kanye, Pharrell, A$AP Mob, and lately Young Thug are recasting the essential hip-hop "look," promoting flair over masculinity. This transition to donning apparel absolutely makes the trolls put their homophobia and resistance to any sort of deviation from the norm on full view, but it isn't brand-new to hip-hop. What's remarkable is the fact that the limelight is now solely on hip-hop artists, with very few rock 'n roll musicians influencing the trickle-down of fashion with the same intensity.
Until very recently, it's always been rock legends who have made the outgoing generation squirm with their fashion choices. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, the Sex Pistols, David Bowie, Metallica, Van Halen, Motorhead, etc. all took on various looks that deviated from what musicians and their fans previously looked like. Long hair, androgyny, tight jeans and every other rock style cliché were once powerfully reconditioning the collective understanding of masculinity and the porous boundaries that defined this concept. But now, is there any rockstar that's lighting the Internet on fire with their personal style?
Though he's one to exaggerate in many cases, Kanye wasn't kidding when he declared to Zane Lowe that rappers are "the new rockstars," not just by their dominance of the American soundscape, but in hip-hop's comprehensive redefinition of the Great American Lookbook.
From Adidas, to Kangol, to Versace, to Polo, to Givenchy; from jazzy, to baggy, to skinny revolt. Since 1976, the culture's marched a long catwalk, including some wild shit that mainly took place from 1980 to 1993. And Vogue's 10-page "Puffy Takes Paris" spread in 1999, featuring Kate Moss, was a serious nod to hip-hop style and perhaps hip-hop's glitziest moment in the fashion limelight thus far. But now, this is the show that everyone's paying attention to and aspiring to be at.
Bad Boy mastered rap as marketing, but if there's any one artist who's consistently, meticulously chronicled a wardrobe's ever-evolving temperament, it's Kanye. Not too many years after Jay Z had sized us down to button-ups, ATL and Chicago were matching hard-in-the-paint tattoo swag with grown-and-sexy with all-black-everything to Miami-white, and a thousand flowers bloomed. To the point that now, every rap crew has their own fashion, their own brand, their own signature boldness. Some cliques styling edgier than others.
From Polo and Bape to black leather Freddy Krueger, Kanye grew into the kilt. Young Thug was born in it. Whatever you make of hip-hop Euro couture, hate it or love it, the artists stay pressing their creative license to new extremes. (Well, except Nicki, who's been ratcheting down to natural as of late.) All this exisiting in a soundscape where rock looks so narrowly confined to a certain vintage aesthetic that's yet duller than the pinkest of Katy Perry's pop lunacy these days. e.g., Vampire Weekend is four guys who dress like your middle school's substitute teachers.
If you're looking for the new Joan Jett or Debbie Harry, you'll find her on Instagram, straight flexin':
Hip-hop's fashion reactionaries peep Young Thug's Instagram and think, "What is this kid doing?" They wonder whether divos and hypebeasts know any respectable, traditional bounds. Maybe, maybe not—but what's rather striking is the ease and confidence of Young Thug's experimentation. There's an unmistakable sense that he doesn't much care whether he inspires copycats or epithets. All that matters is that he has your full, unprecedented attention.
Of course, all this ecstasy of influence and daring explains Kanye's late obsession with fashion, capitalism, and black power. Rightfully, he suspects that if rap stars can define and drive, rap stars oughta be calling some shots, too. The fashion houses and conglomerates take profitable notice. Jay Z has been working with Barneys NY for a few months now. Just a couple weeks ago, Kanye delivered a keynote speech to adidas' Global Brand Conference in Germany. Meanwhile, Puffy is riding that Sean John wave, more than fifteen years strong, to a near-billion dollar fortune.
Soon enough, Cam'ron is gonna have Barack and Michelle rocking his/her presidential capes. And if not, oh well—it's still a good look for Killa and JuJu.