Hip-hop was birthed by DJ Kool Herc, in a South Bronx apartment complex in the 70s. A back-to-school fundraiser with an admission fee of .25 cents for ladies and .50 cents for gents turned into a historic event that would shift the musical landscape as we knew it. Over time, with rotating hip-hop players, the young genre would evolve, spreading its tentacles into the fashion realm.
Today (August 11, 2023), hip-hop turned 50 and we’re paying homage to the femcees who have great influence on hip-hop fashion. How could we not?
When you think about it, hip-hop has always been tied to fashion. Like every other male-dominated industry, when women step on the scene, it flourishes. Female rappers have been instrumental in hip-hop’s expansion through fashion. Fashion icons like Salt N’ Pepa and Lil’ Kim influenced the culture with their timeless and unapologetic fashion.
“In an era without hip-hop stylists, Salt N’ Pepa brought and wore their own accessible clothes — the same styles worn by cool Blacks and Latin X kids in the 80s. Think 8 Ball jackets, spandex, rectangular gold doorknocker earrings, and acid wash denim,” explains Clover Hope, author of The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop.” In the series of essays, Hope deconstructs how female rappers contributed to hip-hop. A lot of women were into oversized looking a little more like the guys and here we came with our spandex and our 8 Ball jackets and our kente hats and our diva boots.”
The door knockers of the 80s are being worn again by girls today. Ripped, bleached, and distressed jeans have returned as a runaway staple. And streetwear – from sneakers and bombers to sweat suits and color block combinations – remains a constant within the fashion editorial and retail industries.
Lil’ Kim’s Influence On Hip-Hop Fashion
Salt N’ Pepa laid the foundation for female sex-positive music and Lil’ Kim capitalized on it. Sexual lyrics, fashion, and confidence would combust in Lil’ Kim, whose prior fashion knowledge working at Bloomingdale’s in NYC would prepare her to bridge hip-hop to high fashion through her relationships with designers who previously wouldn’t work with hip-hop artists.
“I introduced Lil’ Kim to Giorgio Armani and it was a big, big deal when that happened,” LaChapelle told journalist Nadja Sayej in a 2018 Garage interview. “There wasn’t this connection between rap music and high fashion back then; it didn’t happen yet. Now, everyone works hard to be seated next to Anna Wintour at Fashion Week.”
“Her entry into the game was a turning point for women in rap where image became so much more of a focus, like showing sexuality and being stylish also,” Clover Hope said in an exclusive clip run in our Lil Kim: Anatomy Of An Icon cover story. “It was aspirational. It was this coveting of luxury that she epitomized in a way that I think reflected a lot of young Black girls’ desire to be draped in some of these things. A lot of that, the ghetto fabulous philosophy, was young Black girls wanting to live the fantasy outside of what was expected of them.”
Hip-Hop Fashion Today
Thanks to the groundwork laid by artists like Kim, Salt N’ Pepa, Queen Latifah, and more, rap acts like Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, have been able to carve mainstream careers at the intersection of hip-hop and fashion.
As a permanent fixture at Fashion Weeks around the world, Cardi B is one of hip-hop’s most current fashionable femcees. She is often seen in the front row at the most exclusive runway shows. She is a Met Gala favorite.
Through the influence of Cardi B and newer artists like Megan Thee Stallion, Coi Leray, and Caresha “Yung Miami” Brownlee, Hip-Hop isn’t just a part of fashion but a necessary driver. Fashion houses and brands now seek out A-list Hip Hip icons to wear their brands, sit in their front rows, and share their products on social media.
One mention in a Hip-Hop lyric and a brand can skyrocket. Hip-Hop gives fashion a “cool factor” and makes collections instantly relevant to audiences worldwide. Hip-Hop is the fashion moment.
Originated from an apartment party, morphed into a cultural shift, and transformed into a fashion driver, Hip-Hop has transcended over the past 50 years. And, Black women have led and forever been at Hip-Hop’s helm. So, in honor of the 50th anniversary of Hip-Hop, we’re spotlighting the femcees who have spearheaded this fashion revolution.
Each have left their mark on Hip-Hop, fashion, and the culture.
1. Roxanne ShanteSource:Getty
Rapper Roxanne Shante is an original fly girl. Dressed here in custom Dapper Dan with her signature gold earrings and rope chain, Shante was known as a lyrical queen, who could go toe-to-toe with the boys, and she was just as much a standout for her style.
No Hip-Hop fashion list is complete without a mention of Salt-N-Pepa. The trio of DJ Spinderella, Cheryl ‘Salt’ James and Sandra ‘Pepa’ Denton helped defined the 80s hip hop fashion era with their asymmetrical hairstyles, gold jewelry and bomber jackets.
3. Queen LatifahSource:Getty
Queen Latifah is hip-hop’s cover girl in more ways than one. The multihyphenate entertainer was a singer when she was first discovered in a NJ talent show before transitioning into rap. She was signed to a deal and Latifah’s eccentric style was an intentional choice.
“She then became a member of the Native Tongue — a collective of acts like Jungle Brothers, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest who brought low-end jazz to rap while dressed in Arican inspired prints and Queen Latifah has a similar look and feel. She brought the outfit for her album cover in Newark at an Arican fabric store on Halsey St.” –Motherlode by Clover Hope
Queen Latifah has worn many hats throughout her career. Her style has consisted of tracksuits, stylish pants suits, and elevated streetwear. During the late ’80s and ’90s, the “Living Single” star embraced her natural hair and curves and empowered women through her lyrics, beauty, and attitude.
Yo-Yo, also known as Yolanda Whitaker, is one of the most recognizable female emcees of all time. Like many female rappers in the ‘90s, the You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo artist rocked athletic windbreakers, denim vests, gold jewelry, and color-blocked shirts. What makes Yo-Yo most memorable is her blonde tresses and micro braids. She was one of the first cultural examples of “blondes have more fun.”
5. Lil’ KimSource:Getty
Lil’ Kim is a pioneer in rap and fashion. As a vivacious and unapologetic sex symbol, Kim laid the blueprint for many of today’s female rappers, and the inspiration behind their style.
“Kim‘s ability to coexist as an exalted player in both the fashion and music industries provided the blueprint for today’s female rap stars, who understand the stratospheric effect of fashion. Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, The City Girls, Saweetie (and so many more) are all products of Kim’s pioneering foray into high fashion,” wrote Shamika Sanders in our Lil’ Kim: Anatomy Of An Icon cover story.
6. Foxy BrownSource:Getty
Rapper Foxy Brown made her love of style and fashion apparent as soon as she graced the stage in the late ’90s. Describing herself as an “edgy artist,” she frequently wore designer labels, experimented with over-the-top styles, and worked with international fashion houses. Foxy gave us sexy, sultry, and bold with every look and album cover. The Ill Na Na rapper showed us we could be style slayers and confident women and helped define generations.
7. Missy ElliottSource:Getty
In the early 2000s, Missy Elliott was known to sport Adidas tracksuits of multiple colors and fabrics, gold earrings, and Kangols. The ensemble was her ‘day-to-day uniform,’ and reflected what many wore in society at the time. After overcoming health challenges and a body transformation, the “I Can’t Stand the Rain” artist has added more items to her style repertoire. And, we love to see it. No matter what Missy wears, this hip hop icon and powerful producer makes a statement
Philly rapper Eve was the Queen of the Ruff Ryders. She brought a sexy edge to the rugged, mainly male group. The “Who’s That Girl” artist’s style stood out and quickly helped her secure a place in Hip-Hop history. Eve’s early fashion choices corresponded with the late ’90s and 2000s, mainly comprised of miniskirts, crop tops, and chunky necklaces. Now a mother, wife, actress, and TV host, Eve Jihan Cooper’s style has evolved into sophisticated outfits, designer looks, and a relaxed “Rich Auntie” style.
When it comes to style, fashion, and Hip-Hop influence, Miami rapper Trina is the “Baddest.” First heard on Trick Daddy’s “Nann,” the Diamond Princess always mixed embellished looks with sexy silhouettes and glamour. In 2022, BET honored Trina with the I Am Hip-Hop Award. The artist accepted the award looking like the fashion pioneer and icon she is. She dazzled in a sparkly, diamond, and silver midi dress with glamourous curls.
10. Nicki MinajSource:Getty
The “Barbie Baddie doing Barbie ‘Tings,” Nicki Minaj, has influenced style and fashion since she first came on the scene. Nicki takes chances and is not afraid to turn heads. Her affinity for the color of pink and blonde bombshell tresses has created her signature style, and her glamorous flair inspires us all.
11. Left EyeSource:Getty
Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was a pioneer in a myriad of ways. One-third of the group TLC, Left Eye made her presence known every time she stepped on stage with stand out style and funky streetwear details. She was one of the first to wear fishnet fabrics over shirts, patches, and bold makeup around her eyes, and bright-colored jumpsuits. Further, her hairstyles were just as signature as her clothing. We all wanted to try bedazzled ponytails, intricate braid designs, and pressed tresses because of her unique looks. No doubt from her music to her fashion, beauty, and style, Left Eye was iconic and a visionary before her time.
12. Cardi BSource:Getty
Known for over-the-top detailing and dramatic ensembles, Cardi B remains a force in the fashion world. She’s worn international fashion houses from Schiarapelli to Chanel and frequently tops best-dressed lists. Slaying with lyric delivery and style choices, the Jealousy rapper is killing the game.
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