Hip hop and fashion go hand-in-hand, but does fashion take away from music?
In 2014, rapper Drake released a track called "Draft Day" where he dropped one of the most, honestly, prophetic lines I've heard in the new wave of hip hop thus far: "They too worried 'bout b****** and fashion / they go missin' in action".
We're all used to Drake dropping "hashtag relatable" lines about everything from love to money to life in general - on Instagram on any given day, you're sure to see someone posting something with a Drake caption. It's strange, however, for him to drop such a hot take about fashion and its role in hip hop.
Drake is one of the most popular rappers in the world; he's the epitome of what industry hip hop truly is. This begs the question: if one of the biggest sellouts in the industry is calling rappers out for it, is it true? Is there a case to be made for rappers caring more about their clothes than they do about their music?
The rapper that comes to mind most when talking about fashion isn't actually Drake at all - it's A$AP Rocky. Any interview with Rocky shows that he's been interested in fashion since a young age - he even said once that he's the one who made skinny jeans popular, after him and fellow A$AP Mob rapper A$AP Ferg were "bashed" for their outfit choices, claiming that they were often ostracized for not wearing exactly what everyone else wore.
Since blowing up, Rocky has walked in countless fashion shows and become a hip hop Mecca, of sorts, for fashion. Since then, he's also released some incredible albums: his first mixtape, "Live. Love. ASAP", released in 2011, has become a certified underground classic, remaining popular eight years later despite never making it to major streaming platforms like Spotify. "LONG.LIVE.A$AP" and "AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP", his following projects, are, again, still celebrated to this day.
He's collaborated on multiple A$AP Mob albums, "Cozy Tapes" Vol. 1 and 2, both of which were well-received - but then, he released Testing. Testing was a long-awaited album that received mixed reviews - maybe it was because he abandoned his signature sound, one that had been established for years with his previous three projects. A quick scan of social media at the time of its release, however, showed one common sentiment: Rocky's album isn't as good as it could be because he's spent too much time focusing on fashion. And I think it makes a bit of sense - since Rocky's first album, his lyrical matter has increasingly become more and more about fashion with each passing album and each passing feature.
Ultimately, however, I think this criticism is unfair. A$AP Rocky wasn't the first to care about fashion by any means, and he certainly won't be the last.
Since hip hop's conception, luxury brands have been a staple of success - hip hop was a voice for the oppressed, and there was nothing more powerful than kids who couldn't afford to eat who grew up to wear gold chains and Coogi sweaters on the regular.
Eventually, rappers began taking over the fashion game altogether; one of the first examples was the great Wu-Tang Clan out of Staten Island with their brand Wu Wear. Then there was Diddy with Sean John, Fat Joe with FJ560, Jay-Z with Rocawear, and 50 Cent with G-Unit. More recently, there's Lil Wayne with Trukfit, Tyler, the Creator with GOLF, and, perhaps most famously, Kanye West with his Yeezy line.
As with most other aspects of popular culture, hip hop has been a driving force behind fashion for decades - when people see a rapper wearing something, they want to wear it too, and not only did rappers capitalize on that by creating their own brands, but already established brands such as Burberry, Gucci, and Versace capitalized on it as well, jumping at the opportunity to dress rappers in their threads.
Some of the best rappers are business people, and the bottom line? Fashion sells - especially when people are so influenced by what celebrities wear.
But has this breach into fashion, both in business and in lyrical content, actually overshadowed the music itself? Or is it an integral part of hip hop and its culture, so much so that the two are inseparable?
Ultimately, I don't think that hip hop and fashion will ever be mutually exclusive. And I don't think that a focus on fashion is necessarily a bad thing - both music and fashion are art in their own right, so the two merging makes sense. Hip hop relies on this status symbols - on those symbols of success. It's a driving force for many young artists, and it's relatable, and it's part of what keeps the music real and grounded when it has opportunities to be anything but.
In cases like A$AP Rocky's, I think it's unfair to write him off as an artist because he's focusing on fashion, and further, it's unfair to blame a changing musical style and signature on inattention and lack of commitment to the music. This is a whole other topic in itself, but it needs to be said that rappers, and other artists, are allowed to change and evolve, even if it's in a way that fans don't prefer. That includes not only musical style, but personal endeavors as well - as much as we all miss the "Live. Love. ASAP" version of Rocky, we can't have that music forever. Him choosing to focus on fashion doesn't discredit his contributions to music - if anything, it just makes him more versatile as an artist.
Instead of compromising its integrity, I think that fashion has enriched it - and while it's disheartening to see great artists choose other ventures over music in some circumstances, it's not cause for a personal vendetta or the damnation of an entire genre; it's simply people evolving, as they should.