Hip-hop and fashion have always had a hand-in-hand relationship.
Back in 1986, Run DMC pledged their allegiance to Adidas not only through song, but by declaration. During a performance at the historic Madison Square Garden in New York, the Hollis duo were set to perform “My Adidas,” when group leader Run (now Rev. Run) asked the concert revelers to take their Adidas sneakers (shell toes probably) off and put them in the air. This request proved to be not only iconic, but lucrative for the rap legends. It further set the stage for artists in fashion, as more than consumers. Fast forward over 30 years later, you have Kanye West making history at the same MSG by deciding to live stream his latest Yeezy collection fashion show from a runway nestled in one of their main stages.
Fashion can almost be there 5th element of Hip-Hop. Way before rappers got paid to rock clothes or to make clothes, people embraced looking fly because that’s what it “was.” Take Brooklyn’s Lo-Life crew. Getting fly is their M.O. rap career or not. And what brand has for years been their “go to”? Ralph Lauren, Polo.
Amidst the dark and foggy New York nightlife of the 80’s often filled with drug dealers, prostitutes, pimps, stick up kids, addicts and con men was a crew of kids primarily from Brownsville (U.S.A. – United Shoplifters Association) and Crown Heights (Ralphie’s Kids) that adopted a uniform head to toe of Ralph Lauren. Tales of the crew, sometimes 30-40 deep, walking into a Ralph Lauren store and taking what they want then walking out became legendary and the posse earned a serious reputation in a short amount of time. They made such an impression and became such a talking point that they started influencing established rappers and slowly more and more MC’s and DJ’s began mimicking the style.
“When I first got my first cheque I just went to Polo and just went ballistic” – A$AP Ferg
As the lines began to blur over who was and wasn’t an official member, several guys in the crew began to pursue the same music that they had helped stylize. The Lo-Life influence can be seen on the likes of Sean Price, DJ Clark Kent, Kanye West, Raekwon (“Same damn Lo sweater”), Just Blaze and hip-hop media personality Dallas Penn just to name a few. In fact if your memory is intact you will remember that Fabolous was originally called Fabolous Sport, a moniker paying homage to Polo Sport. After getting recognized as The Source Magazine’s “Unsigned Hype”, Thirstin Howl III aka the Polo Rican, who is infamous for wearing a Polo robe and slippers while doing a bid in prison, has gone on to drop 11 albums in a mixture of English and Spanish and worked with artists such as Eminem, Ol Dirty Bastard, Immortal Technique and Kool Keith. He’s also the main focal point of a new photography book called Bury Me With The Lo On shot by Tom Gould that explores the Lo-Life culture and movement.
Vice TV personality and frequent Action Bronson collaborator Meyhem Lauren isn’t shy about his Lo-Life affiliation on the track “Secret Angle” as he boasts the lyrics,
“Fine fabric delegate with a sneaker fetish/ stackin’ blood money, call it red leaf lettuce/ Polo kingpin, chief brethren, street legend”.
Meyhem has been catching attention with his work alongside DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill and Diggin’ In The Crates producer Buckwild as well as his bodying of various guest verses over the last few years. Spit Gemz is another name making noise with his articulate style of philosophical yet hardbody hip-hop who can be heard on tracks next to MC’s Tragedy Khadafi, Vinnie Paz of Jedi Mind Tricks, Chino XL, Kool G Rap and Blaq Poet, went in on his 2015 appearance on Sway In The Morning earning his spot as one of the undergrounds most talked about. Another stand out MC from this pocket of hip-hop is a young deep voiced wordsmith named Starker who is best known for his Juju (of The Beatnuts fame) produced street banger “Starker X Juju”. You may remember The Source article on his 2015 release The Dutch Masterpiece well, he’s been busy since then with the Lo.Ceasar EP – a collaboration with YL and his latest offering The Bootleg Collection. Starker’s music is unapologetically New York and follows a sound path laid down by pioneers like Mobb Deep, Nas, Cormega, AZ etc. with smooth flows laced with authentic street references that will take several plays through to completely digest.
Over 30 years deep and New York’s Lo-Life’s are just as active and influential in hip-hop than ever before as proven by the re-release of the infamous “Snow Beach” pullover that Raekwon wore in the timeless “Can It Be All So Simple” video clip as well as the Lo-Life staple ‘92 Stadium Series’ which caused chaos amongst streetwear aficionados upon its drop with Supreme and Jordan-esque lineups and campouts to cop it. Although the company has never formally thanked Thirstin, the Lo-Life’s or hip-hop in general for all the heavy lifting on the marketing front, the re-release of these two lines certainly means that they have their ear to the street. Polo, a brand that is conventionally seen as upper-class colonizer attire and hip-hop, straight from the crack era – together they remain as the original rap odd couple that organically works. A lot of rappers can wear Polo, but only a select few can be Lo-Lifes.