7 Hip hop stars who're setting style trends

They rap. They design clothes. They grace the covers of magazines. They are, in effect, redefining fashion

Published: Jan 31, 2015

As Pharrell Williams hits the last note of his song ‘Happy’ at Brisbane’s Riverside in early 2014, thousands of fans break into a thunderous applause. It is an acknowledgement of his performance, but also an affirmation of his fierce, individualistic style. The American singer and producer has made an oversized buffalo hat all his own, and almost aspirational.

The underlying message is as loud as the music: Rappers or hip-hop stars are the new global style icons. They’ve sidelined rock stars who have—perhaps harshly—become as clichéd as their tagline, ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’.

Hip hop fashion belies the music genre’s humble beginnings. After all, rap was birthed in New York City’s South Bronx a little more than 40 years ago. But by the late 1980s and 1990s, its influence had already permeated the elitist fashion industry. Even Chanel bowed to this new anarchy when Karl Lagerfeld introduced the fashion house’s hip hop-inspired collection in 1991, complete with oversized leather jackets, ripped denims and gold chains. Over the years, stars such as Mary J Blige and Snoop Dogg have embraced the likes of Tommy Hilfiger, and Beyoncé, Jay-Z and JLo have become familiar faces at the Fashion Week in New York.

From sagging pants to oversized tees, from fitted suits to well-tailored jackets, from baseball caps worn backwards to expensive shoes, and let’s not forget the bling, hip hop fashion has redefined the silhouette. It has cut across ethnic boundaries and spawned a multi-million dollar industry that has only one rule: Wear it with attitude. The following pages are a toast to the fashion savvy sensibilities of these singers and their ever-evolving style—one that is not afraid to experiment or defy stereotypes.

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PIMP SUITS AND RASTAFARIAN PEACE: SNOOP’S EVOLUTION
In March 1994, the rapper appeared on an episode of Saturday Night Live wearing an oversized red, white and blue rugby shirt with the word Tommy emblazoned it. It became a status symbol and within four years Tommy Hilfiger’s sales jumped almost fourfold. One of America’s pioneering rappers, Snoop Dogg not only defined West Coast gangster cool but also embraced skinny jeans, pimp suits and sneakers.

Seen here: Snoop Dogg leaving a London nightclub at 5.30 am in 2012 wearing a green Adidas tracksuit and a black leather jacket with his initials SD written on the chest of the jacket.




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LIKE A DIAMOND, RIHANNA IS NEVER OUT OF STYLE
The diminutive singer has graced the covers of the world’s leading fashion magazines. And her style has inspired the likes of Pucci (designer Peter Dundas had models wear leather shorts with jackets a la RiRi), Balmain (Rihanna was the face of the fashion house’s Spring 2014 campaign, and inspired designer Olivier Rousteing’s entire collection), and Tom Ford who wrote in his blog, “I was at the CDFA Awards… and Rihanna was one of the most beautiful women that I have ever beheld.” She’s designing a denim and lingerie line with Emporio Armani Underwear and Armani Jeans.

Rihanna has the fashion world wrapped around her little finger. Silk dresses with black leather corsets, see-through tops, mesh dresses with oversized jackets made for men, metal studs and thigh-high leather boots: The more bizarre the combination, the better.

Seen here: Rihanna performing at the Diamond Ball in California in December 2014. She’s wearing a strapless gown by designer Zac Posen.

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BEING HAPPY, THE PHARRELL WILLIAMS WAY
Pharrell Williams sticks to very stylish but singular street wear. He’s never without his signature oversized hat; he attended the Grammy’s wearing one designed by Vivienne Westwood.

Williams is the cofounder of two apparel brands, Billionaire Boys Club and ICECREAM; in 2008, he was roped in
by Louis Vuitton to create an accessories line, Blason Jewellery; he has designed sunglasses for Moncler and shirts for Uniqlo. In 2014, he announced that he was Adidas’s newest collaborator. He is also creating a denim collection, ‘Raw for the Oceans’, sourced from recycled plastic dredged from our seas, in collaboration with Dutch clothing company G-Star Raw and Bionic Yarn.
 
Seen here: Pharrell Williams performing at the 2014 Future Music Festival in Sydney. He’s wearing a woven top, cargo shorts, beads and his trademark hat.


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PINK IS NICKI MINAJ’S COLOUR
Nicki Minaj has developed a look, which The New York Times describes as ‘loud, cartoonish and edging toward avant-garde’. She unabashedly embraces the colourful sartorial style and flaunts outrageous candy-coloured wigs. But the powers-that-be have knighted her as a fashion icon. Why else would Vogue’s Anna Wintour invite Minaj to sit beside her on the front rows of Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta’s fashion shows during the 2011 New York Fashion Week? That year, she was also invited to perform for a Versace and a Victoria’s Secret fashion show.

Seen here: Nicki Minaj performing at Barclays Center in New York, in 2013.



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JAY-Z IN THE HOUSE
‘I don’t pop molly/I rock Tom Ford’. In his album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, American rapper Jay-Z dedicates a song to designer Tom Ford. It highlights the fashion industry’s ties with hip hop. Jay-Z’s style has evolved over his long career: From gold chains and rings to Polo shirts, from graphic hoodies to New York Yankee caps and Tom Ford suits. He co-founded the American apparel line Rocawear, which he sold in 2007 to Iconix Brand Group for $204 million. He continues to retain a stake in the company.

Seen here: Jay-Z performing during a concert as part of the ‘Watch the Throne Tour’ in Paris in June 2012.


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KANYE WEST: WHEN RAP EMBRACES LUXURY
In his video ‘All Falls Down’ from his debut album The College Dropout, Kanye West wears a mustard-stained pink Polo shirt, a replica of which can be bought for $400. The world cannot ignore Kanye West’s impact on hip hop fashion. Even Vogue, much to the horror of the fashion elite, featured him and his wife Kim Kardashian on its April 2014 cover. It’s a testament to the power of the rapper who has his own clothing line, and teamed up with Nike to release his own shoe, Air Yeezy. He’s also worked with Louis Vuitton and premiered two fashion lines, including a woman’s label, DW Kanye West, at the Paris Fashion Week.

Seen here: Kanye West performing during the Concert for Diana at Wembley Stadium in London in July 2007.

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THE POWERHOUSE THAT IS BEYONCÉ

When it comes to making a sartorial statement, Beyoncé is no Lady Gaga, but there’s no doubt that the singer has inspired women the world over. And she can dominate the red carpet. The Givenchy black-and-purple mermaid gown that she wore for the 2012 Met Gala in New York was the talk of the town. Last year, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame hosted a fashion exhibition around Beyoncé. In 2005, Beyoncé launched a women’s fashion line, House of Deréon, with her mother. And last year, she signed a deal with British apparel brand Topshop to launch a new brand.

Seen here: Beyoncé during The Mrs Carter Show World Tour in New York in 2013.

(This story appears in the Jan-Feb 2015 issue of ForbesLife India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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