The romance between hip-hop and fashion is certainly past its honeymoon phase.
Spearheaded by a few trend-setting figureheads – you can probably guess who – hip-hop style has evolved leaps and bounds in recent years, and emcees now proudly affiliate themselves with obscure and well-known couture labels, avant-garde designers and adventurous styling. The examples are too numerous to list, and hip-hop’s collusion with high fashion is well documented – for good reason, given how influential these people are in dictating taste these days (we’d recommend keeping up to date on the latest developments in rap steez in our Weekly Juice feature, by the way).
One emerging frontier still exists, however. We’re talking about hip-hop’s own ventures into merchandise. While in the past, the rap world’s clothing and merchandise projects were forgettable and even embarrassing footnotes in history, recent seasons have seen surprisingly competent gear coming from rappers themselves. Although past hip-hop efforts were limited to a withdrawn merch booth operated by roadies, which concert attendees could pass by without thinking twice, today rapper-cosigned merchandise is truly worth coveting thanks to limited drops and captivating retail experiences.
If the past years have seen hip-hop discover the joys of niche, high-end fashion, then 2015 was the year that the genre started taking serious steps into making gear of its own. Perhaps the biggest reason for this shift is the change in design. While past efforts focused on mass-producing cheap designs with tour dates printed on the back, recent releases from the hip-hop illuminati feature one-of-a-kind designs printed in limited numbers.
Without further ado, here are eight prime examples of hip-hop artists blurring the line between merch and standalone clothing label.
Travis Scott’s ‘Rodeo’ Tour Merch
La Flame celebrated the launch of his Rodeo tour last year with a set of limited edition tour merch, featuring appropriated iconography from the Deep South – namely the region’s cacti and beloved heavy metal tees. The range included T-shirts, long-sleeves, socks, lighters, ashtrays, iPhone cases and, most notably, some collaborative Alpha Industries MA-1 bomber jackets.
More recently, maharishi announced it would be producing its custom “Year of the Cowboy” capsule collection that was teased by Scott last year.
Tyler, The Creator has always taken a 360° approach to everything Odd Future. He directs his own music videos, produces his own beats, and of course creates his own merch, which has been consistently delivering interesting seasonal lookbooks for years, on top of original collaborations and even poignant political commentary.
One of GQ‘s most stylish men in the world, Drake wasn’t settling for a mediocre merch range when he first introduced OVO gear. Before OVO was operating storefronts in Los Angeles and Toronto, or even had lookbooks, Drake was donning custom gear from fellow Canadians Canada Goose and Roots. These limited projects quickly evolved into a full Canadian-made apparel range that was recently modeled by OVO signee Roy Woods. Many would argue the real jewel in OVO’s crown is the OVO x Jordan X that released late last year.
Justin Bieber’s ‘Purpose’ Tour Merch
Justin Bieber’s style evolution has been well documented here on the e-pages of Highsnobiety. But just as we were getting used to the Biebs rocking names like Saint Laurent Paris and OFF-WHITE, the Canadian crooner threw us for another loop and enlisted Fear of God’s Jerry Lorenzo to create a merch line and provide styling tips for the Purpose tour. However, the fanfare doesn’t stop there, as we just learned Bieber is partnering with VFILES on a Purpose tour pop-up shop.
Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’ and ‘Life of Pablo’ Merch
First introduced to coincide with Kanye West’s 53-date Yeezus tour during 2013-2014, West’s merch efforts utilized graphics from artist Wes Lang across a range of controversial goods that featured re-appropriated Confederate flags. The merch line was also accompanied by a pop-up space in Los Angeles. Later on, limited drops were also introduced for performances at Glastonbury and the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, while artist Cali Thornhill DeWitt was enlisted to create a line of Pablo merch, goods for Paradise International Music Festival in Manilla and recent Kobe pieces.
You can also delve deeper into Kanye’s merch archive.
Yung Lean and Sad Boys
Earlier this year Swedish cloud-rap sensation Yung Lean announced his standalone line of SBE Gear. Sold exclusively via the Sad Boys Entertainment website, the merch consists of a range of tees, long-sleeves and hoodies, and features original artwork by ECCO2K.
Enjoy our more in-depth breakdown of Yung Lean’s style here.
Brooklyn-based hip-hop trio Flatbush Zombies can definitely be counted amongst a growing list of artists to release strong merchandise offerings. In the past, we’ve seen co-op releases from Flatbush Zombies x BAPE, but more recently an expansive range of Flatbush-branded goods was conceived, releasing via a Supreme-esque drop every Friday at 4:20.
In a recent interview with Highsnobiety, one of the group’s members Erick Arc Elliot noted “…all of our merch is made by us. We don’t have a huge company giving us money, this is fucking real and that’s why it’s limited.”
Leading up to the release of Konnichiwa, Boy Better Know chieftain Skepta revealed a range of graphic T-shirts and hoodies to coincide with the album. Highlights of the limited release included artwork from the album cover, and N.W.A.-style typography reading “It Aint Safe,” as a nod to one of the grime emcee’s previous releases with A$AP Bari.
Select pieces are still available on Skepta’s Shopify.
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Related Shopping Tips:
- OVO Image: Chelsea Lauren/Wire Image
- Main Image: Thomas Welch/Highsnobiety.com
- Travis Scott Image: Nico Amarca/Highsnobiety.com
- Yeezus/Kylie Jenner: Teen Vogue