Welcome to Conversations, Highsnobiety’s podcast series where we discuss topics and trends with the people shaping today’s scene.

“It ain’t no Ralph though. It ain’t Ralph level!”

Could anyone forget Kanye West’s infamous 2013 interview with radio personality Sway Calloway? A frustrated West was venting on the difficulty of being taken seriously in the fashion industry. In response, Calloway offered some unsolicited advice along with the revelation that he too owned a clothing brand, which, in West’s estimation was not anywhere close to “Ralph” level.

The Bronx-born son of blue collar Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants, Ralph Lauren, born Ralph Lifshitz, would go on to pioneer an eponymous brand that has become synonymous with aspirational American luxury.

But what about West’s adoration? How did a one-time aspiring rapper from Chicago come to hold the Ralph Lauren label in such high esteem?

There’s a very good chance it can be traced to Brooklyn, New York, during the 1980s when a group of inner-city youth turned their love of Polo into a subculture that would influence the sartorial taste of hip-hop artists for years to come. They called themselves the Lo Lifes and they bought, boosted, swapped and collected rare Polo pieces with the same adulation a devoted nun reads a bible.

The group was founded by Brownsville bred rapper Thirstin Howl III, and recently he collaborated with photographer and director Tom Gould to chronicle the rise of the Lo Heads in the first-ever printed homage to the crew. Titled Bury Me With the Lo On, the book is the result of five years of work and features archival photos and key pieces from lifelong Polo collectors.

Howl recently paid a visit to Redbull Studios to host a panel on Lo culture and celebrate the launch of the book. We sat down with him prior to his appearance to discuss what the brand means to him and how the formation of the Lo Life crew influenced the very fabric of hip-hop. We also spoke to Ouigi Theodore of The Brooklyn Circus who was a self-professed Lo Head during his youth in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

You can purchase ‘Bury Me With the Lo On’ through Victory Journal’s shop.

Words by Stephanie Smith-Strickland
What To Read Next