One of the world's foremost collectors of all things hip-hop, DJ Ross One recently published Rap Tees, a consummate guide showcasing over 500 of the genre's most sought after T-shirts. Providing not only a valuable reference and style guide to these ultra-rare shirts, Rap Tees is also a unique chronology of the history of hip-hop.
Beginning with the earliest rap concert shirts from the Sugar Hill Gang and New York Fresh Fest, circa 1980-84, and spanning the next two decades, Rap Tees includes rare shirts from a wide selection of the who's-who of the business including: Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, Beastie Boys, Eric B and Rakim, Wu Tang Clan, Jay Z, Nas, EMPD, and many, many more.
Rap Tees bookends the golden age of rap with unique street-corner memorial shirts commemorating the deaths of The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. The elusive concert, promotional, and bootleg tees included in this book are nearly impossible to find on the open market.
To celebrate the release of his new book, we asked Ross One to list his favorite southern hip-hop tees of all time.
After checking out the list below be sure to also pick up a copy of his new book, Rap Tees, which is available now on Amazon.
Rapatron '87, 1987
This is one of the earliest Miami Bass/electro related shirts in the book. I believe Rapatron was actually a tour that hit a few cities, and this particular stop was Little Rock, Arkansas. It's super difficult to find an OG shirt for any of the artists on this tour, let alone all of them on one tee. It's pretty crazy to imagine seeing this lineup back in 1987.
2 Live Crew "2 Black 2 Strong 2 Live", 1990
There is a large selection of vintage 2 Live Crew tees in the book, but this is a bonafide classic from 1990. I distinctly remember seeing the group wear this shirt in the "Banned In the U.S.A." video, and having to listen to the tape in secret to avoid parents finding out. Everything 2 Live Crew did at this time was a slap in the face of their would-be censors, and this shirt seems to sum up that mentality pretty accurately. This shirt is constantly remade so be sure to look for the Luke Records logo on the back and a vintage Jerzees tag to make sure you're not getting scammed.
Geto Boys "Mind Playing Tricks On Me" promo, 1991
Hard to explain how important this song and video was at the time. It's like being a kid and watching your first horror movie - the imagery stays with you forever. For a 12-year-old kid in the suburbs of Ohio, the Geto Boys were simultaneously the toughest, scariest, and most imaginative rappers in existence. This shirt comes courtesy of my man DJ Kango from Tokyo.
Scarface Mr. Scarface is Back promo, 1991
I've always thought "Mr. Scarface" was one of the best 12" covers and this is one of the best rap tees. Scarface looking scary as hell while being one of the greatest storytelling rappers ever. Plus it's screen printed in red and white on a XL black Screen Stars Best shirt, you just can't beat that.
Luke "Cowards in Compton", 1993
If you wear this shirt in Miami you're guaranteed to have people stop you in the street and ask where you got it. "Cowards in Compton" is a phrase stemming from Luke's diss track aimed at Dr. Dre at the time. This is one of the only, and certainly the best diss track T-shirts I've ever seen. Miami really goes nuts for this one.. Everyone there remembers it.
Geto Boys "Crooked Officer" promo, 1993
Talk about a shirt that is still relevant nearly 25 years later. Geto Boys were a group that was never afraid to voice their opinions, and here's a perfect example. The back finishes the lyric "Why you wanna put me in a coffin sir?"
Rap-A-Lot Records, 1993
Rap-A-Lot was always on point when it came to promo tees and getting the label name out there, and this shirt is a dope example of that mentality after they were awarded Billboard's #1 indie rap label. These promo tees were basically social media before the internet. Get the word out any way possible.
Mystikal promo, 1994
Here is a super early Mystikal promo shirt from his debut album on Big Boy records. Gonna go ahead and bet that not many of these made it out of the 90's. Rare, and a piece of New Orleans history.
Outkast Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik promo, 1994
This is one of my favorite albums ever and the OG promo shirt is crazy rare. No frills.. Just a logo, album title, and "Watchu know bout dat" on the back. Pretty standard promo for a super important album. All of Outkast's stuff is collectable because the albums were just so good. This tee comes via Kirk Tilton at For All To Envy in L.A.
Master P Ghetto D promo, 1997
This is my favorite Master P promo shirt. I like that it isn't covered in diamond encrusted tanks. Very straightforward promo shirt, and in case you didn't know what the "D" in "Ghetto D" stands for, this does an adequate job of explaining it. Of course this shirt is a 2XL because it seems that ALL No Limit promos from this era exist exclusively in 2XL or larger.
Silk the Shocker Charge it 2 Da Game promo, 1998
It's a Ghetto Express credit card with Silkk's face on it and the phrases "Not for bail bond use" and "Valid only with use of force." This is a great promo shirt and obviously it's a 2XL because it's a No Limit Records promo tee, and, what else is new.
Master P bootleg, late 90s
Can't get out of the South without including one of these Master P bootlegs. By the late 90s the Pen & Pixel aesthetic had completely taken over the No Limit Records design strategy (along with many other Southern labels), and this collage-style mishmash of images became the norm. These were available outside of concerts, at flea markets, on street corners, wherever. Tons were made and they were inexpensive, but the quality was horrendous and the shirts rarely lasted more than a few months. Now they can fetch 50-100x their original selling price. Oddly enough, I think that these bootlegs have done the best job of encapsulating the spirit of that era in music. "This shirt is from the collection of Brian Procell in NYC.”