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EDITOR LILY MERCER DESIGN SKOUT + JOSEPH O’MALLEY PHOTOGRAPHY SAMUEL JOHN BUTT, LAWRENCE WATSON, GITA, PHILIP POST, QUENTIN X, SHAMA ANWAR ILLUSTRATION ADAM BLECH CONTRIBUTORS NICK BAM, GRANT BRYDON, LAURYN TOMLINSON, LAURA AROWOLO THANKS TO VIC MENSA, THELONIOUS MARTIN, LUCKI ECKS, MARTIN SKY, REMY BANKS, GRANDEMARSHALL, JAKOBI MCLEMORE
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO PART OF THIS PUBLICATION MAY BE REPROUDUCED IN WHOLE OR PART WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM PUBLISHERS. THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN VIPER ARE THOSE OF THE RESPECTIVE CONTRIBUTORS AND ARE NOT NECESSARILY SHARED BY THE MAGAZINE OR ITS STAFF.
A MERCER PUBLICATION
CONTENTS 15 CAM’RON’S CHAIN
34 THE SOUND OF CHIRAQ
Words by Laura Arowolo
Words by Lily Mercer
38 DERTBAG X GRANDEMARSHALL
Photographs + Words by Gita
Photographs by Philip Post Words by Lily Mercer
20 LAWRENCE WATSON Photographs by Lawrence Watson Words by Lauryn Tomlinson
42 DEATH PRECISION INC. X REMY BANKS
26 DARQ E FREAKER
Photographs by Quentin X Words by Lily Mercer
Photographs by Samuel John Butt Words by Grant Brydon
47 RAP MERCH
30 HIP HOP HIPPIES
Photographs by Shama Anwar Words by Lily Mercer
Illustration by Adam Bletch Words by Nick Bam TMP_RIGHT HAND PAGE ADVERT.indd 1
5/17/13 10:35 PM
Contributors What's your spirit animal? Peter Rabbit because when I was a kid I wanted to be Beatrix Potter when I was older. Which rapper do you wish was your dad? Bun B, as he's very level headed, a family man and accepting of the youth! Twitter: @GrantBrydon Instagram: grantbrydon Grant interviewed London producer, Darq E Freaker.
What's your spirit animal? A lion, specifically Aslan from â€œThe Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.â€? Which rapper do you wish was your dad? To be honest I'd just love to see my own dad rap as it's one of the last thing's I can ever imagine him doing. Twitter: @samueljohnbutt Instagram: sjbutt86 Samuel photographed Darq E Freaker for this issue's cover story.
What's your spirit animal? A Turtle. Which rapper do you wish was your dad? Kool Keith. Twitter: @YOUNGSKOUT Instagram: YOUNGSKOUT Skout designed Viper.
Contributors What's your spirit animal? My spirit animal is a lion. Which rapper do you wish was your dad? I don't want any rapper to be my dad. Twitter: @GITA_SPEAXDAILY Instagram: GITASPEAXDAILY Gita documented her first trip to London, with a disposable camera.
What's your spirit animal? My spirit animal is a tree. Which rapper do you wish was your dad? Christopher Wallace is technically my biological father. Twitter: @NickBam Instagram: NickBam Nick wrote Hip Hop Hippies, an article exploring the new breed of spiritual rappers.
What's your spirit animal? A cat because they are secretly judging people. Which rapper do you wish was your dad? Flavor Flav. Why the fuck not? You would get away with everything. Twitter: @LaurynTomlinson Lauryn interviewed her uncle, photographer Lawrence Watson for Viper.
VIPER IS A MAGAZINE BORN OUT OF FRUSTRATION. WE HAVE ENTERED AN ERA IN WHICH HIP HOP PRESS IS AT ITS LEAST INTELLIGENT.
SHOW RINSE FM’S ONLY HIP HOP SHOW LISTEN VIA 106.8 FM OR WWW.RINSE.FM/PLAYER Monday 1 - 3AM [GMT] Sunday 8 - 10PM [EST] Sunday 5 - 7PM [PST]
MAJOR TITLES HAVE BEGUN TO RESEMBLE PAMPHLETS, IN WHICH THE MAIN FEATURES ARE IRRELEVANT.
BOASTING RAP DINOSAURS ON A CONVEYOR BELT OF MAGAZINE COVERS,
THEIR SIGNIFICANCE IS DWINDLING. NOTICING THAT INDIE MUSIC AND FASHION MAGAZINES HAVE BEGUN TO COVER
HIP HOP IN A MORE THOUGHTFUL AND INTERESTING WAY, VIPER SEEKS TO BOOST UNDERGROUND HIP HOP AND THE CULTURE SURROUNDING IT.
NAMED AFTER A SLANG TERM ONCE USED BY WILLIAM BURROUGHS, VIPER IS DEDICATED TO RAP FANS AND SUPPORTERS OF CULT SCENES WORLDWIDE.
CAM’RON’S CHAIN WORDS BY LAURA AROWOLO
icture this - you’re chilling, passing a joint around with a couple of friends. During the unsurprising trajectory that is stoner discourse, the topic of hip hop’s flyest accessories surfaces. Undoubtedly, the Dipset piece comes up. Go on, try and tell me it doesn’t. Whilst many have favoured the two-toned structure of Juelz Santana’s set badge, we favour the specimen rocked by the Set's general, Cam’ron. The Dipset eagle pendant, in all it’s slight variations, is a staple when discussing hip hop’s greatest items of jewellery. Cam’ron’s Diplomat chain was a stand out amongst his many bedazzled bezels and diamond pieces. Unforgettably carrying off overwhelming amounts of gold, elaborately encrusted with diamonds, his Dipset piece surprising didn’t get much camera time. That said, among the rare photos available on the interwebs; Cam in the baby pink bomber leather, with the sweater and beanie to match is undoubtedly the best. Though it's rival, the shot of him with the black and orange flip cellies, his iced out eagle on a bead-style white gold chain, hanging loose yet prominently is another classic.
With his distinct rhyme scheme, the hilarity of his witty wordplay and larger-than-life Harlem style, the Diplomats frontman’s pendant was iconic. Not nearly as big as some of his other jeweled possessions, the crew’s signature eagle was covered in diamonds, with three, circular rubies laid beneath the head of the eagle and two below. Aside from the multi-toned chain and pendant, Cam also had the yellow and white diamond variation. With the word 'Diplomats' placed in clear white diamonds across the middle, the ‘Oh Boy’ emcee also had his own version of the white, emerald and yellow diamond slab, once worn with an all brown ensemble alongside Jim Jones. Further popularized by Cam’s line from the 2003 hit ‘Let Go’, the Dipset chain encompassed many of the cultural intricacies of the chain in hip hop: extravagance, gold-digging allure and street soldier certifying essence. The weight of Cam’ron's wellcrafted, overly indulgent ice solidified the crew’s insignia making it a sought after item, with fans going out to cop their own versions (in lesser carats of gold, and even wood). Shit I still want one! Even Just Blaze wanted one, sharing an anecdote three years ago during an interview with MTV, "I walked into the studio one day and Cam said to me,”You should've been Dipset'," he said. "He had just bought like ten Dipset chains, so I was like, 'I need my chain — wassup?'" Dare we say it, Cam’ron’s Dipset piece is a prime example of how Killa always brings a degree of taste to his street decadence.
though Harry Potter isn t a real person he's a character from a children's story book!
I really only took the picture
'cause of Stevie Wonder.
car or motorcycle.
VIPER GAVE GITA A DISPOSABLE CAMERA ON HER FIRST TRIP TO LONDON, FOR A VINTAGE TAKE ON INSTAGRAM.
A lime green car is saucy. I want a lime green
of I'm a f an
This picture is hilarious 'cause the illustrations are of icons,
A N D CO O L C A R S
T E c t I ur H C
another cliche picture! Look at the double decker bus guys, I'm in London everybody! To my friends back in Oakland, this is proof!
Junk Drawer Walking to a meeting, God knows where and I found this huge vintage marketplace off Portobello Market. There were all these pieced of jewelry
for dirt cheap. I think "vintage" jewelry is far too expensive in the States.
London the unde :rground it's interior
The Store that might be Boy London? Wild Things the movie was hella corny, but not the female lead stars, I was banned to watch this film as a kid.
is So 70s.
The trains aren't spacious like NYC at all. It was more sterile to me vs NY.
I love how it's decorated and keziah who did my hair was a sweet heart XO
Bleach hair salon is the bomb.
Boy London store? not sure, BUT This store DID hAVE a lot of Boy LONDON stuff, BUT it WAS closed. #Lame Dalston in East London reminds me of Brooklyn... like no lie.
in a beauty salon, I WAS looking for red hair extensions for the "Mardi Gras" video.
LAWRENCE WATSON Words by Lauryn Tomlinson
f you’re a serious music photography fan, you will have probably heard of Lawrence Watson. His work spans over 25 years and includes regular contributions to the NME. He’s been Paul Weller’s photographer of choice for the past two decades and is currently Noel Gallagher’s, shooting endless cover art and tour pictures. The only reason I’ve heard of Lawrence Watson however is because he’s my uncle. I knew of his photography primarily because he would shoot pictures of me and my cousins when we were young that are still on our family’s walls. I used to enjoy playing in his darkroom when I was little.
Of course I knew he was a prolific music photographer and I loved his Paul Weller shots. But as he’s such a humble guy it wasn’t until the release of his book, The World is Yours in 2009, that I realised Lawrence has shot every eighties hip hop giant you could care to mention. The fact the book was sponsored by Adidas - the uniform of the early B-Boy era - highlights the hip hop credentials that this white boy from Hammersmith has, and made me fascinated by Lawrence’s early life. I mean, when he was my age he was running around New York shooting the biggest up-and-comers (who have grown to be some of the legends) in the game. I sat down with him to go through a few of my favourite shots of his and get the stories behind them.
KID ‘N PLAY This picture was taken outside the Flatiron building, one of the first skyscrapers in Midtown. I find this picture quite funny because in later years, Kid actually grew his hair into quite a similar formation to the building that’s coming out of his head so it seems like it was a portent of things to come for him. When I took this shot I had been flown out to New York by NME to shoot someone else and in those days if you had a few extra days you would go to the record labels and they would give you any artists with a single coming out. It was great for me because I’d get tons of free records - I’d just go to the press office and clean them out of freebies.
LL COOL J I took this at a huge arena in Philadelphia, Run DMC were headlining and Beastie Boys were the support acts. It was a really great show, everyone had a lot of fun. I was sent down by the NME with the journalist Stuart Cosgrove. I was the only photographer in the pit and I’m pretty sure we were the only white guys in the entire audience. It did get a bit crazy at the end, someone fired a gun at the back of the auditorium and LL Cool J’s dad - who was his manager at the time - pulled him off the stage. It got a bit out of hand that night!
PUBLIC ENEMY This picture was taken on the steps of Def Jam’s office near Bowery in New York and I just let the two of them do their thing. Flavor Flav was great at playing up to the cameras. He really knew what worked for him and how to make a good picture, he was just a real character. Chuck D was a really cool guy as well but you could tell he didn’t want to play. He was going through a bit of a Malcolm X phase back then and there was going to be no tomfoolery from him!
This was taken on Bowery in New York just as it was starting to come up, although it was still a pretty dodgy area; CBGB’s was at the end of that road and the Def Jam offices were round the corner. They were quite serious guys, Eric B was actually pretty moody but I think Chuck D was quite flattered we were interested. At this stage they weren’t really getting that much press in the States and here we were getting flown over to shoot them for the NME. I think they thought it was a bizarre concept - a rock magazine from England was taking notice of them - but they had a lot of respect for it.
ERIC B & CHUCK D
ROXANNE SHANTE I took this picture in ‘85 I think, it was a promo shoot for her single, ‘Have A Nice Day Asshole’ and amazingly we found the badge [Pictured in another shot] in a store near where we were shooting. Roxanne was a lot of fun, she had a great sense of humour and really interacted well with all the props. She picked up the Penthouse magazine and had fun pulling faces and reacting. She must have been really young in this photo, definitely a teenager. I saw her a few years ago when Wall of Sound brought her out of retirement to do a feature and she was working as a nurse.
RUN DMC These pictures were taken at the same show in Philadelphia that I shot LL Cool J. This was around the time ‘My Adidas’ had come out and Run DMC had just started to become big news. Before this they were doing campus tours to rooms of like 60 people, so this was their first big tour and you could tell they felt they’d arrived. NME sent me and Stuart out there for four days mainly to cover them but we were two days into the trip with no Run DMC pictures. After the show, Stuart managed to grab them for an interview and I saw an opportunity to take some quick shots. The show was in this huge arena that must have been used for ice hockey or basketball for the rest of the year, so the backstage area was actually a locker room. At the end of the interview, Darryl (DMC) went into the toilet stall and I got this great shot of his hat sticking out the top and his Adidas feet sticking out of the bottom, then Jay jumped in and started having some fun. In the end, Run jumped in and we got this locker-room group shot.
FREAKER Words by Grant Brydon
FROM GRIME TO HIP HOP. RAISING THE ENERGY LEVELS WITH DARQ E FREAKER
cold evening in south-east London provides
anger-anthem ‘Next Hype’ was born, unbeknown
Bros. They seemed to match perfectly, even in the
the backdrop for Viper’s meeting with
to its producer, who ended up hearing it on the
grime producer Darq E Freaker. Best
radio along with everyone else. “For a long time
known for his unique fusions of the UK’s aggressive
nobody knew I made it. Everyone was playing it,
E is DJing a new night, ‘Set The Trap’, at South
140bpm style with elements of southern hip hop
but nobody knew it was me!”
East London’s Amersham Arms. Despite being
and trap music, we meet Darq E as he works on
As well as becoming a grime classic,
the headlining act, we find him already bouncing
the release of a new video by his group Nu Brand
the track’s hilarious low-budget video managed
through the moshpit on arrival, towering above the
Flexxx in their office. After chasing a pulsing dot
to transcend the genre and become a cult hit
rest of the attendees with his 6’3” frame. When he
on an iPhone screen for a while we eventually trace
with everyone from hipsters and students, to
does take to the DJ booth a couple of hours later,
his location. We’re welcomed into a windowless
hip hop heads and grime purists. It was even
he goes straight in with the tune everyone wants to
concrete room where the only real extravagance is
picked up by Chase & Status whose remix gave
hear; his collaboration with Detroit rapper Danny
an iMac. He turns to show us the video, informing
the track an alternative lease of life. Darq E
Brown, ‘Blueberry (Pills & Cocaine)’.
us this is where all his music is created. Darq E’s
attributes its success to the perfect marriage of
coat remains on throughout the entire interview.
energies matched in his beat and Tempa’s vocals.
an interview the rapper did with Pitchfork in
The night after our initial meeting, Darq
Darq E first heard about Danny from
Having begun his career as a garage
“Sometimes you might get someone doing high-
which he was paired up for an interview with UK
MC, Darq E began dabbling in production, soon
energy vocals on a beat that’s not high-energy, or
producer Joker. Danny revealed he is a big fan of
realising that it would be more lucrative to sell
a high-energy beat overshadowing someone that’s
UK production, namedropping Darq E and his track
beats to the countless aspiring MCs in his area,
cool, calm and collected, so I think the fusion of
‘Cherryade’. Chatting with Brown about the track’s
than attempting to be one himself. After making
him being hype and the beat being in your face,
creation, he reveals that he had been reaching out
the decision to focus on production, he soon began
made it a hit.”
to the UK producer for a beat for a while: “I initially
sharing and playing his beats to Rinse FM’s DJ JJ,
Another match of high-energy rap
reached out to Darq E early from being a big fan
his colleague at Uptown Records. “I would take my
against his hype production style came about
of the Tempa T ‘Next Hype’ song. I’d play that shit
beats in, after work I’d play them and he would mix,
when fellow UK producer, Sinden, put together
all of the time, so I hit him up on Twitter.” Danny
so he took beats home,” Darq E remembers. “Tempa
a bootleg mash-up of Darq E’s ‘Cherryade’
explains, “He didn’t know who I was, but then
T went to his house and took the beat that would
instrumental with Waka Flocka Flame’s ‘Hard In
maybe he heard about me from somebody else and
later become ‘Next Hype’. JJ was like, ‘I don’t know
The Paint’. “The mix came about because I was
he started being like, ‘Lets try and do something’.”
if you can have it’, but he took it off him. Took it
travelling to Atlanta for a show,” Sinden recalls,
Darq E sent a beat, Danny returned it with vocals
to the studio.” From that event, the notorious
“I had just completed my Gucci Mane mixtape
and in Darq E’s own words, “The rest is history.
DARQ E MANAGES TO PLAY THE TRACK FOR THE FIRST TWENTY MINUTES OF HIS SET
HE DIDN’T KNOW WHO I WAS,
BUT THEN MAYBE HE HEARD ABOUT ME
FROM SOMEBODY ELSE AND HE STARTED BEING LIKE,
‘LETS TRY AND DO SOMETHING’. --DANNY DANNYBROWN BOWN
‘Blueberry’ became an international hit, with the video blowing up first and racking up an impressive 140,000 views in it’s first week alone. “I thought the landmark would be it just being a cross-genre tune,” Darq E says of the track’s impact on his career, “But it became a big landmark. It’s a good fusion, he attacked the verses like grime and the chorus is like 2-step southern hip hop chanting. It works.” At ‘Set The Trap’, Darq E manages to play the track continuously for the first twenty minutes of his set, varying slightly with reloads and a live PA from Nu Brand Flexxx, without anyone getting tired, bored or complaining. The crowd maintain a high level of energy throughout, a testament to the hyper energy of Darq E’s beats. Having already covered a lot of ground, Darq E hopes to go even further this year, with plans for what he describes as a “David Guetta style album” of his instrumentals featuring artists from both sides of the Atlantic, as well as more instrumental EP’s and a second collision with Danny Brown on ‘Hand Stand’, on the latter’s recently released album, ‘Old.’ But having started as an MC himself, will we see him return to vocals? “I’m just touching waters to see if it resonates with people because I don’t want to overshadow the production. I’ll do mixtapes and see how the streets feel about them. I do love to rhyme, it’s fun, but I’m not trying to force it!”
Twitter: @DarqEFreaker Audio: soundcloud.com/darqefreaker
HIP HOP HIPPIES ∞ RAP’S NEW AGE OF AQUARIUS ∞ Words by Nick Bam
ip hop started out in the park with DJs H like Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa
rocking the turntables for their local community. The genre has since grown from its humble beginnings in the Bronx to be a global industry worth billions. In an era where ‘gangsterism’, “bling’ and ‘big booties’ have become stereotypes associated with the genre, there are a host of new emcees such as Ab-Soul, The UnderAchievers and Joey Bada$$ whose lyrical content points to a new epoch in rap consciousness, where positivity and intellectualism are promoted, just like back in the day. Producers such as THC, Erick Arc Elliott and Michael Ozowuru are providing the soundscapes for these rappers to spit knowledge over. Black Hippy are the new Leaders of the New School; Overdoz, the new Pharcyde; Children Of The Night, the new De La Soul and Joey Bada$$, the new Nas... maybe - he did get a DJ Premier beat. As Q-Tip said on ‘Excursions’, “well Daddy don’t you know that things go in cycles, way that Bobby Brown is just amping like Michael.” A lot of new hip hop music is not only displaying the intelligence and positivity of the Golden Era but also the
diversity. Rappers are starting to follow the stars and not just the latest trends. One of the West Coast’s brightest up and comers, Ab-Soul knows this all too well: “All I see is stars, I don’t know if I’m on the red carpet or on Mars.” This new age rap philosophy draws upon the influence of Black political voices such as The Black Panthers, Bob Marley, Macolm X. Plus offshoots of the Nation of Islam such as The Nation of Gods and Earth’s (aka The 5% Nation and NOGE ), The Moorish Temple of Science. Not to mention Buddhism, Christianity and Western & Eastern Occult and Esoteric philosophies like Shamanism and Archaeoastronomy. It also draws upon a great deal of the positive, intelligent rap that marked the early years of the genre: Rakim, Grand Puba, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, KRS One, Queen Latifah, Q-Tip and the young Nasir Jones. These artists all made positive, conscious songs that aimed to uplift the ghetto communities from whence they came. For example, the 1989 single ‘Self Destruction’ was made
in response to a murder at a KRS-One & Public Enemy concert. In the late eighties and early nineties it was popular for rappers like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul to make anti-drug songs like ‘Can I Kick It’ and to have a spiritual identity: ‘De La Soul’, means ‘from the soul.’ But nowadays references like these are rare in the hip hop mainstream. Unfortunately, the mid-noughties gave us songs like ‘Laffy Taffy’ and ‘Right Thurr’ that serve as a sordid reminder of the depths to which the genre can st00p. Some underground groups ‘sold out’ as they adapted their music for a more commercial route; a perfect example of the demise of conscious hip hop selling out to the mainstream can be found in the Los Angeles group, The Black Eyed Peas, who initially started out as an underground rap group in the late nineties, renowned for break dancing and a soulful, underground aesthetic.
They exchanged their B-Boy style for a more slick, pop look and arguably only achieved real commercial success with the addition of a blonde female vocalist in the early noughties, who told listeners about her ‘lady lumps’ and to “shut up, just shut up.” Since the release of their 2003 album ‘Elephunk’ they have proceeded to sell in excess of 53 million records. You do the math. Positive and negative rap have always lived side by side, it’s just that in the nineties the positive side was more prominent and tolerated, one could argue that it has since been eclipsed by gangster and pop rap and driven more underground. Since Nas pronounced hip hop dead in 2006, it has taken a few years for the next generation to revive and regenerate the genre’s bloated corpse.
This film introduced the idea of the Age of Aquarius into the public conscience and was very influential in helping to mould the anti-war, anti-establishment attitude of the Woodstock generation, who looked forward to the dawning of a more spiritual, harmonious age. There is much debate as to whether we are actually in the Aquarian age now or not, depending on which astronomers you ask. Whether we are technically in the Age of Aquarius or not, there is undoubtedly more spiritual, positive hip hop music coming out now than ever before. In 2012, Kendrick Lamar was named “Rap’s saviour” by Spin Magazine. His release ‘good kid m.A.A.d city’ was named Album of the Year by Vibe Magazine and went Gold in December We’ve come full circle, through 2012, only two months after its release. the shiny suits, crack rock and The album opens with a Christian prayer: Kendrick is inducting the listener bling to 2013 where LSD and ‘Grace’. into a spiritual experience, a ritual; his other psychedelic drugs are album is an offering to the most high. being used by MCs One of the only commercially successful rappers to talk about religion and pull such as Chance the Rapper to expand this off previously, was Tupac. ‘good kid their consciousness and get closer to m.A.A.d city’ is perhaps the first highly nature. In 2012 the world was said to successful Christian rap album. Whilst have entered a new astrological age: The Kendrick Lamar is a Christian and the Age Of Aquarius - representing a shift in album does have religious undertones, planetary consciousness, not the end of Lamar is not trying to convert his the world. A new ‘age’ is said to occur every audience, he aims to educate them on his 2150 years and denotes the average time life experiences in Compton, LA. What separates Kendrick from it takes for the vernal equinox to move from one constellation of the zodiac to the rappers that have come before him, next. This shift in consciousness, which is his lyrical honesty and the spiritual is meant to see the human race become undertone of his music. Similarly, Abmore environmentally and spiritually Soul, Kendrick’s Black Hippy bandmate, aware, can be seen manifesting itself in has made his occult interests clear in rap music in 2013. Often associated with songs like ‘Pineal Gland’, a complex hippies from the sixties and seventies, flurry of esoteric wisdom, wordplay and the 1967 hit musical ‘Hair’, mentions this philosophy. As he says on the song, “I celestial phenomenon in its opening song, might be tripping off that DMT/TDE, limitless like we on NZT/ I make my ‘Aquarius’: dreams reality, so to speak/Or so they “When the moon is in the Seventh House say, I could still be asleep.” And Jupiter aligns with Mars Then peace will guide the planets And love will steer the stars This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.”
The pineal gland, (for those that don’t know) is a gland situated in the human brain which is meant to be responsible for releasing the chemicals that induce trips and a dreamlike state, though this is yet to be scientifically proven. Drugs such as DMT and LSD interact directly with the pineal gland to produce altered states of consciousness. The pineal gland is sometimes referred to as ‘the third eye’. An open third eye is symbolic of someone who is particularly receptive to the spirit realm and awake to the realities of existence. Ab-Soul makes clear reference to altered states and hallucinations, induced by drugs on the song ‘Pineal Gland’, stating “We in a space where matter don’t matter/ Just spirit molecules and geometric patterns.” He also mentions the drug NZT, a fictional concoction from the film ‘Limitless’, which is meant to improve short and long term memory, quicken the reactions between synapses in the brain and induce lucid dreaming. “My synapses act like lightning, probably why I’m so enlightening.” The fictional drug NZT is based upon real-life Nootropics such as Modafinil and Modalert. In the past rappers like Snoop Dogg and Redman may have influenced fans to ‘Smoke Buddha’ or try ‘The Chronic’, but now rappers like Ab-Soul, Chance the Rapper and The UnderAchievers are teaching listeners about the benefits of psychoactive substances used to expand consciousness. On the track, ‘Enter The Void’, the Beast Coast rapper Joey Bada$$ joins Ab-Soul to muse on the pineal gland and what it represents: “Tell my momma I’m a shaman rhyming/ Jesus Christ and Shawn Carter are my only idols.” The track’s title is a nod to the Gaspar Noé film of the same title, which itself is a mind bending
journey that depicts DMT use and outof-body experience. Joey & Soulo are exploring the same themes as Gaspar Noé, but on a rap song. The chorus warns listeners to, “Stay on point - open your third eye, boy.” The rappers are urging listeners to open their pineal glands up to be more receptive of the spirit realms, “I’m doing drugs, fornicating and eating fast food/ But I know I got three eyes cause I’m looking past you.” They also tell listeners to keep their “motherfucking Chakras open”, the word Chakra derives from the Sanskrit word for ‘wheel’ and is said to be a centre of life-force or vital energy in the Hindi and Buddhist traditions of Yoga. If all of the body’s Chakras are open and spinning, this means that energy is flowing properly through all parts of the body and this can lead to a God-like state and even superpowers. Chakras are often depicted by different colours and depicted as flowers, for example Sahasrara, The Crown Chakra is depicted as a thousand leaf lotus flower. Also down with Joey Bada$$’ Beast Coast movement are The UnderAchievers, who put out their first release ‘Indigoism’ in 2012. The cover of which features a pyramid, with a circle containing sacred geometry, hinting at the esoteric and occult interests heavily present in their music. Ak & Issa Gold’s music is awash with forward-thinking spiritual concepts, and the title ‘Indigoism’ refers to the belief that they themselves are Indigo children, kids who are born with supernatural abilities: “I always incline the Third Eye/ Recognized since a youngin’ and the Indigo that’s inside.” On the song ‘Herb Shuttles’, Issa Gold explains that his “Third Eye is sharp like a motherfuckin’ hawk’, while on the same song Ak reinforces this sentiment, telling listeners he’s ‘Got three eyes open, Pineal gland is swollen/ Astral Planes I’m floatin’. The UnderAchievers are closely linked to their neighbourhood friends in Brooklyn, the Flatbush Zombies, whose music is similarly progressive and spiritually rich. They call themselves ‘Zombies’ because it’s said that their egos died whilst on an LSD trip, ‘I ain’t scared of death, that’s cause I already died dog’, Meechy Darko remarks on the track ‘Inf Beams’. These two groups along with Joey Bada$$’s Pro Era group, make up the Beast Coast
movement. Joey Bada$$ made a name for himself in the underground rap world in 2012, by reviving the sentiment of a lot of Golden Age hip hop such as Black Moon and Gangstarr. Though still wet behind the ears, the wisdom in his lyrics reflects a more spiritual age of rap: “To the astrals, welcome to my land; it’s your first OBE? / Tell me how has your body been? Spinning wheels / On the axle of my embodiment.” These rappers aren’t just showing off with their knowledge of spirituality, they genuinely want to uplift listeners, for example on the song ‘No Religion’ featuring members of Flatbush Zombies and The UnderAchievers, the hook states: “Stop tryna be Jesus, try to be better / Your chakra is closed, just raise your energy level.’ The UnderAchievers latest tape, ‘The Lords of Flatbush’, is out now on Flying Lotus’ forward thinking Brainfeeder label. Flying Lotus’ 2012 album, ‘Duality’, released under the alias of Captain Murphy, is one of the unsung treasures of experimental, underground hip hop. The entire project, from its accompanying videos and even the way it was put out online, outlines Flying Lotus’ new age philosophy. It was first released via free stream, followed by a 30-minute visual to accompany the music. This short film is made up of found footage: online clips from porn to cult eighties films, interwoven with clips from US cult brainwashing videos. The pastiche of clips, whilst creating an enthralling accompaniment to the music is also meant to induce a spiritual experience, not dissimilar to Gaspar Noe’s, ‘Enter The Void’. The great number of recognisable images and the speed at which they appear on screen compares to a drug induced trip or out-of-body experience (OBE). Although Madlib and MF DOOM have released albums under strange monikers before, what’s revolutionary about Captain Murphy is the accompanying crazy, trippy videos and the fact the release was free. The Captain Murphy project is awash with occult themes in
the lyrics, on the track, ‘Between Friends’ featuring Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt, Flying Lotus remarks: “Chillin’ with a shaman, eating ramen in a parking lot/ I brought a bag of dreams with me, breathe the kundalini in.” In Yoga, ‘Kundalini’, is a Sanskrit term referring to ‘coiled energy’ which is released from the base of the spine after deep meditation, resulting in enlightenment and bliss. Magic is not often talked about in rap songs so it’s interesting that Fly Lo mentions it here: ‘Imagine how the magic get/ (Klatuu Barada), I cast a spell without a magic kit.’ Magic or Magick, has been popularised by cult leaders such as Aleister Crowley, who believed that special words and phrases could bring about magical transformations. The phrase ‘Klatuu Barada’, originates from the 1951 Sci-Fi film, ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’, these words when uttered to the robot Gork, made him relent from destroying the world. On the song, ‘The Ritual’, pagan sacrifice even gets a mention: ‘Take a step forward, she didn’t even think twice/ Cast in the fire, sing a song of virgin sacrifice.’ It’s hard to think of another rap song which mentions such esoteric rituals. With influences from old sci-fi films to ritual magic, Flying Lotus certainly covered some unchartered territory on the Captain Murphy LP. For a while there have been conspiracy theories floating around about how the prison industrial system made agreements with the major record labels in the early nineties to promote gangsta rap in order to induce a ‘prison culture’
amongst America’s youth. Theories such as these are pretty hard to certify but what is certain is that ‘pay for play’ schemes in radio mean only acts signed to major labels get airplay. Traditionally, these acts have typically been more ignorant. But the Internet has allowed many newer, more positive acts to shine through and the cyclical nature of the industry means positive rap is now back ‘on trend’ thanks to the likes of Kendrick, Joey Bada$$ and friends. On the album, ‘Nu Amerykah Part II’, Erykah Badu informed us on ‘The Healer’ that hip hop music is “bigger than religion… bigger than the government.” This is a true and insightful lyric. Music, the one true universal language, has always brought people together. For the past decade we have seen pornographic and violent images dominating the popular rap world. Hopefully this planetary shift in consciousness will see more sagely, illuminating music like that of Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar and The UnderAchievers. Third eyes have never been this open. But I wish I could get this new fucking Drake song out of my head.
THE SOUND OF CHIRAQ
Words by Lily Mercer
THE MID-WESTERN CITY OF CHICAGO HAS BEEN HIGHLIGHTED AS A CITY BLIGHTED BY VIOLENCE. AND IT IS VIOLENT, BUT BENEATH THE SURFACE THERE’S A SOULFUL SCENE PEACEFULLY CO-EXISTING WITH THE ROWDY DRILL SCENE. Christened “Chiraq” by locals, Barack Obama’s hometown bears more than a passing resemblance to the Middle Eastern country the nickname references - if only in mortality rates. But unlike Iraq, Chicago’s music scene is flourishing. The drill scene is the jewel of Chicago hip hop, with its high-energy and heavy baseline. With a simple, short rhyme pattern, it’s the biggest sound coming out of the city, thanks to artists like Chief Keef and King Louie. But alongside this energetic, aggressive sound, there’s a gentler, more soulful scene emerging. Right now the golden boy is Chance the Rapper, a 20 year old with sharp observations on the negativity happening around him. His fellow creatives: Vic Mensa, Lucki Eck$, Kami de Chukwu, Martin $ky, Mick Jenkins, Jean Deaux and Noname Gypsy have the same peaceful outlook. And whether singing or rapping, they’re on the brink of a new wave of neo-soul influenced hip hop. Naturally these artists still touch on the depressing side of life in their city, though they never glamourise it. There’s an objective
view on the violence that is inflicted on their lives. Thelonious Martin, who grew up between Chicago and New Jersey, says, “Someone you know has lost someone, it’s affecting everyone even if not directly. Everywhere I go people are asking me about the violence in the city.” Even the friendship groups seen by many young Chicagoans as an escape, are marred by sadness as it becomes common to lose peers to the violence. As Chance states on ‘Nostalgia’ a song from his debut release, ‘10 Day’, “Round here we lose friends like every week. I like to think we playing a long game of hide and go seek.” Some of Chicago’s musicians were gang members themselves before their music careers took off, and the ones that weren’t, inevitably know people involved. It’s impossible to avoid it completely. Two very different artists like Chance the Rapper and Chief Keef have grown up in fairly close proximity to each other. Keef came under the spotlight with his video, “Don’t Like” which reached Chicago’s biggest rap export, Mr Kanye West, who remixed the track. Keef is seen by some as a rap villain, thanks in part to the public’s shock after he tweeted, “Ha ha” following the death of his rival, Lil Jojo. Despite the negative views some have of him, Keef is arguably Chicago’s most influential musician. But don’t let Kanye hear that. His symplistic style of rapping and repetitive Young Chop production have pioneered the dominant sound in rap today. Another rapper to be picked up on by West was the heavily tatted King Louie, who contributed the only featured verse on ‘Yeezus’. On the track, he comments on
the violence, void of emotion as he states, “It was real if it made the news,” a conclusion that you can easily comprehend when you consider that 506 people were shot in 2012 according to the Huffington Post. With such a high rate of gun crime in the city, it’s understandable that only the most serious offences make the evening news. And the sense of pride which you could assume from this statement, is chilling. His emotionless narrative is not uncommon amongst others from Chicago. Amongst the glorification that comes from rappers, it’s artists outside of the Drill scene, like Chance and Vic Mensa that are taking a more critical approach to their city’s governing. On the song ‘Time Is Money’, Vic confidently laments the issues he’s grown up questioning:
IF YOU GON’ DIE, MIGHT AS WELL DIE YOUNG TRYIN’ TO BE OPTIMISTIC WITH THE POLITICIANS CUT SCHOOLS, BUY GUNS BUT WHEN THE SHOTS IS LICKIN’ AT THE ONES THAT’LL LOSE THEY SON INSTEAD THEY SEND ‘EM TO PRIVATE SCHOOLS AND PULL BACK ON PUBLIC FUNDS WHILE FUNCTIONING AS IF THEY COULD BEGIN TO FATHOM WHERE THE FUCK WE COMIN’ FROM SOMETIMES I HOLD MY TONGUE, TALKIN’ FEELS USELESS I USED TO POINT IN CIRCLES FOR WASTED YEARS LOST IN EXCUSES The inquiring grief that often blurs into casualness observation that Mensa has accepted the Chicago way
of life. Later in the song, he admits that given the chance, he’d ask God the right questions: “Like, why you let babies get shot while babies is killin’? / All because the system that raised me from grade school made me the villain.” Besides this, it seems asking questions about the violence is pointless because it’s incomprehensible. There’s no explanation for why so many people are shot and killed each year. And so young people have stopped wondering and begun to accept it. Chicago’s murder rate is four times that of New York. Though the figures for 2013 are lower than they were at this time last year, there doesn’t appear to be a great deal of change. Over the long weekend of Independence Day on July 4th, over 70 people were shot, including 12 fatalities. Two of the non-fatal victims were aged only 5 and 7. Shockingly, this isn’t uncommon, with children often falling victim to traumatic injuries as they get caught up in the crossfire. Aged 20, Vic Mensa says of the statistics, “Numbers sound crazy, but I feel like we’re all desensitized to it [here]. People in other places just look and sound shocked. My girl told me there was a shooting outside of her friend’s house in the North Side. She heard a bunch of gun shots and it turns out, right outside six people got killed one night. I wasn’t even like, “Damn they got killed?” I was like, “They got killed on the North Side?” I don’t hear about that all that often. But you hear about shootings every week so you look at different ways of seeing it. It just seems a lot less severe to you unless someone close to you gets shot, ‘cause it’s just a number. It’s constantly being regurgitated by media outlets.” Mensa speaks from his
home on the South Side of Chicago, an area that has played its own part in the city’s criminal landscape as he explains, “I look out my window and I’ve seen shootings on this block and people have died on this block, people I know have died close to here. The little girl, Hadiya Pendleton, who was like the news of the world when she got shot, [was] shot five blocks from my house. I never gang-banged, that wasn’t ever me growing up and still isn’t. I think it’s stupid and senseless violence and killing, whats the point? But I understand it because people grow up not feeling like they have any worth and that life has any worth.” While some of the violence is linked to actual gangs, there are lots of armed teenagers on the streets of Chicago that are simply acting out of fear and self-defence. It’s easy to buy a gun there, so easy that Chance observes on ‘Paranoia’, “Round here, it’s easier to buy a gun than it is to find a fucking parking spot.” Similarly, it’s almost as easy to buy a gun as it is to buy a car. Though guns can not be legally sold without a permit in Chicago, they can be bought easily on the outskirts, which coincidentally includes the city’s rough South Side. “As a kid growing up I seen the elevation of how guns were used, at least in people around me, my age.”
37 Mensa explains, “It started out where a couple people had guns, even round seventh grade, eighth grade. A few people got guns and had access to someone they can call, a brother or cousin who has a gun. In high school, I remember the thing was shooting at niggas. Like, “Yeah I shot at they ass,” or “I fuck around and shoot at them niggas;” these are common things to hear. Then like 16, 17, that’s when motherfuckers really just start shooting people. There was a point in time, when you would shoot at people to scare them, now you don’t make the call, you got the gun. They really don’t shoot at motherfuckers no more - they shoot to kill.” Chicago has a rich history of gang culture, as the home of Larry Hoover’s Gangster Disciples and the rival Vice Lords. Housing projects like Cabrini-Green and others in the south side of Chicago were havens for young black men to make a great deal of money selling drugs in the seventies and eighties. In buildings, they constructed a surrogate hive, caving out walls to create passages allowing them to escape into the neighbouring buildings when under pursuit. If you’ve ever seen the movie Candyman, you’ve seen Cabrini-Green, as it became the backdrop for the nineties movie. The projects were eventually destroyed to allow for the gentrification of the neighborhood bordering Old Town Chicago, a popular tourist and college student hangout. With most of the subsidized housing relocated to the South Side, rival gangs like the Gangsta Disciples and affiliated gangs were moved into housing developments often with or near to Vice Lords or Latin Kings. It’s believed that this escalated problems, as rival gang members
became neighbours to their former enemies. Considering that today’s generation grew up in a similar environment, it’s understandable how the issues have trickled down into their lives. For eighteen year old rapper Martin $ky, the problems increased as he was growing up. “It wasn’t so bad as a kid. I didn’t really know about how bad it was outside of the block I stayed on. It was peaceful, and everyone on the block knew each other and looked out for each other. As I grew up though, it all changed and I eventually had to move to the ‘burbs. The city is really bad in some parts. In some areas, gun shots are a part of the day just like the sun coming up and setting is. There’s a bright side to the city though. There’s areas further north that are full of positive people.” There are obvious links between the violence and the music, such as the case of Chief Keef and Lil Jojo, which is said to be based on gang differences. Many musicians in Chicago have been personally affected by the problems caused by gangs. Mensa agrees that music has a positive role, but it’s not always therapeutic, he says, “At times, but it also propagates it too. The violent music and violence all rotate in a cycle and it’s not like the violence exists cus of the music or the music exists strictly cus of the violence. But they definitely influence each other. When people blame violence in the city on Chief Keef and them, it’s stupid to me because it didn’t start with them. They’re really just a product of that environment so I don’t know how angry you can be with them saying what the fuck they know.” $ky makes a similar point,
“IT’S ALL SOME OF THESE KIDS KNOW REALLY. THEY’RE JUST RAPPING ABOUT WHAT THEY SEE AND LIVE. IT’S A CYCLE OF FEAR. ACTIONS AND REACTIONS. Misunderstandings. It’s bad. You can hear it all in the music.” Lucki Eck$, a seventeen year old rapper from Chicago’s west side, says the link between music and violence has weakened “[It’s] not how it was last year. Like when Chief Keef gangbanged in his music, it was bad. But he had to change his content for the industry, so people followed him.” When asked what the prospects are for young people growing up in the city today, Eck$ responds, “I honestly don’t know anymore.” For a lot of young people, future prospects are dim, Mensa explains the significance of this, “I feel like that’s the biggest factor; life just looks like a dead end for a lot of people. Nobody in the hood knows astronauts. Niggas don’t really have a lot of hope or see too many avenues other than the ones that are apparent to them.” He continues, “I feel like
IT JUST CONTRIBUTES TO THE DISEASE OF GIVING NO FUCKS. That’s the biggest problem to me, that’s the biggest contributing factor to the violence, that young niggas really don’t care and if you don’t care about yourself, you don’t care about the next person and there’s no telling what you’ll do.”
He also blames parents for causing violence to be so ingrained in Chicago’s youth, “I feel like kids grow up hostile cus that’s the energy they’re raised in. Mothers on the train on the grade line just be smacking the shit out of their kids in the head like, “What the fuck is wrong with you? Why you ain’t eat those hot Cheetos?!” Motherfuckers grow up polluted. Family life doesn’t exist, fathers are absent. Mothers have kids mad young, don’t really know how to raise them or handle them so they resort to violence because that’s what they were raised on.” Explaining the bitterness that spreads from this, Mensa says, “It makes sense that’s the energy they give out to the world cus that’s all they been given. The school system is all abusive, there’s not a lot of love that people are raised with so they get older and they don’t have a lot of love because no one ever gave that to them.” This statement is supported by Thelonious Martin, “With any problems, we have to start at the home, making sure we raise the children the right way and making sure that plant the seeds for the future.” When asked if music has a therapeutic role in Chicagoans lives, he says, “I know it does especially with friends with Malcolm London, he’s a clear example of using your craft for good and not letting your environment be a limiting factor but something that helps you grow. It’s great to see how music can positively affect the youth, whether through poetry, music programs, or even just stopping by the high schools and passing out tickets to shows, music has always a release, and it’s great to see it working in a positive way.” In order to promote a solution, he suggests a program for young writers, “I’d say join Young Chicago Authors, that’s one of the groups that encourages kids to take pride in their words and know the strength of knowledge.” It’s people like Malcolm London that are attempting to change life for young people in Chicago. At the tender age of 19, London uses his poetry to provide a voice for his activism, which has even seen him participate in a T.E.D. talk. Like Chance, Vic, Thelonious and the other musicians mentioned in this article, he sees a future beyond the destruction that exists in his city. Refusing to be held back, it’s people like London that are likely to enforce the necessary changes for youth in Chicago.
DERTBAG ¶ GRANDEMARSHALL
Words by Lily Mercer | Photographs by Philip Post
Philip Post is a maverick. An 18 year old designer, he opened his first stand alone store days after graduating from high school. He counts your favourite rappers as friends. Dertbag is in it’s sixth year, having reached a great height considering the founder’s young age. Trademarks like the seasonal Cam’ron T-shirts and candy coloured tie dye prints have made Dertbag a favourite of Earl Sweatshirt among others. @dertbagUS @GrandeMarshall www.dertbagdesign.com
GrandeMarshall is the laid back Philadelphian MC that caught the eye of Fool’s Gold Records back in 2012. He grabbed their eye with his debut ‘800’, which featured several self-produced tracks. Since signing to the Brooklyn-based indie label, Grande has released the ‘Mugga Man’ mixtape. Still not legal to drink in America, this canine lover’s off to a good start. Dertbag is located at 1001 Main St. #21 Bridgeport, CT 06604.
DEATH PRECISION INC. X REMY BANKS Words by Lily Mercer Photographs by Quentin X
Death Precision Inc. is the brainchild of 19 year old Jakobi McLemore. Boasting graphics that hark back to the decade before the designer’s nineties birth, the brand is a an inspiring example of good contemporary street wear. With delicate athletic details, the products are functional and well-made. The monochrome palette is often illuminated with bright primary colours and retro tones.
With his cool, suave demeanour, Remy Banks is sorta like Mitch from ‘Paid In Full’. If he was an MC from Queens that is. Rising alongside his group, Children of the Night and their larger collective, World’s Fair, he’s the fashionable stoner of the team. World’s Fair’s debut album, ‘Bastards of the Party’ was recently released via Fool’s Gold Records. @DeathPrecision @RemyBanks www.deathprecisioninc.com www.remybanks.com
MI NAT IYO. T U MBL R
RA P M E RC H DO HIP HOP CLOTHING LINES STILL HAVE INFLUENCE?
n the nineties, rappers realised their influence stretched beyond music and branched into the world of fashion. After years of designer brands copying hip hop street style, it was a natural move as simple merchandise expand into full-fledged clothing lines. In fact, fashion history is full of trends that have sprung from black youth culture, with comedian Paul Mooney even stating that the African-American male is the most copied human on the planet. Of course it’s not just rappers rap entrepreneurs are guilty too, as Russell Simmons and P. Diddy have established successful fashion lines. It began in the early nineties when Naughty by Nature became the first rap group to start a line of merchandise, their baseballbat logo appearing on everything from hats to bedspreads. Many lines followed, most notably WuTang Clan’s Wu-Wear and Jay Z’s Rocawear.
TODAY IN FACT, IT’S HARDER TO THINK OF RAPPERS THAT HAVEN’T EXPANDED INTO CLOTHING, WITH EVERYONE FROM BUSTA RHYMES TO DMX TO OUTKAST CLAIMING A FASHION DESIGNER CREDIT DURING THEIR CAREER.
Words by Lily Mercer Photographs by Shama Anwar
Many brands have remained limited by the nepotism that boosted them. However, there are exceptions; Pharrell Williams’ Billionaire Boys Club is a fullyfledged clothing brand rarely considered as a line founded by a hip hop artist. Besides Billionaire Boys Club, one of the most popular brands created by a hip hop artist was P. Diddy’s Sean John clothing, aimed at a stylish but casual man. His white tees became as significant as the Calvin Klein white tee, but for a less preppy crowd. Equally significant was Russell Simmons’ collection, Phat Farm, Baby Phat and Run Athletics. The recent return of Phat Farm to the fashion market has drawn attention to the changes in the popularity of rapper-designed clothing, with some wondering, ‘is it still that time?’ For many brands, the celebrity status of their owners seemed to hold them back instead of propelling them in the street wear scene. In the case of No Limit, Akoo and even G-Unit clothing, these brands have become the mockeries of the Hip Hop clothing movement. But at some point they’ve expanded beyond their popularity in the streets, in the case of, Phat Farm and Rocawear, and in the case of Sean John, when it appeared draped across P Diddy in the pages of Vogue.
With musicians putting their faces to brands in a long line of sponsorship deals, collaborating with brands is a familiar aspect of participating in consumer culture, making it a natural step to create a new brand. The relationship between rappers and fashion brands goes back to the eighties, but the nineties saw the two collide in revolutionary ways, including the monumental occasion that Tupac walked for Versace in a fashion show. Biggie Smalls was a Versace advocate too, which he wore along with his beloved Coogi. At the time of his death, Biggie had plans for a clothing line, Brooklyn Mint, though we’ll sadly never see those results. Or a fantasy Biggie x Coogi sweater line, that would have inevitably existed in the collaboration world we live in today. More recently, brands like Coogi, Supreme and A-Life have built on their relationships with hip hop artists, including Jadakiss, Ghostface Killah and Prodigy. But the appearance of rappers in clothing brand adverts is nothing new, with Biggie having appeared in a Bathing Ape advert in the nineties. Wu-Wear became one of the classic rap-influenced clothing brands in the early nineties as the
Considered one of rap’s fashion icons, A$AP Rocky has said rappers clothing brands are corny, which is why you’ll never him starting a fashion line. In an interview, he reminisced on his favourite brands growing up, “I used to be into the Rocawear and Enyce and Ecko Unlimited, what else? Fucking Sean John and shit like that. All that shit was dope when we was coming up you know what I’m saying, but I guess niggas grow out of that shit. I guess the new thing is TRUKFIT so kids is gonna wear the TRUKFIT shit.” He stated with a tongue in cheek jab at Lil Wayne’s clothing line. While few are flourishing outside of their respective fan clubs, Odd Future’s natural expertise has seen them dominate this field. During their global tours, they open up popup shops in almost every town they perform in, selling obscure and original merchandise. Having begun their careers giving music away for free, today they’re making hundreds of thousands of dollars on clothing sales alone. The success of a rap clothing line relies on a strong artist influence on fans. In their heyday, the Spice Girls could brand anything with their logo and it would
Wu’s associate producer, Oliver “Power” Grant capitalised on the success of the group’s music. Forever starting trends with their references to brands and garments, the foray was a natural one. Undoubtedly inspired by Tommy Hilfiger and Nautica, the items re-interpreted the high end items worn on the streets, the brand logos replaced by Wu-Wear ones. The line stretched to women too, as they unleashed the tees from the ‘Ice Cream’ video complete with ‘French Vanilla’ and ‘Butter Pecan’ titles. Not all the members entirely supported the move, with Method Man being the most outspoken opposer. In 2009, he said to Blender, “When Wu-Wear started making shoes and sneakers and pants, it was shoddy material. I never rocked that shit.” Prior to that, he’d been a proud model, even appearing on RZA’s track, ‘Wu-Wear: The Garment Renaissance’ on the 1996 soundtrack to ‘High School High’. The brand fell off in the early noughties, but in 2007, the Wu teamed up with Alife NYC for “A WuTang Life”; a collection of custom sneakers, tees, hoodies and more. The Alife collision wasn’t Wu-Tang’s
only sneaker collaboration. 1999 saw the Wu-Tang x Nike Dunk High land on the streets, then leave again in an elusive blur. One of the rarest shoes to pass through Flight Club’s glass doors, the Nike Dunk High in Wu-Tang’s trademark yellow and black colourway hasn’t been for sale via the Manhattan store in over five years. The last time they did stock a pair, they sold for $5,000. Rap’s sneaker fetish has long since expanded into a million dollar empire in which the MVPs, like basketball, eventually expand into footwear. Sneakers have been a focal point in hip hop as early as Run DMC’s endorsement of Adidas. No Limit had a line of sneakers, G-unit had a short-lived moment, as did Jay Z’s S. Carter’s. More recently Kanye launched the precious Yeezy’s and Swizz Beats teamed up with Reebok for his Basquiat inspired line of shoes. More controversially, Rick Ross became an ambassador for the brand, until a criminally misogynistic lyric saw them drop him. Trust Cam’ron to take the rap footwear trend one step further with a sock line, complete with his own face imprinted onto the wearer’s ankle. Naturally it’s the photo of him on a flip phone in
the all pink fur combo. Alongside the predictable items, it seems like the more obscure elements of rap fashion are still in demand. Paul Wall’s love of grills saw him expand into the industry with his line of oral accessories, Grillz. Before clothing lines, fans only had tees branded with their favourite band’s logo, but the first rap-owned clothing lines opened the door to a whole world of hip hop merchandise. Today rapper’s must be more creative with branded clothing. In an era in which music sales aren’t as strong as the nineties, today’s rappers are forced to make additional revenue from sources outside of record sales. Touring, and its close ally; merchandise, are great avenues to make money from today. As we’ve seen from previous generations, there’s a lot of money to be made from rapper’s clothing lines. According to author, Michel Chevalier, in 2012 Rocawear was worth almost €500 million. The company is still stocked in Macy’s among others, and while Jay Z no longer retains control of the brand, he’s still in charge of marketing, licensing, and product development.
sell out. This was because girls all over the world didn’t just like them, they wanted to be them. While adult fans are less keen to admit that they want to be their favourite rapper,
THERE IS AN UNDENIABLE DESIRE TO EMBODY THEIR SOUND THAT ENCOURAGES MUSIC LOVERS TO BUY INTO A BRAND. It’s also a mark of a brand’s success to skilfully straddle the music and fashion worlds without appearing to be trying too hard. Looking at Odd Future’s skill at branding, they’ve managed to make cats, donuts and even random friends into recognisable elements of their brand. The seemly meaningless term, ‘Golfwang’ is so significant to OF followers that many have it tattooed on them. In an era in which many young adults grow into their own personal brands, this no longer seems shocking. The once surprising idea of a person branding themselves with a Nike swoosh tattoo is now tame. In addition to the genuine fads, fake merchandise has become as lucrative as the real thing with knock-off G-Unit appearing in markets across the world and faux Odd Future tees all over e-Bay. Counterfeit Flatbush ZOMBiES merchandise has been found as far as Miami. In part, this explains the downfall of many brands, as the once high-end labels began flooding the street in forged form. Throughout the noughties, brands simply lost credibility or lost a fan, as the artists became out of date in the eyes of their formerly loyal followers. Or could it be that a brand’s overall success doesn’t rely on the individual face of the brand but on youth culture’s desire to emulate the stars of the rap world? With this in mind, the industry relies on young people to want to be like their favourite rapper. But who doesn’t wanna be a rapper? Oh.
THE ACCLAIMED NEW ALBUM IN STORES & ONLINE NOW