Hip Hop and LA

You can’t talk about LA style without talking about hip hop. West Coast hip hop is a unique genre of music rooted in Los Angeles that grew in immense popularity during the 1980s and 1990s. But to fully understand the evolution of this art form, we must start a few decades earlier. The origins of hip hop can be traced back as far as the late 1960s and early ’70s in the Bronx neighborhood of New York. Racial and economic inequality and segregation still largely ravaged the nation, despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act, leaving many black and brown Americans in poor housing conditions with little job prospects in major cities like New York. African American, Latin American, and Caribbean American youth in the neighborhood began to create their own forms of artistic expression inspired by their experiences in the city. They invented breakdancing, DJing, graffiti, etc. Those elements with rapping, a unique form of rhythmic speech that often incorporates street languages and is accompanied by a beat, are considered the main pillars of hip-hop culture. At the same time on the west coast of America African American and Latin American youth experiencing similar circumstances as their East Coast counterparts began to create their own form of hip hop. Whereas on the east coast rapping was a large feature of the culture, hip hop in LA was heavily influenced by DJing and electronic music. DJs would manipulate vinyl records manually to give the music a new sound. West Coast DJs often incorporated electronic musical instruments into their beats, giving them a unique flare. Break-dancers on the west also began to integrate “popping” and “locking” into their routines, distinguishing them from their east coast counterparts. DJs from the south side of LA made a name for themselves in nightclubs and leveraged their fame into creating some of the first DJ crews in the region. LA hip hop artists began to create their own rap labels such as Rappers Rapp Records to rival their East coast counterparts, signing up young talent, many of whom would go on to become household names. In the mid-1980s gangsta rap began to emerge as a prominent feature of west coast hip hop. In the 1990’s west coast hip hop fully emerged as a legitimate art form of its own with some of the most famous rappers emerging from this time. Dr. Dre, DJ Yella, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and the Arabian prince would go on to form one of the most well-known gangsta rap groups, N.W.A. Their music provided a voice for the voiceless trapped by poverty and state-sanctioned violence and intoxicated many with fantasies of escape through drugs, sex, and money. Their lyrics were critical and crude, earning them much controversy and notoriety depending on who was listening. The crew eventually broke up, but that did not stop their influence. Their music would eventually cross over into the mainstream, further solidifying hip-hop as an art form.

Hip Hop not only influenced the sounds of LA, but it also influenced its style. Many hip-hop artists are known not only for their sound but also for their mode of dress. Breakdancers were known for popularizing the tracksuit as a staple of street fashion, as the outfit made it easy to move, allowing them to express their athleticism with ease. Long white tees, baggy pants, gold chains, and blue hats or bandanas became synonymous with N.W.A. Hip hop is an art form that embraces its African and Latin roots and the style formed by it does so as well. It was common for some hip-hop artists in the 1990s to dawn the dashikis, dreadlocks, ankhs, and the colors of the Jamaican flag. For women, hoop earrings and box braids became widely popularized in the 1990s and continue to be worn by millions of women today. Not only did box braids provide a protective style that was healthier for afro-textured hair, but it also was used to express uniqueness and creativity, with women often cutting them into different shapes and wearing different colors in their hair. Hip hop artists would use graffiti to paint murals, and their surfaces of choice were not just buildings. Graffiti artists would paint tee-shirts, jackets, pants, and shoes to create one-of-a-kind looks with their own unique touch to it. Having name-brand clothing was and still is popular in hip-hop culture. A name brand design like Gucci or Versace is often a sign of wealth and status, so for many artists, wearing a name brand meant that they made it. As name brands are often expensive, knock-off versions began to circulate widely and became even more popular in the culture as hip-hop fashion designers like Dapper Dan would use the designs to outfit clothing and even vehicles to create signature pieces for hip hop artists on the east and the west.

Maria is a writer at Enki Tech, a Downtown Santa Monica technology company that specializes in the development of high-quality, user-friendly software, web platforms, and mobile apps.