Posted on Jul 06, 2022Read on

How did Hip-Hop Influence Streetwear and Sneaker Culture?

Today’s article will address a topic that has been on my mind for some time. We all enjoy music, and I believe it is one of the most important aspects of our lives. Well, music not only has an impact on our lives, but it has also had an impact on the future of streetwear and sneaker cultures. Hip-hop is the music genre that started it all, but we will only go over the basics below. Enjoy!

DJ Kool Herc

Hip hop was born out of a reaction to disco culture in 1970s New York. Street parties were organized in New York in the 1980s by African-American and Caribbean immigrants who had settled in the area. These block parties became necessary in the Bronx, New York’s most famous borough, and hip-hop quickly acquired a more defining meaning. DJ Kool Herc, Grand Wizzard Theodore, and Grandmaster Flash were early hip hop pioneers who were seen playing hip hop beats on turn tables.

Grandmaster Flash

The “breakbone” was an essential component of hip hop. The practice of sampling existing music to create something new, adding different tracks and instruments to transform the original track into a brand new song, became the backbone of this genre.

The rhythmic delivery of clapping evolved from the practice of “capping,” in which two men competed with their words over a microphone to win over the audience. One of the most well-known terms, which I believe you are aware of, is “emcee.” This term is derived from the traditional acronym “MC,” which stands for Master of Ceremonies. During the DJ’s session, the MC mixed the records and pumped up the crowd with his raps. Rapping, DJing, graffiti writing, and breakdancing were the four mainstays of early hip-hop culture.

Jamel Shabazz's Image

Hip-hop photographers such as Henry Chalfont, Martha Cooper, and Jamel Shabazz documented the rise of hip-hop culture in New York’s slums. The b-boys and b-girls were the ones who danced over the beat at block parties in The Bronx and later in other parts of America. They were all dressed in the same clothes and brands. They wore adidas tracksuits and straight-leg denim with Puma Suede sneakers or adidas Superstars with fat laces. Kangol bucket hats and Cazal sunglasses were common, and in the winter, it was time to whip up a shearling coat or leather blazer.

B-Boys and B-Girls

Wearing jewelry, typically a chain, over your tracksuit set you apart from your neighbors. It was the beginning of a new flex, and no artist embodied it better than Slick Rick.

Slick Rick

Slowly but steadily, the style of MCs and rappers became dominant, and hip-hop became about more than just the beats, but also the style of those around them.

Punk and other anti-fashion movements were founded on anti-consumption and anti-capitalist ideals. This movement was fully embraced by hip-hop, which saw dressing up as its competition, with each rapper boasting that he dressed better than the rest.

What if I told you that rappers were not the first hip-hop fashion icons? Contrary to popular belief, drug dealers were the only people who could afford the items mentioned in rappers’ songs. A large portion of hip-hop clothing was influenced by what drug dealers wore. There were sportswear stores and old-school outfitters before streetwear boutiques that sold sneakers and workwear items like Carhartt coats and Timberland boots. But, because there is about, there was only one man who could’ve fulfilled your desire to be on top and always fresh: Dapper Dan, Harlem Tailor.

Dapper Dan and LL Cool J

Dapper Dan, born Daniel Day, opened a boutique in 1982, repurposing fabrics from popular luxury brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Fendi into street-ready silhouettes like tracksuits, and bomber jackets, and puffy-shouldered coats. For ten years, the boutique catered to some of hip hop’s most influential figures. Eric B and Rakim wore custom Chanel tracksuits created by the legendary Dapper Dan on the cover of their album, Paid in Full. The store was closed down in 1992 due to numerous copyright violations.

European fashion designers such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel were not the only ones to receive artist recognition. Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger began to gain popularity in the hip-hop culture as well. Nike and adidas were important sportswear brands in the hip-hop style uniform, and as hip hop evolved, so did sneaker culture.

Run D.M.C

The first step toward today’s diverse landscape of rapper/sneaker brand collaborations occurred in 1986 when adidas signed Run D.M.C. to a $1 million endorsement deal that included the group’s signature line. The story of how this deal came to be is fantastic. Lyor Cohen, the trio’s manager at the time, invited adidas executive Angelo Anastasio to a show at Madison Square Garden shortly after the release of their third album, Raising Hell. The group asked the audience to raise their sneakers in the air before performing their hit song “My Adidas.” Anastasio decided to sign the group after seeing how many adidas sneakers were up at that moment. Everything else is history.

Spike Lee

As hip-hop entered the 1990s, sports teams and Afrocentric colors, as well as early streetwear labels like Stussy and X-LARGE, began to enter the style conversation. Spike Lee, the director, immortalized the Air Jordan sneaker in his films.


The 1990s and early 2000s saw the rise of streetwear and “urban” brands inspired by hip-hop culture. Graffiti artists such as Mark Ecko, Stash, and KAWS used T-shirts as a canvas for their works. Russell Simmons and Puff Daddy decided to launch their clothing lines. Daymond John founded his FUBU label and had LL Cool J wear one of his hats and mention the brand in a Gap advertisement, resulting in a marketing moment that will go down in history.

Pharrell has been putting his mark on the sneaker and streetwear culture since the early 2000s. Pharrell was unlike the other artists. If artists had previously dressed in baggy jeans and tees, Williams was about to change that. On music sets, he would wear trucker hats, shearling coats, and skateboard-branded clothing. One of his interests was custom-made jewelry, and he had Jacob the Jewlerer create swanky pieces for him. Nigo, the creator of A Bathing Ape (Bape), would also come to Jacob to replicate some of the jewels in different colors, and Jacob decided that these two should meet.

Pharrell and Nigo

When Pharrell went to Japan, Nigo offered him a studio to work out of. Their encounter was about to change the face of streetwear forever. Nigo assisted him in the creation of the popular skateboarding brand Billionaire Boys Club, and Pharrell wore Bape whenever he returned to America, making it one of the most legendary brands of all time in the United States.

Bape became an iconic brand as a result of Pharrell’s stamp, and other labels took notice. Following Pharrell’s work on Ape, Supreme began to use wild designs and bright colors. This move by Jebbia’s brand established Pharrell as more than just a hip-hop artist, but also an authentic fashion designer. Pharrel received the Fashion Icon Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2015.

Kanye West wearing a Celine blouse on stage at Coachella

Kanye West is another man whose influence on streetwear cannot be denied. Kanye is a trendsetter, from wearing a Celine blouse on stage at Coachella and demonstrating that gender fluidity is part of streetwear culture to making “dad” shoes cool with the introduction of the Yeezy 700 “Waverunner.” But I’d like to point out that what he does is more than just influencing. He is creating the next big thing for all streetwear fans and hypebeasts. Creating hype for sneakers other than Jordans is one of the trends that will be difficult for anyone to set shortly.

Air Yeezy 1 "Blink"

Kanye was on a plane with Nike CEO Mike Parker in 2007. Ye had recently designed a sneaker for A Bathing Ape, and the confidence he gained from that collaboration inspired him to sketch a sneaker for the CEO on the plane. Mark knew right away that he had to sign Kanye to an agreement, and what a wise decision. The Air Yeezy has quickly become one of the most sought-after sneakers of all time.

Kanye West decided to start a new deal with the other juggernaut, adidas, in 2013, after becoming dissatisfied with his Nike contract. Nobody could have predicted what was about to happen as a result of this transaction. The Yeezy “350” and an entire clothing line dedicated to Kanye’s vision were introduced. Without hesitation, hypebeasts found themselves dropping $400 on a pair of Yeezys. Suddenly, Jordans weren’t the only sneakers that people were lining up for.

I often wonder what fashion would have been like without Kanye’s influence. Anyone can say whatever they want about Kanye, but no one can deny his impact on and evolution of the sneaker culture. Kanye West wore a leather kilt on his “Walk the Tour” tour, paving the way for artists like Jayden Smith and ASAP Rocky to flaunt their epicene fashion without fear of being judged. He designed a sneaker line that has been compared to Jordans. He began with a dream and converted it into a reality.

Since its inception in the 1980s, streetwear and sneaker culture have evolved significantly. Music has proven to play an important role in shaping the future of these cultures, and the touches and collaborations that have been created between artists and sneaker/streetwear brands have changed the movements forever.

Music’s influence can still be seen today, with collaborations from artists like Drake, Tyga, DJ Khaled, and others. What began as a fringe culture, with the printing of logos on T-shirts, is now a key sector in the fashion industry, embraced by all genders and ranging from luxury to mall brands. Streetwear owes its evolution to hip-hop culture.

As illustrated in this article, music is an essential component not only of people’s lives but also of the evolution of various industries.

Thank you for your time!