Fashion and music are inextricably linked. And they always have been, from Michael Jackson’s shiny glove to Pharrell’s vintage Vivienne Westwood hat. It’s not uncommon that a musical artist is the pioneer of a fashion trend, or even a fashion movement, it’s all about the universe the musician creates. And between Gen Z and millennials’ attachment to social media and penchant for the hip-hop genre, the interaction between fashion and music has never been so rapid fire. Cite Kanye West and his namesake brand Yeezy comes to mind; cite Tupac and one pictures a red bandana and gold chains.
These associations exist largely thanks to music videos, an art form in its modern form taking off in the 1980s with the rise of MTV. Today, music videos are diffused across social media to be watched on YouTube and other platforms by millions of fans, and with each album release it seems fans expect at least one or two videos to follow. Fashion brands haven’t let these numbers escape them: in Travis Scott’s music video for the song SICKO MODE, for example, he mentions the brand Nike, and has since been collaborating with the sportswear giant on their signature Air Force 1s. Moments like these speak to the power of images over fashion trends. So what are some of fashion’s major trends in hip-hop music videos in particular?
Fashion trends in the past year’s hip-hop music videos on YouTube
To answer this question, Heuritech analyzed over 600 of the most popular hip-hop music videos on YouTube across 2019 and 2020 in the US and France. Heuritech applied its in-house image recognition technology to do so, a method which allows for the detection of over 2000 attributes and products in each frame, like texture, color, model, and much more. Over the past year, five main trends stood out in some of hip-hop’s top music videos:
Of the music videos analyzed, 18% featured some sort of fur, most often worn on coats. It’s a classic look: big fur coat, ostentatious jewelry, hype entourage. In Dadju’s video for “Sous Controle” featuring Niska, the rapper walks into a mansion sporting a long fur coat before jumping into the song itself. In Yo Gotti’s video for “Put A Date On It” featuring Da Baby, Gotti stands at the head of a long dining table donning a red coat embellished with a fur collar. The fur coat is a symbol of beyond-rich, it’s why the look fits in so well with the hip-hop universe. Fur is a status symbol that’s stood the test of time, even in modern rap.
2. Neon & Fluorescent
From neon yellow to lime green, fluorescent colors were heavily featured in 2019 and 2020’s rap videos on YouTube with an 11% share. Featuring Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign, Megan Thee Stallion’s breakout video “Hot Girl Summer” is filled to the brim with girls in neon green, pink, blue, and more, with some of the set props even awash with fluorescence. Rich the Kid’s video for “Save That” includes children dressed in neon, dancing through a grocery store to the rapper’s music and even joining him to dance at times, equally dressed in a brilliant yellow. At times fluorescent colors tend to communicate a sort of futuristic, almost technological mood, while other times they evoke unbridled energy and enthusiasm. Rich the Kid and Megan Thee Stallion include neon colors as a way to transmit each mood through their music videos, respectively.
3. Tank tops
Call it what you may — singlet, string vest, undershirt, Guinea tee — men’s tank tops weren’t missed in hip-hop music videos. With a 10% share of the videos analyzed, this item was exclusively worn in black or white, typically with the rap-classic gold or silver chains to amp up the look. NLE Choppa’s “Shotta Flow Remix” featuring Blueface takes place at a backyard barbecue, where the rapper is dressed in the embodiment of summer relaxation: oversized jeans and a jersey tank top.
Denim is one of those classic 90s and 2000s trends, from oversized jeans to denim trucker hats. This year, the trend has cycled back in smaller proportions: fitted skinny jeans, with rips or even acid wash, are a major hit. The trend appears in 17% of all music videos analyzed, which is no small number. In Kaza’s video for “Béni” featuring Maes, the rappers are filmed in front of suburban buildings, and Maes along with members of their entourage are sporting slim, ripped jeans with oversized jackets. K Camp’s music video for “Ice Cold” takes place in a 90s-style house, and again, the rapper wears ripped jeans with an oversized jacket.
Checkers aren’t always an easy pattern to wear outside of prep school and 221b Baker Street, but this year’s hip-hop artists are breathing life into the preppy print. The pattern appeared in 11% of the music videos analyzed, often on flannel overshirts and jackets. Kpoint’s “Ma 6t a craqué” featuring Ninho, and DaBaby’s “Find My Way” are two videos in which both rappers appear in red and black checkered overshirts, à la Kurt Cobain. In Kodak Black’s “Calling My Spirit,” the women featured in the video sport black-and-white checkered jumpsuits.
Hip-hop meets high fashion
And when it comes to analyzing fashion trends, hip-hop music videos are a good place to look, particularly those posted to YouTube. In Nielsen Music’s 2020 mid-year report, the music sales tracking company reported that hip-hop is the top genre in the US and France this year. It’s not surprising given that the two countries are the top two producers of hip-hop in the world, which also helps to explain luxury brands’ interest in rappers and their videos. In the last two years alone, brands from Louis Vuitton to Saint Laurent have released rap-fronted campaigns to draw in younger customers. “It is from rap and music video that followers are able to determine and validate their assumptions about their lifestyle decisions, including apparel expressions,” states Cornell Professor Van Dyk Lewis.
And the list of collaborations between rappers and designers thanks to their lyrics and music videos is seemingly exhaustive, dating back to even the 80s. Run-DMC’s 1986 song My Adidas scored the group a million-dollar endorsement, a deal unheard of at the time. Since, the list has only grown, including Versace collabing with 2 Chainz on a sneaker, Dior selecting S.Pri Noir as the face of a fragrance campaign, and Chanel partnering with Pharrell on a 2019 collection. Consumers see these collaborations, and they want what they see. Genius notes that in 2018, “the three most-referenced fashion brands–Fendi, Balenciaga, and Gucci–were called out 664 times in rap and R&B songs.” While fashion and music is no one-way street, can anyone be surprised that these brands are some of the most-desired by younger consumers today?
The power of music videos in hip-hop’s fashion trends
Fashion and music exist in mutual creativity, and it’s clear that their expression is often appreciated via music video. These videos seem frozen in time when one looks back, and in a way they are fashion’s living archives.
When Ja Rule wore a rare Burberry bucket hat in his music video for “Always on Time,” many fans of hip-hop discovered the famous tartan pattern for the first time, and the brand has been present in rappers’ outfits ever since. When A$AP Rocky wore and mentioned Dior in more than a few of his music videos, he became a face of Dior Homme shortly thereafter in 2016. When PNL appeared in custom Off-White in their music video for “Au DD,” a capsule collection between the French rap duo and Virgil Abloh was announced not long after.
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There are seemingly endless instances of rappers mixing with high fashion, and more and more, it seems to go the other way around, with brands instead approaching rappers. The reach of these artists on fashion trends is further backed by Heuritech’s analysis of the past year’s top five trends drawn from hip-hop’s top music videos on YouTube: fur, neon, tank tops, denim, and checkered.