Photo by Steve Robertson
Hip-hop and punk were born at about the same time (the late 70s), in the same place (New York City), with the same rebellious and aggressive spirit; however, their fashion aesthetics have always clashed. Although there have been some instances of style cross-pollination—Public Enemy rocking Minor Threat gear, Lil Jon cloaking himself in Bad Brains apparel—rap stars have traditionally liked things loose-fitting, expensive, and flashy, while punks go for tight, ripped, and dirty.
Somewhere along the line that all changed, and today’s MCs look like first wavers at CBGB: The skater degenerates of Odd Future call themselves punks and wear skinny jeans, while the goth-influenced Harlem-based A$AP Mob are regularly seen in Ramones-esque biker jackets. The bigger stars are following the trend too: Lil Wayne went crust punk for a 2011 feature in Interview magazine, and Wiz Khalifa has been known to don a colored frohawk.
R&B kids are also going punk. Heartthrob Miguel sports a slicked-back pompadour reminiscent of Joe Strummer, and Chris Brown has appeared on the red carpet in a punk battle jacket. Surprisingly, his painted and studded jacket, which features the Exploited, Cro-Mags, and D.R.I. logos (and was first worn by Rihanna), didn’t come from a couture shop for the stars—it originated in the living room of Noel Austin, a 40-year-old from Seattle who owns DNA Fashion Designs.
Noel doesn’t even know how Breezy got ahold of his jacket. “I haven’t always been the most sane or sober person,” he said. “I’ll see stuff on the street I don’t even remember making.”
Back in the day, Noel refused to sell his gear to anyone. “I’d say, ‘Fuck off, make your own.’” But he finally caved in when he needed rent money. Now he makes jackets for celebrities for $6,000 a pop when he’s not creating gratis pieces for Poison Idea and D.R.I. “I want to sell all my shit to A-list douchebags,” he said. And Noel says that like punks, rappers and R&B artists want the authentic stuff. “They want to look rugged, like they smell of whiskey and cigarettes.”
Australian illustrator James Jirat Patradoon, who created the inverse of Chris Brown’s punk gear by putting together a battle jacket covered in R&B artists’ names, offered some insight: “There’s such a pan-subcultural thing going on; it’s easier to shift from one look to another.” After all, you can now buy bondage belts at Target and H&M.
While it’s clear from their music that some rappers actually get the punk thing, others are clearly posing. “If I saw a bunch of guys in leather jackets with mohawks, I’d think they were a boy band,” James said. “Maybe the new way to rebel is to wear a three-piece suit everywhere you go.”
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