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Every region of the United States that created rap music during the 1980s brought a different fashion sense to the art form. Fashion was a visual expression of how hip-hop entwined with everyday society in specific areas. Early hip hop styles in New York represented the look of break dancing gangs. California's fashion reflected looks of the Crip and Blood gangs. Southern fashion focused the eye on expensive items not normally afforded by the blue collar worker.
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Hip hop originated on the streets of south Bronx, New York with break dancing gangs or b-boys, emcees and deejays. In keeping with true b-boy style, every early rap fan with a jeans jacket spray painted graffiti and applied sequins to the back of it to represent their hood. Inner-city girls mimicked female rappers Salt n' Pepa's skin-tight, acid-washed jeans, single-sleeved and off-the-shoulder tops, stretch trousers, scrunch socks and high-top Reebok sneakers. Run DMC popularised three-quarter-length leather jackets, bucket hats, adidas track suits and shell-toe adidas. Every pretty boy wanted the girls to love them like they loved Ladies Love Cool J. His style included fuzzy Kangol hats, brightly coloured leather jackets, neat slim-fitting jeans, high-top adidas and suede Pumas.
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From the mid-1980s to the 1990s, the hip hop style of Los Angeles was coming to the fore with rappers Ice T, Niggaz Wit Attitude (N.W.A), Cypress Hill, Snoop Dogg, Mac 10, M.C. Eight and Too Short, many of whom were also gang related. West Coast emcees introduced hip hop to loosefitting khaki trousers, high-top Converse sneakers, large, boxy plaid and plain-coloured shirts and ever-popular white T-shirts, all of which were street affiliated. Rappers also abstained from wearing colours associated with rival gangs.
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During the eighties, Florida's Luther Campbell and the 2 Live Crew, Tennessee's 8 Ball and MJG and Texas' Scarface, Geto Boys, and the Underground Kings (UGK) were making an indelible mark on the underground hip hop sound. Fashion could not emerge above the censored, sexually-charged lyrics of the 2 Live Crew. As other artists emerged, however, their styles characterised their serious drug-selling and pimping lifestyles. They wore mono-coloured, high-end-label clothing, alligator shoes accessorised and mouths full of gold and gem-laden teeth and ostentatious jewellery. Southern hip hop style characterised fast-money fashion long before the late 90s bling culture.
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Jewellery was so central to early hip-hop fashion that recreating the look is not complete without the accessories. Gold was the predominant metal and jewels and gems that characterise late-90s bling culture were not popular. Men and women wore four- and three-finger gold rings. Large rope and wide herringbone neck chains were associated with wealth. Girls often had nose rings and wore up to five earrings on one lobe. Popularised by L.L. Cool J's song, "Jingling Baby," girls also wore huge gold hoop earrings called "door knockers." The hoops were round, triangular, square and heart-shaped. "Fly" girls had their names written in gold across the middle. Some mashed hollow gold earrings with their fingers to prove their authenticity.
- "A History of Rock and Dance Music"; The History of Rock Music: 1976-1989; DJs, Rappers, Ravers; Piero Scaruffi; 2009
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