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From 'My Adidas' To FUBU, Fashion And Hip-Hop Have Always Matched Beats


RUN DMC: (Rapping) My Adidas walk through concert doors and roam all over Colosseum floors. I stepped on stage...


For as long as hip-hop has been around, it's been connected with fashion. This is, of course, Run DMC doing a version of their hit song "My Adidas." It's a scene from a new documentary out called "Fresh Dressed" which explores the relationship between the clothes and the music. NPR's Andrew Limbong has more.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: It's kind of funny that Sacha Jenkins directed a movie so focused on fashion considering...

SACHA JENKINS: I don't care - I'm not a fashion person. I could care less about fashion. I'm more interested in why people were wearing what they wore.

LIMBONG: Jenkins was especially interested in people of color growing up in poor neighborhoods. From the movie, here's entrepreneur Damon Dash.


DAMON DASH: The insecurity of not having anything is the only time that you can showcase that you do. Like, if you're going home - you got roaches and every 10 people living in an apartment, you know. The only way that you can kind of show that you have anything and feel some kind of a status is, you know, what you have on your body. What you have on your body is a reflection of how you're economically doing.

LIMBONG: And if you're coming up in the South Bronx in the early-70s like Grandmaster Flash, chances are you're not doing great.


GRANDMASTER FLASH: (Rapping) It's like a jungle sometimes. It makes me wonder how I keep from going under. It's like a jungle sometimes. It makes me wonder how I keep from going under.

LIMBONG: The movie jumps through early hip-hop artists like Gil Scott-Heron, Afrika Bambaataa, Melle Mel - the classics. And it traces the influences of outlaw movies like "Easy Rider," inspiring people to remix their denim jackets - covering them in hand sewn patches - up until you get to B-Boy stylings, and then the airbrushed shirts. And then the 90s happened.


WILL SMITH: (Rapping) Now, this is a story all about how my life got flipped turned upside-down, and I'd like a minute - just sit right there. I'll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel Air.

LIMBONG: Hip-hop fashion went mainstream - big, colorful black designers got featured on TV. Just how mainstream? Well, if you want, you can find photos of the boy band 'N Sync posing in Fubu gear - and just for reference, Fubu stands for For Us By Us. Sacha Jenkins says, this is when you start seeing more black-owned brands - like Sean John, Phat Farm, Rocawear - pop up.

JENKINS: There was a really rich period where, you know, the film traces - there's this whole family tree of A - how all these brands were connected; and B - the money that they generated from the success of these brands was staggering.

LIMBONG: But that bubble eventually burst.

JENKINS: You flash forward to now and most of those brands are gone. Many of those brands were connected directly to rappers, and the point of the film was, there was this real gold rush, clothing-wise, where you had all these brands that were extensions of these artists and their brands as musicians, but there wasn't much thought put into the design or developing something that had a long life. It just felt like this, get in while you can and cash in.

LIMBONG: And today...


JAY-Z: (Rapping) Tom Ford.


ASAP ROCKY: (Rapping) I gets get the freshest, Raf Simons, Rick Owens, usually what I'm dressed in.


MIGOS: (Rapping) Versace, Versace, I love it, Versace the top of my Audi.

LIMBONG: According to Jenkins, there's been a shift away from black-owned companies and onto brands like Raf Simons, Hermes, Versace - which are, for lack of a better term, rich white dude brands. And he hopes that the movie gets people to take a close look at what they wear and ask...

JENKINS: Why is it that something as simple as fashion makes people who are being oppressed feel better about themselves?

LIMBONG: Andrew Limbong, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.