The gold rope chain
The members of Run-DMC layered chains atop their black outfits, but to this day no one piles them on in more memorable fashion than the British artist Slick Rick.
This brand of tennis shoe --- especially the version with raised lines in the front (aka shell-toes) --- first stomped into prominence on the feet of Run-DMC, thanks to the trio’s 1986 hit “My Adidas.”
Jogging suits as everyday attire
Entertainment mogul Russell Simmons (left), older brother of Run of Run-DMC, has made this his signature since he co-founded Def Jam Records in 1985.
Door knocker earrings
Trio Salt-N-Pepa’s super-sized adornments (shown here on Salt) were even more prominent, thanks to their extreme wedge haircuts --- faded just so around the ears back in 1986.
Eric B. & Rakim sported these rings that stretched across fingers to spell out entire names --- and which occasionally doubled as brass knuckles --- when they made their debut in 1987.
Vanity belt buckles
Just in case a name ring wasn’t enough to identify them, Eric B. & Rakim, LL Cool J and even Madonna back in her 1983 “Lucky Star” days cinched their pants with these.
Often set off by lines drawn where a single part would be --- or for the truly adventurous, whole designs cut into the hair --- this tall hairstyle did as much to make Kid of Kid ‘N Play famous as did their 1988 hit “Rollin’ With Kid ‘N Play.”
The leather Africa pendant
Queen Latifah, the Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest and other members of the Native Tongue family wore these pendants in the late ‘80s. It made an especially strong statement, however, when Public Enemy’s Chuck D wore it as he roared “Fight the Power” in 1988.
Head-to-toe designer fashion
New York rappers embraced this look. But it was a Philadelphia hip-hop star (known then as the Fresh Prince) who famously arranged to fly himself and some friends down to Atlanta first-class specifically to spend his “Parents Just Don’t Understand” (1988) money at the Gucci store in Phipps Plaza.
Sagging pants — with boxers showing, of course
West Coast rappers like N.W.A. admitted to appropriating this look from prisoners in the late ‘80s.
Of course, M.C. Hammer (left) brought these loose, comically baggy-at-the-crotch trousers (aka genie pants) to the mainstream’s attention when he released the “U Can’t Touch This” video in 1990.
No one could complete their M.C. Hammer costume without them.
Hip-hop clothing lines
Natch. The designer labels started by artists and executives who first made a name for themselves in music include Sean “P. Diddy” Combs (Sean John), Jay-Z and Damon Dash (Roc-A-Wear), Nelly (Vokal), G-Unit (G-Unit), Master P (No Limit), Eve (Fetish) and new entrant LL Cool J (James Todd Smith) --- but it is Russell Simmons’ Phat Farm, established in 1992, that many point to as the leader.
Retro “throwback” jerseys
Just a couple of years ago, it seemed every rapper who let “MTV Cribs” in their closet owned a rack full of replica basketball, baseball and football jerseys. But way back in OutKast’s “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” days of 1994, they wore classic Atlanta gear. And Antwan “Big Boi” Patton is still “throwback” retailer Distant Replay’s best-known supporter.
The gold tooth
What was first a legitimate dental practice --- one that Queen of Hip-Hop Soul Mary J. Blige actually used to hide --- became much more when artists had stars and dollar signs cut into their gold. Then came removable gold fronts. Master P, flashing his mouthful of gold teeth, earned a regional hit in 1996 with “Bout It, Bout It,” only to be topped in 2000 when fellow New Orleans mogul Brian “Baby” Williams capped all of his teeth in platinum and diamonds, claiming to have, literally, a $1 million smile.
Customized tennis shoes
A more recent trend to evolve from rappers’ logo fetish is the Nike swoosh covered with the Louis Vuitton insignia.
Fitted baseball caps
This look trumped the widely available version with the adjustable strap in back. Most notable for the way they’re worn (at an angle). Jay-Z’s tilted Yankees cap always seems to magically stay in place, but it’s Mase who claims to have first made the fitted hat popular when he released his solo debut, “Harlem World,” in 1997.
Flashy diamond and platinum jewelry
Yes, Brian “Baby” Williams hired someone specifically to carry his jewelry. But no one wears carats better than Sean “P. Diddy” Combs. Of course, a nod has to go to B.G., who in 1999 introduced an anthem and the best-known slang for garish jewelry: “Bling Bling.” Nelly (above) also sports the look.
Air Force Ones
Not just a brand of Nikes, but the name of Nelly’s 2002 single. Here’s hoping the tennis shoe maker compensated him. After all, he did make his chorus the opening line for any Air Force One shoe shopper: “I-I nee-eed two-oo pair. Gii-ive me-ee two-oo pair . . .”
Button-down dress shirts
Thanks to the “Change Clothes” (2003) and “Yeah!” (2004) videos, the (often-striped) shirt worn untucked over a pair of jeans and topped with a baseball cap is referred to as “the grown and sexy look.” (A line in Jay-Z’s “Change.”) With a blazer over it, it becomes the “Usher look.”
A plain white T-shirt
Sure James Dean took the look to icon status in pop culture. Nevertheless, say the words “White Tee” these days, and hip-hop fans will probably start singing Atlanta group Dem Franchize Boyz’s catchy summer 2004 single of the same name. (They may also ask you, “Who’s James Dean?”)
The tennis bracelet as necklace
In hip-hop’s latest show of extravagance, Nelly appears in his summer 2004 “Flap Your Wings” video with two of them hanging around his neck. “A hundred thou couldn’t get you one of these,” he raps.
Naughty by Nature’s “grimy” look, as they called it, often included these mountain-climbing essentials — an enduring hip-hop staple worn year-round. Even, curiously, with shorts.
Known to those unfamiliar with the hip-hop parlance as the hooded sweatshirt. Trio Naughty by Nature literally put its stamp on the look when it debuted in 1991. “Hoodies” became a signature part of the group’s Naughty Gear clothing line years before Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and others got in the fashion business.