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Hip-Hop With and Without the Hyphen

As Busta Rhymes’ and Jermaine Dupri’s steady hip-hop beats pulsed in the background, hip-hop hybrid ensembles strutted across the arena while flashes of iconic black artists filled the throbbing lecture hall.
On Wednesday, Feb. 22 in the Engineering Lecture Hall, the Afrikan Student Union hosted its first annual Black Fashion Show. The event was co-hosted by ASU board members Nakia Hale, a third-year criminology, law and society major and ASU co-outreach coordinator, and James Grant, a third-year mechanical engineering major and ASU events coordinator. Ashton Chaney, a fourth-year psychology major, provided the music for the event as the DJ.
The outfits were modeled by ASU members and organized into five styles of modern urban dress: hip-hop, casual, business/formal, African attire and clubbing attire. Hale and Grant introduced each style with a short skit explaining the significance of each mode of dress.
The show, as part of Afrikan Consciousness Quarter, was the first for ASU. It reflected an evolution of African-American fashion from the gritty urban aesthetics of hip-hop, (with the hyphen) and a hybrid form of the lighter, more casual skater/surfer styles of California to the traditional African attire: hip hop without the hyphen. Hale, who also helped planned the event wanted to tie in more modern themes of ‘blackness’ through the fashion show.
‘[Afrikan Consciousness Quarter] consists of events making all people, including ourselves, aware about where we come from, who we are and what we stand for,’ Hale said. ‘Blacks are completely underrepresented on this campus and we just want to make sure that people are getting some kind of an idea of our presence and culture. ASU decided to have the show because we wanted to see all sides of black people.’
The show started with form-fitting hip-hop fashions from Rocawear for ladies and skater-inspired ensembles for men. The outfits demonstrated a maturity of the forms in which black hip-hop culture has come to represent itself—not just with do-rags, baggy pants and other hackneyed trends, but with classic pieces like blazers, polos and slacks with a sense of African culture.
‘It’s not just about conforming to an idea of hip-hop. It’s about being confident and expressing your individuality,’ Grant said.
ASU also included more formal business wear which consisted of matching suits and pinstriped button-up shirts, all in nontraditional colors but still maintaining an air of professionalism, free from sneakers, casual jackets and flashy label-covered shirts.
‘We wanted to make sure that no part of our culture was left untouched at some point in this quarter. We feel that fashion is a really big part of our culture, from Nikes to suits to African attire,’ Hale said.
The show also included a game in which audience volunteers were asked to guess the price of a casual outfit consisting of a pair of Seven jeans, Puma tennis shoes and a LeTigre shirt The contestant with the closest bid received a South Coast Plaza gift certificate for $25.
Brittany Gray, a third-year psychology major, greatly enjoyed the show.
‘I thought that the show was phenomenal. It completely exceeded my expectations. I learned that black and hip-hop fashion is broadening its horizon by incorporating style and fashion from all over the world. I particularly enjoyed the slides that showed different celebrity fashions,’ Gray said.
The African attire portion of the show included traditional ladies’ handmade one- and two-piece outfits in bright colors and ethnic print patterned cloth. The wide neckline and narrow body of the Kaba (top) complemented by the slim design of the sllit (skirt) are standard features of a Ghanaian wardrobe. Also featured was a bubu, which is a caftan-like one-piece dress with large embellished sleeves and a long open body.
The final section of the show, entitled ‘Clubbin,” consisted of a mixture of hip-hop and casual attire all designed to make the wearer stand out in the dark atmosphere of the club.
‘In the club you want to make an entrance. It doesn’t just have to be a white tee and some tennis shoes. Clubbing clothes cross boundaries and pull from all over the earth,’ Grant said.
After attempts to gain sponsorship for the show, ASU decided to throw it independently, providing their own clothes and models.
‘The models, who were all UCI students, wore all their own clothes. I personally feel that it came out really well that way. It really gave the audience a chance to see so many individual styles,’ Hale said.
The show not only countered some African-American fashion taboos but also showed that hip-hop fashion is not all about flash and bling.
‘I hope that [students] learned that black is beautiful and that black fashion is what you make it,’ Hale said. ‘There were so many different styles represented and I really hope that it made people feel comfort in their uniqueness. For those who don’t know firsthand what black fashion is about, I hope they got a better understanding of why we wear what we wear and how much our clothes represent who and what we are.’
Fashion has become an important part of the African-American community and is considered to reach beyond labels, which show a certain confidence and financial stability, but also to personality.
‘African-American culture is reflected through fashion by our style. For many black people, clothing is more than just a type of dress. We put our hearts and souls into the way we dress because we don’t want to be represented wrongly,’ Hale said.
Jahna Nicks, a fourth-year psychology and social behavior major, found inspiration in the wide range of African-American clothing.
‘I enjoyed the presentation of unique fashion,’ Nicks said. ‘The displays of different event attire really sparked my interest. It is always nice to see how people express themselves through their sense of fashion. I really enjoyed the business-formal presentation, as well.’
The event follows a series of other Afrikan Consciousness Quarter functions, which included an African music night and a candlelight vigil in honor of Coretta Scott King.