The rap against designer wraps Opinion: Critics of the music didn't like the violent lyrics, didn't like the sexual lyrics, now they don't like the expensive-clothing lyrics.

December 11, 1997|By Roy H. Campbell | Roy H. Campbell,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

Listen to a rap song by Lil' Kim, Foxy Brown or Sean "Puffy Daddy" Combs and in between boasts of sexual prowess comes bragging about acquiring and sporting clothes by Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Moschino, Donna Karan, Gucci, Prada, Chanel, Ferragamo and even Tommy Hilfiger.

These songs have given rise to a controversy that surrounds Combs and a crew of other rappers who have come under increasing fire within the black community for their materialistic lyrics and lifestyle.

The sexual nature of their music has long been bashed, but this new backlash concerns their glorification of expensive designer threads.

Indeed, as rappers go, so goes the hip-hop nation. Seeing their musical idols wear designer clothes in concert, in public and in fashion-magazine spreads, members of the hip-hop nation, for the most part, adopted the flashy looks of logo-heavy designer fare.

A few months ago a black fraternity at Temple University conducted a symposium and likened the trend of flaunting designer logos to "designer slavery."

This fury comes about three years after the hip-hop set turned from sporting clothes by black-owned companies such as Cross Colours to dressing in the higher-priced goods of Hilfiger and Polo, with their $85 shirts, $100 chinos and $150 sweat shirts.

Thanks to designer-clothes odes that first hit the charts in late 1995 and picked up speed in 1996 from such majors as Notorious B.I.G., Junior M.A.F.I.A., Snoop Doggy Dog and Tupac Shakur, it became fashionable to wear chinos paired with a $300 Versace silk shirt or a $400 Moschino belt, or a Tommy Hilfiger shirt matched with D&G jeans.

Young women flaunted Chanel purses and a proliferation of designer labels.

Critics, especially parents, say black youths should be more concerned with education and community service and should be using their money for the greater good of the race, not for making white designers and white-owned companies rich. They also allege that the companies do not appreciate black consumers or support black charities and causes in the way they support mainstream charities.

A more insidious side of this controversy is the constant recurrence of false rumors alleging that designers most popular with black youths have gone public with racist remarks disparaging their black customers.

Hilfiger was the first designer to publicly rebut the rumor when a story falsely attributing racist remarks to him was circulated on the Internet.

The criticisms seem misguided. Critics apparently are overlooking one of the fundamental victories of the long struggle for civil rights and equality: freedom.

The price of full participation in this democratic/consumer-driven society is that people are free to spend their money as they choose, whether on Ferragamo shoes or a new pew in the church. The American Dream, to a large extent, is about materialism.

Rather than attack the values of youths, the critics should work to teach them to compromise, to balance their spending between material goods and investing in the community.

And there isn't anything new, in spite of the black-pride hangtag, to parents frowning upon clothes worn by youths.

It's the same gap that surfaces time and time again, with one generation finding distaste in the appearance and lifestyle of the succeeding generation.

Also in the mix is the general backlash that everything in fashion experiences once it reaches the saturation point. Like the Izod shirt in the 1970s, the Jordache jeans of the 1980s, and the Cross Colour togs of the early 1990s, chic loses its cachet once it's too popular.

Critics would do better to wait it out.

Rappers and their fans will move on to something else, and it might just be a lifestyle built upon black pride.

Already, the Wu Tang Clan, for example, is rapping a diss on designer goods.

And some young people are beginning to sport the baggy jeans, sweats and T-shirts of Fubu, Mecca and D-Lo, clothes created by black designers.

Pub Date: 12/11/97

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