Hip Hop & Hair

By: Rashad Phillips

In the early 1970s, in economically depressed areas of urban America, Hip-Hop culture was born. Hip-Hop artists, who consisted of DJs, Emcees, B-Boys, B-Girls, and graffiti artists, were trend-setters. What was so amazing about Hip-Hop is that the founders of this art form used their limited resources and ancestral heritage to create a new form of music. While creating what we now call Hip-Hop, the artists were pioneers in music, fashion, and the hair industry.

In the mid to late 1980s, after Hip-Hop started to generate more mainstream buzz, artists such as Grandmaster Flash, Curtis Blow, Ice-T, Eazy-E and Ice Cube (NWA), and DJ Quick were rocking Jheri Curls. The hottest Hip-Hop artists were sending signals that the 1970s Afro era was over and that Jheri Curls were the new trend. In the early 1990s, some of the guys on the east coast who were critical of the Jheri Curls, transitioned from high-top fades to texturized hair box hairstyles. It wasn’t until the late 90s that the hottest Hip-Hop artists moved completely away from some type of chemical treatment on their hair.

Since its inception, Hip-Hop has been male-dominated, and many of Hip-Hop’s opponents were critical of the art form because the music and videos degraded, objectified, and sexualized women. Some of the hottest Gangsta Rap artists devalued women by referring to them as bitches and hoes while simultaneously glorifying their erotic sexual abilities. Also, some Hip-Hop artists were called out for promoting “exotic” looking women and excluding women of African descent in their videos.

For the last 15 years, the biggest trend or cultural shift has been the Natural Hair Movement. African-American women are getting rid of the “creamy crack” (a term that refers to chemical relaxers) and returning their hair to its natural state. Hip-Hop has totally missed out on the Natural Hair Movement. In the past, Hip-Hop artists took pride in keeping their ears to the streets, knowing what was going on in the barbershop and beauty salon, and being connected to the community. Where were the hit songs or the dope lyrics that referred to natural hair, the Big Chop, Sister Locs, and Bantu Knots? Where were the natural hair models in the hottest Hip-Hop videos?

I am a fan of Hip-Hop. Since my high school days, I’ve become more selective about the songs and albums that I consume. My top lyricists are Nas, Jay-Z, Common, David Banner, Blackstar (Mos Def and Talib Kwele), Andre 3000, Lupe Fiasco, Rass Kass, Sa-Roc, and Lauryn Hill. As a fan of the art form, I have the right to call Hip-Hop out for its shortcomings. The current group of Hip-Hop artists who are signed to major labels aren’t doing enough to support and uplift women who are embracing their natural hair. I’m not asking Hip-Hop artists to change their lyrics, educate themselves on the power of music, or give back to the community. I’m just asking that Hip-Hop artists support The Natural Hair Movement by showing Naturalistas some love in their music videos and songs. Let the people know that it’s cool to be natural. Once Hip-Hop puts its stamp on something, the rest of the world accepts it. So, put Hip-Hop’s stamp on the Natural Hair Movement so Naturalistas won’t spend so much time and energy defending their hair.

[Note: Rashad Phillips would like to commend Quality for his 2013 song entitled NA-TU-RAL and and Dead Prez for their 2011 song entitled Beauty Within. Both videos are listed below.]

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