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Comment- Fashion killa: why are rappers at war with their stylists?

The Guardian logo The Guardian 17/10/2019 Sam Wolfson

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

Rap beefs are nothing new, but the past few years have seen hip-hop stars apparently align on a new common enemy: their own stylists. In verse after verse, rappers are claiming that they no longer make use of professional clothes-pickers, implying that they are more than capable of going to the shops without special assistance.

The most notable entry in the anti-stylist movement is French Montana and Drake’s No Stylist, in which the pair claim that they have such sartorial wherewithal that they can wear “new Chanel, Saint Laurent, Gucci bag” without any need from outside advisers. The song, released in September last year, went platinum on the Billboard charts and has been streamed almost 150m times on YouTube.

David Grutman, French Montana, Drake and Fat Joe

David Grutman, French Montana, Drake and Fat Joe
© Getty

They are far from the only ones, though: 21 Savage (“I ain’t even f-----’ round with no stylist, I got too much drip”), Tyler, the Creator (“These f------ rappers got stylists, it’s cause they can’t think for themselves”), Kanye West (“I don’t see why I need a stylist, when I shop so much I can speak Italian”), Migos (“Flyin’ autopilot – woah! Don’t need no stylist – no!”) among others. 

A$AP Rocky perhaps takes it furthest on his track Shoot Your Stylist where he raps: “Man, I need a chain, Supreme and the Palace / Just a young n---- that will shoot your favourite stylist.” In each case, the rapper boasts they are so knowledgable about high-end fashion it would be absurd that someone else could give them better advice than they give themselves. But are they right to avoid outside counsel in this way?

Stylists have been a critical part of hip-hop culture since the 90s, following the rise of figures such as June Ambrose, who styled Missy Elliott’s famous vinyl suit in the video for The Rain, and P Diddy and Mase’s tinfoil jackets in the Feel So Good promo.

Yet it wasn’t always made easy for rappers. The stylist Rachel Johnson has alleged that when she was working for Ja Rule in 2002, Burberry refused to dress him for the Always on Time video. She bought him a Burberry hat anyway, and the brand became something of a hip-hop style trend, bringing the company a huge new stream of customers and revenue. It’s reported that, eventually, they sent him a thank you card.

Things have moved along a lot since then. The past decade has seen a close and symbiotic relationship between hip-hop and the big fashion houses, with A$AP Rocky the face of Dior, while Gucci partnered with Dapper Dan, arguably the original hip-hop stylist, to create a new line for the brand that was inspired by the bootleg clothing Dan made in the 80s, before the fashion houses shut him down for infringement.

Some rappers are making their no-stylist creed central to their brand. Lil Uzi Vert recently added “NO STYLIST” to his Instagram display name, telling GQ: “I got a manager that books my tours,” he says. “I got an accountant that watches my accountant. Even though I handle my day-to-day, I got someone that makes sure everything’s organised. Why would I ever need a stylist?”

There is doubt over the validity of these anti-stylist proclamations, however. “They’re nearly all lying,” claims Lily Mercer, who founded hip-hop and style magazine Viper. “I don’t know why – people don’t care if you need help and a lot of artists have stylists who are themselves semi-famous on Instagram.”

There are, though, she says, differences between how artists use a stylist. “Someone like Young Thug – who I consider to be the most boundary-pushing rapper in terms of style – he’ll have a stylist to pull clothes for him from different brands, but he’s the one who’s saying I want to wear a Molly Goddard sheer dress.

He’s pushing the look, the stylist is just a tool.” She namechecks Tyler, the Creator and A$AP Mob as others who have a big say in their own look, but claims there are some rappers who have stylists deciding their every outfit.

Rapper Drake © Getty Rapper Drake Search “#NoStylist” on Instagram and you’ll see young lads posting selfies in their loudest shirts and teens mugging to the camera to show their latest Forever 21 looks: the fact they don’t have a stylist is evident, but hip-hop has made “no stylist” less a statement of fact, more a state of mind.

Now ordinary people boast of it, not because they’ve turned down fashion advice from a professional, but because they have the mindset of someone who knows exactly how they want to look. So when 12-year-old Timmy from Idaho boasts that “no stylist” got him his SpongeBob bandana, you know he’s 100% legit.

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