Any big historical and cultural change started from the ground, step by step, bit by bit. That’s what happened with Hip-Hop too. Its history, its great people, its message, its style: all these things revolutionized the world of art (music, dance, graffiti), fashion, sports and business.
This cultural revolution started from a bunch of people and turned out to be the most important social transformation from the movements of the Sixties till today.
Let’s analyze it from the beginning, where it all took shape. The Bronx, New York, Seventies. Dj Kool and Africa Bambaataa were the first dj scratching vinyl and singing in rhyme on a music base.The era of Rap – one of the disciplines of Hip-Hop – paved the way to a new form of expression that raised a simple party hood to the starting point of a revolution.
As we move ten years forward, the biggest brands on the markets started to compete to sign a contract with the best rappers on the scene. Sponsorship, advertising, events, shoe line designed by artists: all these things give you an idea of how much Hip-Hop influenced our everyday life. Two were the main channels were this revolution took place: sports and fashion.
The credit for the spread of Hip-Hop culture belongs in fact to the major American sports leagues, while fashion brands made Hip-Hop a real cult movement, putting it under the spotlight of the entire world with the help of media and artists.
The connection between Hip-Hop, fashion, sports, and business is the spark that made possible a global passionate development of this new cultural wave.
Hip-hop and fashion
It would be unfair to analyze the relationship between Hip-Hop and business without talking about the sneakers sub-culture. Let’s go back to the Eighties, a decade where Hip-Hop culture subverted any given rule in the fashion panorama.
Run DMC, one of the most iconic rap group in history, overwhelmed the worldwide fashion view thanks to their hit “My Adidas”. With this song, they turned the German brand into a real cult for Hip-Hop lovers. In many interviews, the members of the band talked about this piece not only as a tribute to an iconic pair of shoes but also as a musical representation of their spirit and the youth they were part of.
Sneakers became a real status symbol and Adidas decided to sign a sponsorship contract with the Run DMC. This partnership gave the brand a huge success and still today they have great testimonials such as Snoop Dogg, Missy Elliot or Kanye West, who even created a personal clothing line.
Hip-Hop was first seen as an unclear and dangerous sub-culture, but later in the years, another fashion brand turned it into the next big thing: Tommy Hilfiger.
In the Nineties, some companies such as Fila or Ralph Lauren were the main references for the Hip-Hop scene, until Tommy Hilfiger decided to focus its attention on this movement. The American stylist completely changed the relationship between Hip-Hop and fashion, starting to invest in this culture with a serious business strategy. His main goal was to create an authentic, lifestyle and cool clothing brand that anyone could wear in their everyday life.
From that moment on Tommy Hilfiger started to be mention in songs lyrics, becoming a real status symbol (Some examples: A Tribe Called Quest, Mary J Blige, Raekwon, Onyx, Wu-tang!) and changing the relationship between fashion and “the street” during the Eighties and Nineties. After a crisis due to some rumors about racist charges, the American brand is now experiencing a new wave of success in the contemporary music scene. The American company was smart enough to use the cyclic nature of fashion and implement a winning marketing strategy that could bring them to new sponsorships and investments in the music and art industries.
Starting from the Nineties Hip-Hop revolutionized style, fashion and design and many brands completely changed their business activities to invest in the development of products related to this cultural movement. It is interesting to see how big companies know that they have to follow contemporary trends and adapt to them their choices and interests.
Hip-hop and Sport
The fashion revolution of Hip-Hop was brought to another level by the sports industry. American professional leagues are in fact composed mostly of Afro-American players with a strong passion for Hip-Hop culture.
As we well know, the sport is one of the main channels for trends, especially related to the fashion panorama. The impact of Hip-Hop radically changed the professional sports industry in the U.S., making it the very first area of interest for worldwide sports corporates.
One of the most famous representatives of this culture was Allen Iverson, former NBA player who became a real Hip-Hop icon. Sports and music established a good connection with each other and many other athletes started to rap, composing songs and signing partnerships with big brands.
Iverson caused quite a stir with his piece “40 Bars”, which led in the early 2000’s the commissioner David Stern to set up a dress code for players.
Hip Hop culture had a huge shock wave and currently, we can count many players that test themselves with songs, try to design their own clothing lines or participate in advertising campaign together with rappers.
In the U.S., street culture became part of professional sports, creating a clear overlap between artists, fashion, and players. This strong relationship drew the attention of sports brands who used the success of Hip-Hop culture to create a new concept of business and develop a new way to communicate with a very specific and very young target.
Sports, business, and Hip-Hop: why is their relationship so strong?
On a business level, the cultural change that Hip-Hop represented is for us a great example. We have to understand that any evolution or social change must be analyzed and wisely used in favor of a business strategy. Sports industry was the first to learn this and it based many choices on it. Sportswear field was the most affected by this new business philosophy and many brands involved players and rappers to promote their products. Hip-Hop had the power to turn simple sports items into must-have icons, upsetting the status quo of the fashion scene.
What is really extraordinary is the economic impact that Hip-Hop had on the sports scene and, as a consequence, on many companies. Let’s try to visualize a hypothetical line of this movement: we could say that hip-hop influenced sports world, which was then used by big brands as a promotional channel for their products. So, fashion, Hip-Hop, rappers, and athletes are deeply connected to each other as a representation of the Style and social identity.
Brands that reach the top are the ones able to embrace a culture and adapt to it.
An example of a company who could do that is Mercedes. The German automobiles manufacturer took on the rapper A$AP Rocky for its project “Grow up”, developing one of the most successful extra-sportswear partnerships ever.
Another lucky example is The ESPN one. Worldwide leader in sports information, ESPN decide to involve Hip-Hop public figures to talk about sport. This move was based on the need to engage a specific target of their audience, a segment of users very young and very familiar with the Hip-Hop culture. This was an interesting project that once again shows how ESPN is a company able to foresee trends, both on a cultural and sports level.
What lesson did we learn?
Hip-Hop isn’t just a temporary trend: it’s a culture, a movement born to satisfy artistic and social needs. The use that companies made of it must inspire us and make us understand how it is important to adapt our strategies to social and cultural changes.
Streets were the cradle of this movement, while the sport was the sound box. Business was smart enough to join these two worlds to create a parallel universe made of revolutionary and fruitful activities that represented millions of young people all around the world. Brands took sports and Hip-Hop values and combine them into products and communication: as we well know, the result was of course mind-blowing.