'The Tanning Of America' On VH1 Illustrates How Hip-Hop Changed Fashion

If you haven't been following along with VH1's four-part roll out of Steve Stoute's The Tanning of America documentary, that's OK. The whole thing is streaming online now, so you can catch up. If you're not familiar with the premise of the doc or with Stoute's 2011 book of the same name, the mini-series aims to show hip-hop's evolution from infancy to its current mammoth cultural footprint, illuminating watershed moments in film, business, politics, and (our favorite) fashion along the way with commentary from prominent minds and voices like Rick Rubin, Russell Simmons, Diddy, Nas, and Mariah Carey.

The episodes span from the introduction of racial issues and themes on American television in the '70s (by way of shows like All in the Family and The Jeffersons) all the way to present day. The first episode boasts priceless footage of a young Rubin (sans beard!) fresh off of founding Def Jam Records with Russell Simmons as well as throwback clips of Run DMC in the studio, recording their version of "Walk This Way."

Run D.M.C.

GIF: VH1

Run D.M.C.

GIF: VH1

The tracksuit and dookie-chain-wearing trio from Queens is also responsible for the very first hip-hop fashion collaboration: Adidas' $1.5 million endorsement deal of Run DMC, thanks in large part to the group's influence in reviving the three-stripe Adidas shell toes.

The second episode's major fashion moment comes courtesy of Dapper Dan, the Harlem atelier single-handedly responsible for the head-to-toe logo look that was so prominent in the late '80s and early '90s. So when you see something like Justin Bieber in a perfecto jacket emblazoned with MCM monograms or Busta Rhymes looking like a very expensive luggage set, that is the original reference. Fun fact: House of Style paid Dapper Dan a visit back in '89, but we learn in this 2014 doc that dude actually cut up Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Fendi bags and pieced them together into his bespoke oversized leather suits.

The series' third episode, though, which covers 1993 to 1999, is where the intersection of hip-hop and fashion really hits its stride. Tommy Hilfiger gives an interview in which he reveals that he would commute home to Connecticut through Harlem, just to see the trends. Kids were wearing their clothes four or five sizes too big for themselves? He started designing to it. Sagging and showing off your underwear was a trend? He pulled inspiration from Muhammad Ali's Everlast boxing shorts and added the classic red-and-white Tommy logo to a label on the front of his boxers. Hilfiger was one of the most prescient designers, in terms of incorporating and embracing hip-hop's influence on style, enlisting the likes of Aaliyah for his campaign or Diddy and Coolio to walk in his runway show at Sony Music Studios.

Coolio

GIF: VH1

Originally cultivated as a heritage Americana brand, '90s Tommy Hilfiger also has a distinctly hip-hop connotation to it and still manages to make through roads into the present-day rap landscape by way of A$AP Rocky and Nicki Minaj. Nicki also throws back to another big OG intersection point of hip-hop and fashion: fronting Viva Glam MAC campaign—a move preceded by Lil' Kim and Mary J. Blige and followed by Rihanna.

LL Cool J

GIF: VH1

With hip-hop style being such a driving force in fashion trends, it was only a matter of time before a brand was born with the explicit intention of dressing that generation. Enter Daymond John and a little company he named FUBU, "For Us, By Us." Daymond tells the story of that Gap ad that had LL Cool J slipping a "for us by us, on the low" lyric into his commercial rap WHILE wearing a FUBU hat. #bold It cost FUBU nothing, but provided a wider reach for exposure while also garnering sales dollars for Gap (thanks to people heading to the stores in search of FUBU). Daymond's casual line of humble beginnings has since earned its own status as an iconic American heritage streetwear brand, but perhaps even more noteworthy, it opened the door for the onslaught of rapper-designed (and -helmed!) clothing brands that followed.

The fourth and final Tanning episode walks us through this rapper-turned-designer phase of evolution. First, Russell Simmons broke ground with Phat Farm. Then, Diddy answered with his buttoned-up "from the block to the board room" Sean John. Next, Jay Z and Damon Dash followed up with Rocawear. From there, it's just a big fat snowball of overlap. Anna Wintour pairs Diddy with Kate Moss and Annie Leibovitz for a couture Vogue spread, Hov releases "Change Clothes" catalyzing a seismic shift in NBA and NFL apparel sales, Kanye West presents two runway collections at Paris Fashion Week, A$AP Rocky stars in a DKNY campaign, Drake sells his OVO line at Colette, etc., forever and ever until the end of time!

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