The Jerseys That Hip-Hop Made Cool
By Stereo Williams
Hip-Hop and Sports have always been intertwined. The cultural movement’s love affair with sports gear — caps and jerseys in particular — is probably most apparent when looking at fashion trends from the ’90s through the ’00s. Certain teams undeniably got a boost from Hip-Hop’s infatuation with its apparel. Here are some of the most noteworthy.
Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels
At the dawn of the ’90s, no men’s college basketball team was cooler to Hip-Hop fans than coach Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Anchored by future NBA All-Stars Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony, and Stacey Augmon, the Runnin’ Rebels shocked the world in ’90 by taking down the hated Christian Laettner and his team, the Duke Blue Devils. The championship game was seen as the preps vs. the streets. When UNLV took the crown, the team’s gear became the go-to look for rappers and fans all over the country.
The Braves were famously mediocre in the ’80s when they were confusingly promoted as “America’s Team” by then-owner Ted Turner. But in the ’90s, everything changed. With superstars like Dave Justice, Ron Gant, Greg Maddux, and Chipper Jones, the Braves became a powerhouse throughout the decade, and you started to see the Braves jersey, Starter jackets, and the famous “A” cap on rappers like Phife Dawg as well as hometown heroes OutKast and Jermaine Dupri.
Having joined the NBA in ’88 alongside the Miami Heat, the Hornets didn’t really become a force until the early ’90s, when they drafted former Georgetown center Alonzo Mourning and UNLV star Larry “Grandmama” Johnson and went on to beat Kevin McHale’s aging Boston Celtics in the ’93 playoffs. Suddenly, the squad’s distinctive teal-and-purple pinstripes became a popular look for basketball fans — especially with rappers.
Chicago White Sox
The Sox were always the more preferred Chi-town baseball club over the celebrated Cubbies. And in Hip-Hop, the team’s gear became ubiquitous in the late ’80s into the ’90s with White Sox caps sported by Eazy-E and Ice Cube along with White Sox jerseys rocked by 2Pac, Chance the Rapper, and Snoop Dogg.
Shaq O’Neal and Penny Hardaway were the new-school NBA phenomenon of the mid-’90s, making Orlando Magic gear a hot commodity. The dynamic duo lead the upstart expansion team to the NBA Finals in ’95, and everybody was rocking the blue, black, and white-pinstripe color scheme. The jerseys turned up in 2Pac (of course) shoots and on Hip-Hop stars Wale and Blueface.
In the ’00s, the Falcons became one of the hottest teams in football. A brief fashion chronology: Left Eye famously rocked her then-boyfriend Andre Rison’s Falcons jersey in the ’94 film House Party 3; The Dirty Birds landed in the Super Bowl in ’98; and in ’03 the team drafted one of the most electrifying quarterbacks of all-time in Michael Vick. It all coincided with Atlanta becoming the hotbed of Hip-Hop on the strength of successful acts like OutKast, T.I., Ludacris, and Lil Jon. The Falcons jersey was a go-to at the height of the jersey craze.
In the late ’80s, all eyes were on the Oakland Athletics. The team won the World Series in ’89, left fielder Rickey Henderson was named American League MVP in ’90, and the Bash Brothers — homerun hitters Mark McGwire and José Canseco — were on the roster. It became arguably the MLBs most popular team over that stretch, and in the early ’90s, A’s caps and jerseys became the rage among rappers. 2Pac famously rocked one in promo pics with Janet Jackson for Poetic Justice circa ’93. Though not as omnipresent as White Sox, Braves or Yankees gear, the A’s definitely had their day in the sun.
Part of the Eagles contemporary legacy is that it had three of the most noteworthy Black quarterbacks of the past 30 years: Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, and Michael Vick. Coupled with Philly’s strong Hip-Hop scene and history, it’s easy to understand why Eagles jerseys have always been undeniably cool. Rappers like local Beanie Sigel and West Coast superstar Ice Cube have always repped the green-and-white proudly.
New York Yankees
OK, you can’t give Hip-Hop all the credit for making Yankee gear cool. The Yanks are an institution, the most iconic team in Major League Baseball, and one of the most recognized brands all over the world. But you can’t deny that rappers helped make Yankee jerseys ubiquitous in the ’90s, and, of course, JAY-Z has done a lot to make the fitted Yankee cap even more universal than N.W.A. made the White Sox cap. Yanks gear is a part of Hip-Hop now, so while rap can’t claim sole credit, it deserves recognition for keeping the pinstripes ever-fashionable.
Every NHL Team Ever
Mid-’90s Hip-Hop had a serious love affair with hockey jerseys. No, seriously — they were most definitely a thing. Remember the infamous clip of 2Pac spitting at the cameras after leaving court in ’94? He’s rocking a Detroit Red Wings jersey. How about Snoop wearing that classic Pittsburgh Penguins jersey in his “Gin & Juice” video? Phife Dawg is repping the Jersey Devils in A Tribe Called Quest’s “Oh My God” video; and Craig Mack is sporting a Tampa Bay Lightning jersey in the original clip for “Flava in Ya Ear.” Dunno how many MCs were actually going to NHL games at the time, but the jerseys were a staple.
* Banner Image: Jay-Z / Photo by Anthony Causi/ Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images