Hip-Hop has impacted and enhanced every facet of culture since first emerging from inside a tiny rec room on Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx in 1973.
The DJ’s rejuvenated nightclubs that suffered from an over saturation of disco. The graffiti writers added colorful flourishes to city blocks. The breakers became the stars of cultural events. And of course, the MC became the authentic conduit to the streets.
Make no mistake, all of these men and women were style personified. But who inspired them? How did their personal choices give them the confidence needed to reach the top? And finally still, why does Hip-Hop culture remain the authentic reflection of Black excellence almost 50 years later?
We caught up with three men from different walks of life at the Old Spice Barbershop. MC's Big Daddy Kane and Flawless Real Talk — and entertainer, Shiggy, have all carved out their own unique paths. What we uncovered was a universal confidence and fearlessness that connects them all.
For centuries, Black communities around the world have created hairstyles that are uniquely their own — igniting cultural conversations about Black identity — that can be traced back to drawings and engravings from Africa. These hairstyles provided context as to a person’s background and social status.
During the Civil Rights Movement, the natural hair movement took hold in the Black community. Chants like, ”Black is beautiful,” — combined with the powerful silhouette of the afro — became symbols for not only hope, but progress, too.
Hip-Hop style icon, Big Daddy Kane, built upon this tradition of self-expression meets activism with his high-top fade which became a literal blueprint for millions of people around the world who wanted to look just like the Juice Crew legend.
As a kid, Kane looked at blaxploitation films like Three the Hard Way and Black Caesar as sources of inspiration. Jim Brown and Fred Williamson's afros exuded masculinity and confidence. However, his greatest style inspiration actually came from the R&B world.
"When I first saw [the high-top fade), it was on Larry Blackmon from the group Cameo," Kane says. "If you listen to my earlier material — [Just Rhymin' With Biz]— you hear me referring to it as a, 'Cameo cut.' When I saw it on Larry Blackmon, I thought that it looked so royal."
"It gave off the essence of Nefertiti, and the look of like an Egyptian god."
Kane says that his unique haircut actually empowered him to dress the way his father dressed — fondly recalling that his dad would regularly wear a four-piece suit to wash the car on Saturday morning. However, Kane took that to another level by getting bespoke pieces from the who's who of fashion in the late '80s like Dapper Dan and the Shabazz Brothers. The result was something distinctly his: an homage to what came before him, with a contemporary Hip-Hop twist.
"I'm debonair," Kane admits. "The 'Debonair Three' was the name of my first rap group. The word just [debonair] stuck with me. It's a word that Hip-Hop lives by, and it's the essence of Hip-Hop now."
No one has ever given Big Daddy Kane credit for what we should refer to as, "The Kane Economy." His haircut was so iconic that it created hundreds — if not thousands — of jobs inside both established, and new, Black barbershops.
"When I was a kid, I went to the barbershop with the 'Breaks" 12-inch and asked for the Kurtis Blow cut," he says. "Then, instead of [asking for] a number four, [kids said], 'I want a Big Daddy Kane.' That's a beautiful thing."
While Kane is decidedly low key, he seems to perk up at the notion of connecting the then and now. In his estimation, it's finally time to put an end to ageism in Hip-Hop.
"I don't even think there needs to be a differentiation of old school versus new school," he says. "I called it 'old school' myself because we paved the way. I don't turn my face up at an older TV show that inspired the TV show. It's just all one love."
"I've yet to hear anyone refer to Madonna as an 'old school pop artist.' I've yet to hear anybody refer to Bruce Springsteen as an 'old school rock artist.' I haven't heard anybody refer to BB King as an 'old school blues artist.' That's only a term in Hip-Hop."
"I think it's unhealthy to put expiration dates on artists. You should just appreciate the music for what it is. If it stands the test of time, roll with it and let it live."
The question of, “Who’s next” is something that always comes up in Hip-Hop. The next kings and queens of the game can be the people bussing your dishes, babysitting your kids, or fixing your car. And then…BAM…they’re the hottest thing in the game. You better believe that each path is unique.
Providence, Rhode Island MC, Flawless Real Talk, has always considered himself an underdog. Hailing from the smallest state in the union, he’s had to claw and fight for everything that he’s gotten so far. While many might know him from Netflix's popular show, Rhythm and Flow, he's quick to point out that he's not an overnight success.
"A lot of my fans don't know how long I've been doing this," he says. "I've been doing this for over a decade. I started off in my hometown. I started to grow [and] I realized that in order for me to grow even more, I had to expand. So I took everything that I owned and I took a leap of faith and moved to Atlanta where I spent four years doing my thing."
Flawless was raised by a single mother and an older sister. While he now recognizes that they had to persevere through so much, he never recognized it at the time because the house was full of love and support. He credits his mother as his musical inspiration.
"She just really motivated me to even fight harder for my dreams and really live to the fullest of my ability," he says. "She's both my father figure and my mother figure."
His journey hasn't always been smooth. In fact, his advice for younger artists is to actually embrace the struggle along the way. While many are intoxicated by the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, Flawless insists that taking one's time is actually beneficial.
"A lot of artists that are coming up dismiss the local shows," he says. "They dismiss the shows that are only gonna have 10 people people because they want to perform in front of 20,000 people immediately. Had I not been performing every single week for 20 people, I wouldn't have been prepared for future opportunities."
Flawless cites independent Kansas City artist, Tech N9ne, as being the catalyst for growth after taking him on a 48-city tour where he learned that he didn't need a record label to make progress. This eventually led to opening for artists like Ludacris, Wu-Tang Clan, and Rick Ross.
"There's a fearlessness to being able to warm up the crowd," he says. "I look at it as 'stealing fans.' If I'm opening for you, I'm taking [them] all. There's no gimmick in anything that I do. A lot of people have gimmicks. For me, I think the authenticity is what separates me from a lot of what's going on right now."
Flawless points to his haircut as an example of what this represents on a literal level. Since he's ready to perform anywhere, at any time, the cut provides him with a polished look that also embodies the culture. He talks passionately about the history of Hip-Hop hairstyles like a music fan might recite lyrics: afro, fade, caesar... For him, his haircut seems to be every bit as important to his ritual as having the discipline to craft new songs.
"I'm always camera ready with the low fade," he says. "If you're going to be a rapper, there's this criteria as you go. You got to have a fresh haircut. I was bred in the culture. I take the culture very seriously. I think when people come across me, they don't say, 'Oh, look at that Puerto Rican trying to rap. They see me as one of them, because everything about me is Hip-Hop."
The power of the internet is undeniable — with hundreds of millions of people are all vying for the same eyeballs. Everyone from a kid in his basement, to Fortune 500 companies, are trying to figure out how to unlock that “viral” formula. And yet, there’s no one tried and true way to blow up on social media.
Enter, Shiggy, the dancer/entertainer, whose viral #shiggychallenge set the internet on fire back in 2018. Ever since then, he hasn’t slowed down for a second — consistently dictating what moves the needle in culture — across tons of different platforms.
Shiggy hasn’t relied on traditional gatekeepers. Rather, he’s written his own rules, which have continually been updated after interacting with his large social media following. For him, that's what he believes gives him a competitive advantage.
"[It's] that raw authenticity that people got from me that really show people, 'don't be afraid to be yourself,'" he insists.
Hundreds of millions of people know Shiggy from his viral challenge linked to Drake's "In My Feelings" which turned a non-single, into the breakout track on 2018's Scorpion. Shiggy's 28 second video catapulted him to international stardom — aided by support from Cleveland Browns wide receiver, Odell Beckham — who urged his millions of followers to, #dotheshiggy.
Shiggy's path to social media royalty wasn't always so clear. He had a brief stint in junior college that didn't work out because college professors weren't holding him accountable. Like so many other young people, he picked up his phone and thought to himself, I wonder if the jokes my friends and I think are funny, and funny to complete strangers?
He slowly but surely started gaining traction on Instagram — focusing on video — when everyone else was primarily using their grid for photos.
"You never know how you being you is going to help other people," he says. "[When I was] raw, I got a hit."
Transparency isn't usually a word associated with social media. Most present the best — or most polished version of themselves — when that's not necessarily their actual reality.
"I don't make fun of [anybody], I make fun of myself," he says. "So it's just like, 'What can you say to me that I haven't said to myself already?' I don't really like haircuts. I don't like how I look with a haircut. It's been like that since elementary school, junior high school, and high school. I probably get three haircuts a year."
Today, Shiggy's impact can be felt in how artists are even choosing to create concepts for songs.
"Everything has to have a challenge," he says. "Now, people [are] making songs like, 'do this, do that.' Every song is instructional. It's kind of amazing."
While naysayers might point to Shiggy and say that he got lucky, he actually believes the contrary. Since everyone seemingly has a smartphone and access to social media, there's no barrier for entry. Everyone has a chance to go viral. As a result, it's that much harder to stick out and earn traction. When something doesn't perform, influencers or brands usually cite a "change in the algorithm." Shiggy laughs when we broach the "A word" — as if we're talking about a sinister beast.
"I don't know what it is, or how to beat the algorithm," he jokes. "I tell people, 'Why aren't you posting on Instagram if you're on it every day? So why don't you just post? Who cares about the likes? Who cares about the comments? Eventually, somebody's gonna see you."