The Most Iconic Hip-Hop Style Moments Through the Decades
From Lauryn Hill in the ’90s to Rihanna in the ’00s.
With the Harlem Renaissance paving the way for hip-hop, the Black community, in particular, has been using this powerful medium to share their art with the world through rap and even fashion. Icons like Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill, Rihanna and more have created game-changing looks over the years, influencing how brands and fans across the globe perceive style. Hip-hop fashion is not all about the tiny crop tops and baggy silhouettes, but it also allows individuals to explore their creativity and unite as a whole collective.
In honor of the first Hip-Hop History Month, we are highlighting some of our favorite iconic looks from hip-hop’s most influential female artists in the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s. Keep scrolling to take a trip down memory lane.
MC Lyte entered the music scene at the young age of 16 with her debut single “I Cram to Understand U (Sam),” which she wrote when she was 12. With eight solo studio albums and one EP, Lyte is one of the pioneers of female rap — and she also has an eye for fashion. In the ’80s, the artist loved a darker color palette and could often be seen in oversized silhouettes paired with hype sneakers.
Prior to her going solo, Queen Latifah beat-boxed for a hip-hop group called Ladies Fresh. The artist eventually signed with Tommy Boy Records in 1989 and released her first-ever album All Hail the Queen. Latifah had a unique and authentic take on style during the ’80s, which was comprised of African crowns and matching sets dressed in vibrant African prints.
Iconic New York City-based ’80s group Salt ‘N’ Pepa — comprised of Salt (Cheryl James), Pepa (Sandra Denton) and DJ Spinderella (Deidra Roper) — made waves in the hip-hop scene in 1986 with their debut album, Hot, Cool & Vicious. The record sold more than one million copies in the U.S., making them the first female rap act to achieve gold and platinum status. With the ’80s also known as the baggy clothing era, the trio loved to rock loose-fitted varsity leather and denim jackets, as well as maxi-length cardigans.
Da Brat introduced herself to the industry in 1994 with her first album Funkdafied. The nine-track record earned her the title of the first female solo rap act to receive a platinum status. During red carpet appearances and musical performances, Da Brat was influenced by the ’80s baggy trend, but also experimented with crop tops, chic leather silhouettes and statement hair accessories.
Ms. Lauryn Hill, one of the most influential rappers in the industry, popularized melodic rapping during her era. Apart from being a member of Fugees, the artist peaked when she released her first and only solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Since starting her music journey, Hill won a total of eight Grammys, which is the most any female rapper has been able to achieve. It’s no secret that the rapper is also a style icon. During the ’90s, Hill wore a mix of oversized and form-fitting garments complemented by eccentric jewelry.
Discovered by The Notorious B.I.G., Lil’ Kim started out as a Junior M.A.F.I.A. member. After two years, Kim went solo and debuted her first album Hard Core, which features her hit singles “No Time,” “Not Tonight” and “Crush on You.” With the effort of her stylist Misa Hylton, Kim always slayed her looks on and off stage. Some of the artist’s most memorable fits include her revealing Cleopatra-inspired look at the 1997 MTV VMAs, her pink two-piece set and pink fur coat and her one-breasted mermaid bodysuit designed by Hylton for the 1999 MTV VMAs.
TLC was formed in 1990 in Atlanta, Georgia by Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. After the inclusion of Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas in 1991, TLC has composed four albums in total — all of which are multi-platinum. In the ’90s, the group rocked a range of baggy styles and leaned towards the tomboy aesthetic.
Missy Elliott rose to fame when she debuted her solo album, Supa Dupa Fly, in 1997. The record landed third place on the Billboard 200 chart, making Elliott the first female rapper to have reached that achievement. Respected for her feminist lyrics that champion body positivity, the rapper is also known for her eye-catching fits on and off the red carpet. Whether it be her head-to-toe adidas looks or matching sets, no one can rock a tracksuit better than the “Work It” artist.
From her Amato Couture metal dress at the 2011 MTV VMAs to her stunning red Oscar de la Renta gown at the 2018 Met Gala, Nicki Minaj has served up a number of memorable looks over the years. For those who don’t already know, the rapper was a part of a quartet called The Hoodstars comprised of Lou$tar, Safaree Samuels (Scaff Beezy) and 7even Up. Minaj eventually took the solo route and gained recognition after dropping her mixtapes Playtime Is Over, Sucka Free and Beam Me Up Scotty. Of course, who could forget her debut album, Pink Friday, home to her platinum single “Super Bass”?
While we patiently wait for Rihanna to drop new music, revisit some of the Barbadian singer’s best releases and iconic ensembles. After gaining recognition with her albums Music of the Sun and A Girl Like Me, the star continued to drop more music such as her Good Girl Gone Bad record featuring “Umbrella,” which earned Rih Rih her first Grammy. Also the founder of lingerie label Savage X Fenty, the artist has the ability to make any trend work on the streets with her monochromatic fits, and often steals the spotlight on the red carpet with her over-the-top custom gowns.
In 2007, 17-year-old Teyana Taylor had the opportunity to perform as a dancer in Jay-Z‘s “Blue Magic” music video. The following year, Taylor dropped her own track, “Google Me,” which is found on her debut mixtape From a Planet Called Harlem. Other than having a passion for music, Taylor ventured into the fashion world by walking down the runway at Italian streetwear brand GCDS’ show during New York Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2018.
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