BOOK REVIEW: “Rap Tees” by DJ Ross One

Rap Tees photo RapTees_cover_zpstydq4wyk.jpg Rap Tees: A Collection of Hip-Hop T-Shirts 1980-1999 (powerHouse Books) is a book by DJ Ross One that honors the first era of hip-hop clothing that fans were able to buy not only as souvenirs but to show support for their favorite artists, just as rock fans have been able to for decades. Why is this significant? Because carrying a souvenir of your favorite music artist brings the fan closer to the artist, or at least sporting their logo on your chest makes it feel like a unique level of support even though that uniqueness is shared by anyone who buys a similar shirt.

DJ Ross One explores the many hip-hop T-shirts that have come over time. When it came to heavy metal T-shirts, its origins were rooted from the surfing and skateboarding communities, showing extra support by displaying their logo or a graphic design in reference to an album or logo. The rock T-shirt became a major part of the costume, especially for headbangers along with their denim fests and specific patches. Some of these traditions would be carried over into hip-hop, specifically when Def Jam became one of the first labels to make shirts for their artists and themselves. It seemed odd at first, for “why would anyone want to wear a T-shirt that said Public Enemy or the Beastie Boys? Why would anyone wear a logo in honor of a record company?” It’s the unusual dedication of “artist and record company pride” and once Def Jam’s clothing became a bit of promotion and hype when worn by other artists (Anthrax’s Scott Ian were Def Jam shirts religiously when he and the band went on tour in 1987 in support fo their Among The Living album), associated artists got involved before it began to open up to anyone in hip-hop willing to share their logo.

De La Soul shirts photo DeLa_shirts_zpssgz44ss9.jpg
DJ Ross One talks about the rise of a hip-hop shirt, whether it’s from through a company catalog or finding an offer in a cassette or 12″ single. Often times, snagging that T-shirt was a one-time thing not because they were thinking of creating limited editions, but because the budget was not big for hip-hop clothing, definitely not for a T-shirt. If you wanted a glow-in-the-dark De La Soul shirt, you had hoped you could get one or lose out. While many artists would have their own line of shirts in the early 90’s, the Wu-Tang Clan changed everything when they made a specfic line of clothing with their logos, originally just the yellow W over a black shirt. You had to hunt down those shirts when they weren’t widely available and once they obtained greater distribution, anyone who wanted to honor the power of the Wu could get one at the local mall. To be able to see T-shirts for everyone from Biggie to 2Pac, Digital Underground to Slick Rick, Queen Latifah to Nicki Minaj is interesting, for it also shows the progress of not only entrepreneurial success but the improvements of the designs themselves.

Rap Tees also touches on some of the bootleg T-shirts that were made not only in the late 80’s/early 90’s but in hip-hop for the last 25 years. If finding The Simpsons or Ren & Stimpy bootleg T-shirts became a trend, you may be able to find a bootleg shirt of your favorite artists at a swap meet, flea market, or corner store, even if the printing on the shirt might disappear after five washes.

Regardless, the hip-hop T-shirt managed to live in, not only for fans to buy but for ways to record labels, management, and the artists themselves to add to their means of promotion. Perhaps that means of promotion may have changed, for better or worse, with the rise of the internet and social media but fortunately if you need to find that specific shirt to sport, you may be able to find it on eBay, Etsy, or any other online merchant. Rap Tees shines the spotlight on believing in the hype from nothing more than a T-shirt and a silkscreen.

(NOTE: I was not able to get a hard copy of the book for review, I only received a digital edition. This review is based on that digital edition. You may order Rap Tees below from Amazon.com.)

SOME STUFFS: MC Hammer creates dis video for Jay-Z

Upon waking up on this, the first day of November 2010, I head to Twitter and a number of people in my timeline are talking about the new video by MC Hammer. Now, if you are to cater to what people say about artists who are “past their shelf life”, then MC has been irrelevant for over 15 years. He has become reality show fodder but yet you cannot deny that he was the man partly responsible for moving rap music into something deserving of “rock star” status, and not just something that was good for basements. Say what you want about his music, but some of it was damn good, the guy can entertain, and he knew how to promote himself.

But then comes this new video that comes from nowhere. It’s a song called “Better Run Run”, and it disses Jay-Z for something that the public accuses himself of being: Satanic. You know, there was a time when rappers kept it real by blasting someone for something you actually saw or heard. But blasting someone for an accusation, then going in the video to show how top dog you are, and then committing yourself as a holy man to baptize him for his sins… Hammer, I’m sorry but you’re not hurting Jay-Z, you’re hurting yourself.

In the video, he is shown in a business meeting with what I assume is supposed to represent “his people”, those involved in making sure his career is in check. But look at the people in the conference room: is this really a true representation of Hammer, or is he trying to say that this is what hip-hop has become, a bunch of P.E. teachers who bought a laptop at Best Buy and said “we know what’s best for you” Then to make things interesting, Hammer is not just MC Hammer, oh no, there was a time when being an MC meant you were on the top of your game. However, Hammer dropped the MC from his name for awhile because he felt MC was too old school, too tired. That coincided with the demise of his musical career, he revived the MC but it was too late. In 2010, he is King Hammer.

Now, I’m not into validating one’s status in any fictitious hip-hop monarchy, I like who I like and I respect who they are and what they may have been. L.L. Cool J of today is certainly not the kid on American Bandstand doing “I Can’t Live Without My Radio”, or the guy who was so bad he could suck on his own dick on his Walking Like A Panther album, but for many years he reigned supreme, just as Hammer once did. But Hammer, I know you still feel you are too legit to quit, but this video and song was unnecessary. Are you unhappy because you feel, as a Christian man, that Jay-Z is walking down the path, holding hands with the devil? Hammer, were you not the man who signed a contract with Capitol Records, a contract that like all others, is a way for your music to be exploited by a company so that you can prosper and make money? Hammer, were you not the same man who wore leopard skin bikini briefs, did your pumps and a bump in a video with you outside strutting yourself in your decadent ways, displaying what you had earned with your music being exploited so you could achieve that status? Hammer, were you not only the same man who may have done a few bad financial transactions so that you were forced to file bankruptcy? Did you blame that on the devil too? What do people think about Hammer?

Let’s be honest, we all love it when artists talk trash, it makes our unfilled days worth it. Well not really, but the last time someone was serious about dissing MC Hammer was twenty years ago, back when guys like MC Serch and Prime Minister Pete Nice had a legion of fans who liked them not because of skin tone (although that was a factor), but because they had skills that were true to the NYC traditions of hip-hop. Those guys were blasting “that silver spoon having, buckshot acne showin, L.A. weak-ass sellout
Non-legitimate, tip-dogging, Jethro pseudo intellectual, Dust-smoking, pretty boy playright posing, Folks wigging, whining annoying Def Jam reject devil, White bread no money havin slum village people clonin’ step children!”,

As I’m watching this video of Hammer being chased in a forest by a devil, I wanted Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie & The Banshees to run out and tell him how spellbound he could be if he understood that Jay-Z’s alleged evil aways are nothing more than lures that he uses to solidify his longevity, perhaps a tip Hammer himself should take to heart. Nonetheless, keep running Hammer. You might find the devil you’re running from is yourself. Spellbound, indeed.