The streetwear fashion industry has striking similarities to hip-hop. Naturally so, since the two have been inseparable since they began. Both industries have evolved considerably in the past years, almost entirely due to the internet. With nonexistent barriers to entry through resources like BigCartel and Soundcloud. Exposure to a changing and ever-expanding demographic online. And the eventual mainstream acceptance and commercialization of both.
Historically in hip-hop, there’s been a distinct subgenre with “conscious” hip-hop.
Nowadays, the term has many mixed, dissenting opinions, being rejected by numerous hip-hop artists like Talib Kweli, Homeboy Sandman, and Vince Staples. But few can deny the importance of a clear distinction in the adolescent days of hip-hop.
The conscious agenda initially pushed by KRS-One, Afrika Bambaataa, Chuck D and others was a necessary and beneficial step in the evolution of hip hop, diversifying, maturing, and cementing it as a vital part of global culture rather than a self-contained phenomenon. First in contrast with the B-Boying and block party-centric nature of early rap, then as a respite from the gangster wave of the late ’80s and early ’90s (mostly imitators of the somewhat conscious N.W.A.), the movement sprung up in times when it felt like an alternative to the dominant style of the day was needed.
-Patrick Lyons of Hot New Hip Hop. Dec 18, 2015.
Whether the term should be used today, you can decide for yourself.
Conscious efforts nowadays are incredibly diverse and still run strong in hip-hop. It’s as relevant as ever with our social and political turmoil.
Though, streetwear nowadays has little say on the matter; it’s largely not followed suit to its counterpart. Meanwhile, socially conscious messages are so integral to modern hip-hop that being labeled “conscious” can be restrictive; even borderline offensive.
Now, what even is “conscious” in this context? Well, let’s head to trusty old Wikipedia.
Conscious hip hop, or socially conscious hip-hop, is a subgenre of hip hop that challenges the dominant cultural, political, philosophical, and economic consensus, and/or comments on social issues and conflicts. Conscious hip hop is not necessarily overtly political, but the two are sometimes used interchangeably… Themes of conscious hip hop include afrocentricity, religion, aversion to crime & violence, culture, the economy, or depictions of the struggles of ordinary people. Conscious hip hop often seeks to raise awareness of social issues, leaving the listeners to form their own opinions, rather than aggressively advocating for certain ideas and demanding actions.
Replace “hip-hop” with “streetwear” and it’s the same concept in fashion.
In the past, streetwear carried an impressive amount of social commentary. Designs that commented on social and political issues, commonplace struggles, and the state of the world; conversation pieces that made you think.
It was a natural fit. The movement grew out of the streets, alongside hip-hop. It was built on the principle of creating your own lane and giving a voice to the unheard. For Us, By Us. Largely epitomized in mainstream conscious brands of the 90’s like PNB Nation (RIP) and Cross Colours. (Cross Colours actually relaunched in 2014, and is still incredibly dope. Cheers to the future!)
Streetwear is changing. It’s changed a lot already actually, now with its very own subgenres. The depressed misfit Anti Social Social Club, the brazen edge of FTP, to the samurai and anime influence of Ronin. The movement has diversified like no other. Though, socially-conscious efforts reminiscent of streetwear’s heyday are next to nonexistent.
It’d be closed-minded to claim conscious over everything. I’d be another elitist who doesn’t understand that everything has its place. It’s just awfully strange, and mildly discomforting, the lack of socially conscious messages in modern streetwear. Considering the widespread reach of the movement and the environment we live in nowadays. Not just that brands aren’t providing it, but because we as consumers don’t see a need for it.
Perhaps we’re afraid of offending someone, rubbing people the wrong way. Maybe technology has just reduced our attention span? Maybe we feel it’s not our place to talk about these issues. Or we just don’t want to come off as edgy, 2 deep, or a try-hard. The answer is far more straightforward.
Streetwear has lost its substance. The essence of the movement has faded away.
We’d rather use streetwear to avoid the issues, than a way to explore them.