Photo: Robin Harper
Beyoncé in Black Is King
Inside The Visual World Of Beyoncé And 'Black Is King,' Her "Love Letter" To Black Men
GRAMMY.com spoke with the directors and producers behind Beyoncé's 2020 GRAMMY-nominated visual album, 'Black Is King,' about how the project came together and Bey's impact as a visual artist
For Women's History Month 2021, GRAMMY.com is celebrating some of the women artists nominated at the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show. Today, we honor Beyoncé, who's currently nominated for nine GRAMMYs.
In a 2011 interview, Beyoncé revealed the things she wanted to accomplish before her 40th birthday. "I would love to direct—continue to learn videos and maybe by then [make] a film, a short film," she told Access Online. "[Or film] a documentary, I love documentaries." The singer will turn 40 in September having accomplished that goal.
Since that interview, the global pop star has continued to steadily hone her craft to become one of today's most influential visual storytellers in pop music. She began experimenting with visuals on her 2006 sophomore solo album, B'Day, but it wasn't until years later, when she released her surprise 2013 self-titled record that she delivered a true "visual album" that pushed the envelope—every song had a music video and all visuals were released together without any promotion.
The 2016 critically acclaimed Lemonade added a narrative between each music video—something Beyoncé hadn't done before—to create a cohesive look at Black generational trauma. In 2019, she released the GRAMMY-winning documentary Homecoming, giving fans a behind-the-scenes look at her preparation for her historic Coachella performance in between concert footage.
With the critically-acclaimed visual albums and documentary under her belt, she turned her sights to another visual goal. Last year, Beyoncé released Black Is King, the feature-length film inspired by her work with Disney on the 2019 remake of The Lion King. The nearly 90-minute film that premiered on Disney+ started as a quick test shoot in Beyoncé's backyard in The Hamptons but ultimately took more than a year to make and spanned several countries.
At the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show, Black Is King is nominated for Best Music Film, following Beyoncé's win for Homecoming in the category in 2020. (She's also nominated for Best Music Video for "Brown Skin Girl," a single off the 2019 accompanying soundtrack album, The Lion King: The Gift.)
Ahead of this year's GRAMMY Awards, GRAMMY.com spoke with Black Is King directors Kwasi Fordjour, Emmanuel Adjei and Jenn Nkiru, as well as producers Lauren Baker and Erinn Williams about how the project came together, why they envisioned it as a "love letter" to Black men amid a global pandemic and racial uprising, and Beyoncé's impact as a visual artist.
"Already" Was The First And, Originally, The Only Video Planned For Beyoncé's The Lion King: The Gift Album
Lauren Baker (Parkwood Entertainment producer): The entire idea came from just one music video. We were just going to shoot "Already" and that escalated into a short mini-film. 15 minutes tops. That escalated into the film that you see today.
Kwasi Fordjour (Parkwood Entertainment Associate Creative Director; co-director of Black Is King): She mentioned doing a test shoot [for "Already"] and she's the type of creator where it's just like, let's get the most out of this moment. If it's good, we're going to use it. We were testing the body paint and seeing if the body paint was going to work. We were like, "how can we use her time wisely?" We're at her house in the Hamptons. We noticed a tree. It's an elevated plane. [It] could be anywhere. Let's try this. I had to get in the tree first, that was the deal. I showed her the shot and that's how that happened. We were able to use that shot. That's kind of how we roll.
We started shooting a few videos and we were kind of expecting it [to turn into a larger project] because that's just what she does. She is the queen of visual albums. Once [we knew it'd be a visual album], we just switched gears. We had no time to really think about it or be too nervous. It was like "OK, what directors are we calling?"
Lauren Baker (Parkwood Entertainment producer): [There were] a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of early mornings. A lot of traveling. One minute we're supposed to be in New York for a week and now I'm there for three months. It was just a lot of managing, being sensitive to these creative minds and making sure that their vision is being heard, respected and shown. But, at the same time, being practical.
The Visual Album Was Inspired By The Lion King But Not Restricted By The Movie's Storyline
Lauren Baker (Parkwood Entertainment producer): Lion King obviously was a spark of it, but it kind of elevated once we got into it more. We still use the base storyline but it's a whole different world now.
Kwasi Fordjour (Parkwood Entertainment creative director; Black Is King director): Coming off the album and trying to approach this in a way that could appeal to adults and also children, [we wanted to] humanize these characters. How can people watching this see themselves?
Emmanuel Adjei (Black Is King director): What was really a gift from heaven is that the world was ready to digest a film like this. It's really a visual masterpiece. I feel like when [there was a] release date, we knew it was definitely going to do something. What we didn't know is that it would resonate with not only Black people but with a lot of people in the world. I guess that's where Disney also comes in. Suddenly, it becomes this modern tale. In that sense, [it] became a manifesto for minorities in general.
Beyoncé Wanted Black Is King To Represent The Global Diaspora
Jenn Nkiru (Black Is King director): Something we were constantly all thinking about is diaspora. The beauty is for people to understand that we are everywhere. We are all unified under a shared experience of Blackness. But culturally, depending on where you're at in the world, it's different. It was such a beautiful honor to be able to see such diversity within our culture. Oftentimes we're regarded as minorities, but I like to regard us as people of a global majority.
Emmanuel Adjei (Black Is King director): [A passion for Ghaniana and Nigerian cinema] is something I was brought up with so naturally that was kind of my reference frame. The thing that really inspired me the most about African cinema was the way they use their narrative strategies. It was, you could say, very non Western, but very Western influenced. It was a mixture of Western sci-fi mixed with African folklore stories and spirituality. That was such a unique library for me to tap into when making my own films. Black Is King is definitely a modern tale where that all collides.
Kwasi Fordjour (Parkwood Entertainment creative director; Black Is King director):
Beyoncé had very specific things that she wanted to do. Whether [incorporating] West African or South African culture, there were nuances that we liked that we wanted to spotlight. But there were also other things that directors brought to the table. Collectively, we picked and chose what we wanted to use and what was relevant to the different parts of the songs. There were conversations after conversations and text messages after text messages. It was a long process.
The Visual Album Was Completed Amid A Pandemic And Social Unrest
Erinn Williams (Parkwood Entertainment Head of Production): Every project is a little bit different because you have different collaborators and objectives. But I will say this one got to be just about the hardest ever because we had to finish it in a pandemic. We were still doing some small pickup shoots when we went into lockdown. In addition to the pandemic, we had the social [uprising] and the death of George Floyd. It's quite a lot to be creating a film for young men to value themselves at the same time young Black men are being killed by police. It was a very, very difficult thing for the team to process that while working on a film that really speaks to that. We knew that the timing was right, but you're talking about people who are triggered and raw at a time when they're trying to finish this film. It was challenging on many levels, emotionally and physically.
Kwasi Fordjour (Parkwood Entertainment creative director; Black Is King director): We had already started this idea. We were developing this self-identity piece and this love letter and next thing you know everything started happening. It was like if this is not what we need right now, I don't know what is. It was like this divine intervention. To be working on a piece like this and then going into this culturally and socially, I never really experienced anything like that in my life, as far as the creative process. Being able to do something that was a love letter to fellow women and men, and our culture, in a time when we need a pick-me-up, that is something that I will never forget.
Lauren Baker (Parkwood Entertainment Senior Creative Producer): We're in the process of editing, I'm going to color bays every day, in the middle of VFX. Having to work remotely with multiple post houses was crazy. The Internet's not good so I can't stream correctly. That part technically was tricky.
Dialogue In The Film Came From Behind The Scenes Footage Featuring Men In The Cast
Erinn Williams (Parkwood Entertainment executive producer): On one of our shoots, we were shooting some behind the scenes of some of the men that were in our cast. They had such beautiful statements about how they perceive themselves, how they would like to be seen [and] who they want to be.
Kwasi Fordjour (Parkwood Entertainment creative director; Black Is King director): We weren't expecting to use it and right before COVID-19, we were planning on doing some reshoots because we felt like there were some missing pieces in the story. After COVID happened, and we weren't able to travel, one of our team members came to us and showed us what she'd been working on. Erin was like "I think we can use these."' We presented the idea to Beyoncé and [she] was like go for it. I worked with [writer and editor] Andrew Morrow to start sculpting the story around these monologues.
The Project Is Also An Ode To Black Women, As Well As Other Women Of Color
Jenn Nkiru (Black Is King director): I had the idea to do a debutante ball [for "Brown Skin Girl"]. I was keen to do that based on it being a rite of passage, and thinking about what kind of what space could we create that allows for us to have an intergenerational conversation where you see women of all ages together celebrating young girls. Alongside our incredible A-list women that we had on screen, there were a lot of women who are community worker [and] activists. It's a spectrum of womanhood, from seeing presentations of Black and brown womanhood that's highly feminine to more masculine of center. I was really proud that we were able to achieve that.
Anywhere you have people of color, there is some form of a caste system or understanding that colorism is at play, you know, and so I really wanted to expand that conversation. We have women in the piece who are of southeast Asian heritage, I have an indigenous Brazilian woman in the piece. We wanted to have as expansive [of a] conversation as possible. That was really critical to me.
Beyoncé in Black Is King | Photo: Travis Matthews
Beyoncé Empowered Black Is King Collaborators Behind The Scenes
Erinn Williams (Parkwood Entertainment executive producer): She tends to surround her projects with a spectrum of people. With her being the lead director on this, the final creative decisions come from her, but she absolutely encourages collaboration, and bringing together disciplines that may not always function together.
Emmanuel Adjei (Black Is King director): She really made sure that [I] could feel comfortable in my position.
Jenn Nkiru (Black Is King director): What was extremely exciting about this was being able to do it on the scale we did it at. I very much brought myself and that's also to Beyoncé's credit because she instilled so much confidence in me to work the way I typically work within the scale we were working. A lot of the team that I typically work with in the smaller, tiny things I do, I was able to bring to a stage like this. I casted it myself, along with my choreographer. We were able to bring our own styling teams.
Kwasi Fordjour (Parkwood Entertainment creative director; Black Is King director): She started at 14,15 years old and was sitting at tables at a young age where people would try to say that she didn't deserve [to be there] because she was so young. She brings that over into her leadership style. There's no limit to who and what age you can be to collaborate. If you have a vision and she sees the vision, she will rally. I was the first intern at her office in New York City and I worked my way up from intern to creative assistant, creative coordinator and manager. It was just doing whatever was necessary, taking the projects that weren't the most popular, trying to put your best foot forward in order to define your role and your position within a company. I think that has defined my journey into roles where I was taking the projects that were the most popular.
Beyoncé in Black Is King | Photo Courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment
Beyoncé's Evolution As A Visual Artist Has Pushed The Industry As A Whole
Kwasi Fordjour (Parkwood Entertainment creative director; Black Is King director): It's been a very rewarding process to watch and how she's taken a more cinematic perspective to the visual album. When she first did it, talking about B'Day, Beyonce, there were music videos and then it slowly but surely involved into something more holistic, more narrative and more cinematic. I'm anxious to see how she furthers it and where she takes it next.
Erinn Williams (Parkwood Entertainment executive producer): I can go all the way back to the digital album because I [executive produced] on that as well. It was her first fully fleshed out visual album. She saw something that even the people on her team didn't see with that album. What I find remarkable about working with her is how much she elevates everything she touches. She directs the shoots. She directs in the edits. When we got to Black Is King, we imagined something that was going to be a real cultural stamp. It's what she does. She has a magic touch sometimes when it comes to being on the zeitgeist of something that is needed at that moment. She said it best when she said that if Lemonade was about generational curses, Black Is King is about generational wealth. That was behind every decision that she made.
Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Parkwood
6 Takeaways From 'Renaissance: A Film By Beyoncé'
A celebration of Beyoncé’s 2022, multi-GRAMMY-award winning record, the 'Renaissance' documentary grossed $21 million in its first weekend in theaters and offers an in-depth look at one of this year’s hottest tours.
If there’s one thing that’s clear in Beyoncé’s new concert documentary — the referentially titled Renaissance: A Film By Beyoncé — it’s that the singer works very, very hard.
Released in theaters on Dec. 1, the almost three-hour-long film follows the native Houstonian on the road this past summer, giving viewers an inside look at both the actual show and what’s going on inside Beyoncé’s head at any given time. (Spoiler alert: A lot!)
The latest in a string of concert films released in theaters in recent months, Renaissance was filmed at several dates along the 56-date sold out tour. The all-stadium Renaissance tour ran from May to October of this year and traversed much of Europe and North America.
A celebration of Beyoncé’s 2022, multi-GRAMMY-award winning record, the Renaissance movie grossed $21 million its first weekend in theaters. Here are six things we took away from watching Renaissance: A Film By Beyoncé.
Renaissance Required A Ton Of Manpower & Steel
A few songs into the documentary, Beyoncé relaying her intentions for the film. She wants everyone to see the tour, of course, but she also really wants people to know about just how much went into even getting the tour off the ground. "The beauty is in the process," she said, showing off a massive binder full of different iterations of what the tour’s stage could have looked like.
The actual process of building the show from inception to launch, she said, took about four years. The Renaissance tour also required countless man hours, and not just by her team. The multi-continent tour required stagehands to build the massive screen every night, an army of hair braiders, costumers, makeup artists, dancers, caterers, and drivers.
Renaissance required multiple teams: One for the current show, and two other advance teams working ahead to build one of two additional stages at a stadium down the line. All told, there were 160 vehicles on tour, from semi trucks to buses. And while that might seem like it would cost a fortune, Beyoncé noted that the most expensive part of crafting the tour was the steel required to build a roof over their stage every single night.
That’s part of the reason, Beyoncé said in the film, that she put the crew in reflective silver jumpsuits every single night. She wanted fans to notice them, she says, "because it’s beautiful to see what they do."
Beyoncé Knows Ballroom
Anyone who’s heard the Renaissance album knows that it’s imbued with notes of queer ballroom culture, house music, and the sounds of the ‘70s and ‘80s dance underground. In the movie, Beyoncé relays how she learned about that music as a child thanks to her "Uncle Johnny," one of her mom’s longtime friends.
A Black gay man growing up in the south in the 1950s, Uncle Johnny faced more than his share of hardships, but found relative success through his work in the fashion industry. He crafted many of the early Destiny’s Child costumes, and brought house and ballroom culture into the Knowles' home by playing records.
On the album, Beyoncé pays homage to Uncle Johnny on "Heated," and also shows a photo of him with her mom at the end of the show. In the film, Bey wears her prom dress — which Johnny crafted — and, honestly, it still looks pretty on trend, even after all these years.
Beyond Uncle Johnny, though, it’s clear that Beyoncé has put in the work to know not just the history of ballroom (see: tour MC Kevin JZ Prodigy) but also its present. She pays tribute to Black trans and queer legends like TS Madison, MikeQ, Kevin Aviance and Big Freedia, and gives screen and face time to the Dolls, a group of four performers skilled in voguing and ballroom-style dance. (Side note: If you like Renaissance and you like the work of The Dolls and/or Mike Q, go check out "Legendary," a ballroom reality show that originally aired on HBO Max.)
The Renaissance Tour Had Fashions
Anyone following Beyoncé or members of the Bey Hive on Instagram this year knows that the singer was really turning things out fashion-wise on the Renaissance tour. But seeing all the costumes on the big screen can give you a true sense of the massive size and scope of the show's sartorial vision.
The documentary uses quick cuts during songs to hop from outfit to outfit, and it’s always more jaw-dropping than jarring. Beyoncé not only had multiple outfit changes every show, but she her looks changed throughout the tour. Every dancer (there had to be at least 16) and every member of the band also varied their wardrobe. Each outfit was impeccable, covered in rhinestones, and had to be built to move — and it had to look amazing. And they all did!
Beyoncé Grinds Hard
It should come as no surprise that Beyoncé is incredibly hard-working; only someone with an intense work ethic and extreme talent could have come as far as she has. That said, seeing how intricately involved she is in every little moment of the tour is staggering. For example, she said she’s learned a lot about lighting over the years so that she can work, every single night, to get the lights just how she wants them to be. (With the way her hair blows just so, she must also have a certificate in fan science.) The film shows Bey discussing truss lengths and smoke machines and, after one stage person tells Beyoncé that, no, sorry, they don’t make a support in that length, she comes back at him with, "Actually, i was just looking it up, and they do exist."
Putting aside the fact that being one-upped by Beyoncé would be both humbling and amazing, the fact that she even gets that deep into the nitty-gritty is mind-blowing.
Beyoncé said part of her drive is due to the fact that, because she’s a Black woman, people haven’t always taken her that seriously. People have had a tendency to ignore what she wants or needs, and because of that, she’s had to build up a level of fortitude that would put all of us to shame. Those people might push past or ignore her requests, but she’ll keep asking — and then she’ll start telling. "Eventually," she says, "they realize ‘this bitch will not give up.’"
All that grinding has taken a toll on the singer, though. She had knee surgery not too long ago, and she had to rehab extra hard to get ready for the tour. (She still grits through pain at points.) She also gets regular massages on the road, and she probably sleeps much less than she actually needs to.
11-Year-Old Blue Ivy Is Getting Ready To Rule
In one of the first glimpses we get of Beyoncé and Jay-Z's daughter in the movie, Blue Ivy is sitting behind her mom at tech rehearsals. It’s clear that Blue is taking it all in and knows she's studying at the feet of masters (her parents), preparing to take over the world of popular music.
A lot was made about Blue Ivy’s appearances on stage during the Renaissance tour — and for good reason. The decision to put Blue on stage wasn’t made lightly. Beyoncé said she always felt like a stadium stage wasn’t an appropriate place for an 11 year old, but eventually made an agreement with her daughter that, if she rehearsed hard with the dance team and put in the work, that she could do one show.
When that show went great, and then she was on the whole rest of the run. Fans in the audience held signs up singing her praises; people waited to see what she’d wear. And as Beyoncé said in the film, the tour lit a spark and set Blue's work ethic into high gear. While it’s still too early to tell what that’s really going to be, whatever it is will undoubtedly be a very big deal.
Renaissance Is For The Fans
While Renaissance: A Film By Beyoncé is, at its core, a film about Beyoncé doing a tour and singing a bunch of songs, it’s also clearly a love letter to Beyoncé’s fans.
The Bey Hive feature very prominently in the film: There are hundreds of shots of people dancing, screaming, crying, or gawking in the audience. The documentary offers loving looks at the queer fans in the audience, the Black fans in the audience, and the people who really went all out on their outfits.
That adoration extended into the movie theater, too. At a Los Angeles screening, attendees dressed all in silver and clapped after every song. They even brought their kids, who they wanted to experience the Renaissance.
As Beyoncé says in the movie, in doing the Renaissance tour, she wanted to create a "cycle of pure love" or a "transfer of energy" between her in the audience, where she’d give them everything she had, and they’d give their all to her. That goal translated to the movie, which sounded great in the theater and had everyone in awe of Bey's artistry. Beyoncé, clearly, is an artist and a visionary and Renaissance: A Film By Beyoncé is one reminder of her genius.
Photo: Adrián Monroy/Medios y Media/Getty Images
New Music Friday: Listen To Releases From Beyoncé, Lana Del Rey, ATEEZ & More
December begins with a blast of new music from some of music's biggest stars. Press play on five new releases Jung Kook & Usher, Tyla and others, out on Dec. 1.
While 2023 may be coming to an end, the first releases of December prove that it's far from time to wind down.
From Taylor Swift — who released "You’re Losing Me," a song originally recorded for her 2022 smash album — to Dua Lipa’s extended edit of her single "Houdini," and Lana Del Rey's cover of "Take Me Home, Country Roads," listeners are being treated to new tracks from familiar favorites today.
Start off your month by listening to these tracks and albums from seven artists that will jumpstart your month.
Beyoncé - "MY HOUSE"
Queen Bey surprised fans with an early Christmas present by dropping "MY HOUSE," her first single since 2022’s Renaissance. This track was featured during the credits of her new Renaissance concert film.
Written and produced by The-Dream, this song showcases Beyoncé’s rapping skills, as she effortlessly weaves verses over a powerful horn melody. There's a vibe check in the song's second half, where the music becomes a smooth, electronic dance groove reminiscent of Renaissance’s ballroom vibe.
Jung Kook & Usher - "Standing Next To You (Remix)"
BTS' pop singer Jung Kook is back with a remix to his track "Standing Next To You," this time joined by an R&B sensation. The remix features a new verse from Usher, who adds a delicate touch to the vibrant, high-paced song.
The original track was released last month as a single on Jung Kook’s debut album, GOLDEN. This could be fans' last time hearing Jung Kook's music for a while — the "golden maknae" of BTS announced he’s enlisting for mandatory military service this month.
Tyla - "Truth or Dare"
GRAMMY-nominated Afrobeats star Tyla is closing the year with a sneak peek of her upcoming self-titled album. The hypotonic single "Truth or Dare," following the success of her GRAMMY-nominated song "Water" (the song is nominated for Best African Music Performance at the 2024 GRAMMYs alongside "Amapiano" by ASAKE & Olamide, "City Boys" by Burna Boy, Davido's "UNAVAILABLE" feat. Musa Keys, and "Rush" by Ayra Starr).
In this new song, Tyla revisits an old flame — this time with newfound wisdom and assurance that she won’t fall for his charm anymore: "So let's play truth or dare, dare you to forget / That you used to treat me just like anyone."
Tyla announced her upcoming self-titled album on social media, captioning, "African music is going global and I’m so blessed to be one of the artists pushing the culture. I’ve been working on my sound for 2 years now and I’m so ready for the world to hear it."
Lana Del Rey - "Take Me Home, Country Roads"
This cover might not come as a shock for fans after she referenced a line from Denver’s 1972 "Rocky Mountain High" on her track "The Grants" from GRAMMY-nominated album Did You Know There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd. (At the 2024 GRAMMYs, Did You Know is nominated for Album Of The Year alongside Jon Batiste's World Music Radio, Olivia Rodrigo's Guts, Swift's Midnights, Janelle Monae's The Age Of Pleasure, SZA's SOS, Miley Cyrus' Endless Summer Vacation and the record by boygenius. Did You Know is also nominated for Best Alternative Music Album alongside The Car by Arctic Monkeys, PJ Harvey's I Inside The Old Year Dying, Gorillaz's Cracker Island and boygenius' album.)
The track features Del Rey’s signature soothing vocals, as a Western-style melody balances the instrumentation. She brings her own sultry style to this '70s country classic, while continuing to show her musical versatility.
ATEEZ - The World EP:FIN:WILL
Five years after their debut album, K-pop group ATEEZ have returned with The World EP:FIN:WILL. The 12-track album is led by "Crazy Form," an Afrobeats/dancehall-influenced track, and also features many solo and unit tracks from the group.
Members Hong Joong and Seonghwa took the reins on "Matz," a dynamic hip-hop track, while Yeosang, San and Wooyoung collaborated for the R&B-influenced "It’s You."
During a Seoul press conference, Lead Hong Joong spoke about the group’s evolution and how fans should look forward to future releases.
"This year marks our fifth debut anniversary and so far, our greatest achievement has been establishing a strong relationship with our fans around the world. We hope to continue presenting music that can make our fans proud of us," he said.
Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Parkwood
Listen: Beyoncé Releases "My House," Her First New Song Post-'Renaissance'
The first taste of new Beyoncé music after her 'Renaissance' era is here. "My House" stems from the end credits of her 'Renaissance' film, and was co-produced by The Dream.
Between four GRAMMYs and a massive stadium tour, 2023 was the year of Beyoncé's Renaissance. And just as the last month of the year began, Bey decided the dance party wasn't over.
On Dec. 1, the 32-time GRAMMY winner released "My House." Co-produced by The-Dream — who co-produced 10 of Renaissance's 16 tracks — "My House" is another club banger that works as both a coda to the Renaissance epoch, and a bridge to an altogether new one.
"Don't give a f— about my house/ Then get the f— up out my house," Beyoncé threatens, as the throbbing chorus swells with intensity. The song is featured in the end credits of Beyoncé's Renaissance: A Film By Beyoncé, which also dropped today.
"Be careful what you ask for, 'cause I just might comply," Bey said on Instagram when revealing the trailer — and by the merits of "My House" alone, she followed through. Check out the new song below, and keep checking GRAMMY.com for more on Beyoncé's constant creative evolution.
Credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images
20 Iconic Hip-Hop Style Moments: From Run-D.M.C. To Runways
From Dapper Dan's iconic '80s creations to Kendrick Lamar's 2023 runway performance, hip-hop's influence and impact on style and fashion is undeniable. In honor of hip-hop's 50th anniversary, look back at the culture's enduring effect on fashion.
In the world of hip-hop, fashion is more than just clothing. It's a powerful means of self-expression, a cultural statement, and a reflection of the ever-evolving nature of the culture.
Since its origin in 1973, hip-hop has been synonymous with style — but the epochal music category known for breakbeats and lyrical flex also elevated, impacted, and revolutionized global fashion in a way no other genre ever has.
Real hip-hop heads know this. Before Cardi B was gracing the Met Gala in Mugler and award show red carpets in custom Schiaparelli, Dapper Dan was disassembling garment bags in his Harlem studio in the 1980s, tailoring legendary looks for rappers that would appear on famous album cover art. Crescendo moments like Kendrick Lamar’s performance at the Louis Vuitton Men’s Spring-Summer 2023 runway show in Paris in June 2022 didn’t happen without a storied trajectory toward the runway.
Big fashion moments in hip-hop have always captured the camera flash, but finding space to tell the bigger story of hip-hop’s connection and influence on fashion has not been without struggle. Journalist and author Sowmya Krishnamurphy said plenty of publishers passed on her anthology on the subject, Fashion Killa: How Hip-Hop Revolutionized High Fashion, and "the idea of hip hop fashion warranting 80,000 words."
"They didn't think it was big enough or culturally important," Krishnamurphy tells GRAMMY.com, "and of course, when I tell people that usually, the reaction is they're shocked."
Yet, at the 50 year anniversary, sands continue to shift swiftly. Last year exhibitions like the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip-Hop Style popped up alongside notable publishing releases including journalist Vikki Tobak’s, Ice Cold. A Hip-Hop Jewelry Story. Tabak’s second published release covering hip-hop’s influence on style, following her 2018 title, Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop.
"I wanted to go deeper into the history," Krishnamurphy continues. "The psychology, the sociology, all of these important factors that played a role in the rise of hip-hop and the rise of hip-hop fashion"
What do the next 50 years look like? "I would love to see a hip-hop brand, whether it be from an artist, a designer, creative director, somebody from the hip-hop space, become that next great American heritage brand," said Krishnamurphy.
In order to look forward we have to look back. In celebration of hip-hop’s 50 year legacy, GRAMMY.com examines iconic moments that have defined and inspired generations. From Tupac walking the runways at Versace to Gucci's inception-esque knockoff of Dapper Dan, these moments in hip-hop fashion showcase how artists have used clothing, jewelry, accessories, and personal style to shape the culture and leave an indelible mark on the world.
The cover art to Eric B and Rakim’s Paid in Full
Dapper Dan And Logomania: Luxury + High Fashion Streetwear
Dapper Dan, the legendary designer known as "the king of knock-offs," played a pivotal role in transforming luxury fashion into a symbol of empowerment and resistance for hip-hop stars, hustlers, and athletes starting in the 1980s. His Harlem boutique, famously open 24 hours a day, became a hub where high fashion collided with the grit of the streets.
Dapper Dan's customized, tailored outfits, crafted from deconstructed and transformed luxury items, often came with significantly higher price tags compared to ready-to-wear luxury fashion. A friend and favorite of artists like LL Cool J and Notorious B.I.G., Dapper Dan created iconic one-of-a-kind looks seen on artists like Eric B and Rakim’s on the cover of their Paid in Full album.
This fusion, marked by custom pieces emblazoned with designer logos, continues to influence hip-hop high fashion streetwear. His story — which began with endless raids by luxury houses like Fendi, who claimed copyright infringement — would come full circle with brands like Gucci later paying homage to his legacy.
Athleisure Takes Over
Hip-hop's intersection with sportswear gave rise to the "athleisure" trend in the 1980s and '90s, making tracksuits, sweatshirts, and sneakers everyday attire. This transformation was propelled by iconic figures such as Run-D.M.C. and their association with Adidas, as seen in photoshoots and music videos for tracks like "My Adidas."
LL Cool J. Photo: Paul Natkin/Getty Images
LL Cool J’s Kangol Hat
The Kangol hat holds a prominent place in hip-hop fashion, often associated with the genre's early days in the '80s and '90s. This popular headwear became a symbol of casual coolness, popularized by hip-hop pioneers like LL Cool J and Run-D.M.C. The simple, round shape and the Kangaroo logo on the front became instantly recognizable, making the Kangol an essential accessory that was synonymous with a laid-back, streetwise style.
Dr. Dre, comedian T.K. Kirkland, Eazy-E, and Too Short in 1989. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images
N.W.A & Sports Team Representation
Hip-hop, and notably N.W.A., played a significant role in popularizing sports team representation in fashion. The Los Angeles Raiders' gear became synonymous with West Coast hip-hop thanks to its association with the group's members Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube, as well as MC Ren.
Slick Rick in 1991. Photo: Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives
Slick Rick’s Rings & Gold Chains
Slick Rick "The Ruler" has made a lasting impact on hip-hop jewelry and fashion with his kingly display of jewelry and wealth. His trendsetting signature look — a fistful of gold rings and a neck heavily layered with an array of opulent chains — exuded a sense of grandeur and self-confidence. Slick Rick's bold and flamboyant approach to jewelry and fashion remains a defining element of hip-hop's sartorial history, well documented in Tobak's Ice Cold.
Tupac Walks The Versace Runway Show
Tupac Shakur's runway appearance at the 1996 Versace runway show was a remarkable and unexpected moment in fashion history. The show was part of Milan Fashion Week, and Versace was known for pushing boundaries and embracing popular culture in their designs. In Fashion Killa, Krishnamurpy documents Shakur's introduction to Gianni Versace and his participation in the 1996 Milan runway show, where he walked arm-in-arm with Kadida Jones.
TLC. Photo: Tim Roney/Getty Images
Women Embrace Oversized Styles
Oversized styles during the 1990s were not limited to menswear; many women in hip-hop during this time adopted a "tomboy" aesthetic. This trend was exemplified by artists like Aaliyah’s predilection for crop tops paired with oversized pants and outerwear (and iconic outfits like her well-remembered Tommy Hilfiger look.)
Many other female artists donned oversized, menswear-inspired looks, including TLC and their known love for matching outfits featuring baggy overalls, denim, and peeking boxer shorts and Missy Elliott's famous "trash bag" suit worn in her 1997 music video for "The Rain." Speaking to Elle Magazine two decades after the original video release Elliot told the magazine that it was a powerful symbol that helped mask her shyness, "I loved the idea of feeling like a hip hop Michelin woman."
Diddy Launches Sean John
Sean "Diddy" Combs’ launch of Sean John in 1998 was about more than just clothing. Following the success of other successful sportswear brands by music industry legends like Russell Simmons’ Phat Farm, Sean John further represented a lifestyle and a cultural movement. Inspired by his own fashion sensibilities, Diddy wanted to create elevated clothing that reflected the style and swagger of hip-hop. From tailored suits to sportswear, the brand was known for its bold designs and signature logo, and shared space with other successful brands like Jay-Z’s Rocawear and model Kimora Lee Simmons' brand Baby Phat.
Lil' Kim. Photo: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Lil’ Kim Steals The Show
Lil' Kim’s daring and iconic styles found a kindred home at Versace with
In 1999, Lil' Kim made waves at the MTV Video Music Awards with her unforgettable appearance in a lavender jumpsuit designed by Donatella Versace. This iconic moment solidified her close relationship with the fashion designer, and their collaboration played a pivotal role in reshaping the landscape of hip-hop fashion, pushing boundaries and embracing bold, daring styles predating other newsworthy moments like J.Lo’s 2000 appearance in "The Dress" at the GRAMMY Awards.
Lil Wayne Popularizes "Bling Bling"
Juvenile & Lil Wayne's "Bling Bling" marked a culturally significant moment. Coined in the late 1990s by Cash Money Records, the term "bling bling" became synonymous with the excessive and flashy display of luxury jewelry. Lil Wayne and the wider Cash Money roster celebrated this opulent aesthetic, solidifying the link between hip-hop music and lavish jewelry. As a result, "bling" became a cornerstone of hip-hop's visual identity.
Jay-Z x Nike Air Force 1
In 2004, Jay-Z's partnership with Nike produced the iconic "Roc-A-Fella" Air Force 1 sneakers, a significant collaboration that helped bridge the worlds of hip-hop and sneaker culture. These limited-edition kicks in white and blue colorways featured the Roc-A-Fella Records logo on the heel and were highly coveted by fans. The collaboration exemplified how hip-hop artists could have a profound impact on sneaker culture and streetwear by putting a unique spin on classic designs. Hova's design lives on in limitless references to fresh white Nike kicks.
Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams. Photo: Mark Davis/WireImage
Pharrell Williams' Hat At The 2014 GRAMMYs
Pharrell Williams made a memorable red carpet appearance at the 2014 GRAMMY Awards in a distinctive and oversized brown hat. Designed by Vivienne Westwood, the hat quickly became the talk of the event and social media. A perfect blend of sartorial daring, Pharrell's hat complemented his red Adidas track jacket while accentuating his unique sense of style. An instant fashion moment, the look sparked innumerable memes and, likely, a renewed interest in headwear.
Kanye’s Rise & Fall At Adidas (2013-2022)
Much more than a "moment," the rise and eventual fall of Kanye’s relationship with Adidas, was as documented in a recent investigation by the New York Times. The story begins in 2013 when West and the German sportswear brand agreed to enter a partnership. The collaboration would sell billions of dollars worth of shoes, known as "Yeezys," until West’s anti-semitic, misogynistic, fat-phobic, and other problematic public comments forced the Adidas brand to break from the partnership amid public outrage.
Supreme Drops x Hip-Hop Greats
Supreme, with its limited drops, bold designs, and collaborations with artists like Nas and Wu-Tang Clan, stands as a modern embodiment of hip-hop's influence on streetwear. The brand's ability to create hype, long lines outside its stores, and exclusive artist partnerships underscores the enduring synergy between hip-hop and street fashion.
A model walks the runway at the Gucci Cruise 2018 show. Photo: Pietro D'Aprano/Getty Images
Gucci Pays "homage" to Dapper Dan
When Gucci released a collection in 2017 that seemingly copied Dapper Dan's distinctive style, (particularly one look that seemed to be a direct re-make of a jacket he had created for Olympian Dionne Dixon in the '80s), it triggered outrage and accusations of cultural theft. This incident sparked a conversation about the fashion industry's tendency to co-opt urban and streetwear styles without proper recognition, while also displaying flagrant symbols of racism through designs.
Eventually, spurred by public outrage, the controversy led to a collaboration between Gucci and Dapper Dan, a significant moment in luxury fashion's acknowledgement and celebration of the contributions of Black culture, including streetwear and hip-hop to high fashion. "Had Twitter not spotted the, "Diane Dixon" [jacket] walking down the Gucci runway and then amplified that conversation on social media... I don't think we would have had this incredible comeback," Sowmya Krishnamurphy says.
A$AP Rocky x DIOR
Self-proclaimed "Fashion Killa" A$AP Rocky is a true fashion aficionado. In 2016, the sartorially obsessed musician and rapper became one of the faces of Dior Homme’s fall/winter campaign shot by photographer Willy Vanderperre — an early example of Rocky's many high fashion collaborations with the luxury European brand.
A$AP Rocky's tailored style and impeccable taste for high fashion labels was eloquently enumerated in the track "Fashion Killa" from his 2013 debut album Long. Live. ASAP, which namedrops some 36 luxury fashion brands. The music video for "Fashion Killa" was co-directed by Virgil Abloh featuring a Supreme jersey-clad Fenty founder, Rihanna long before the two became one of music’s most powerful couples. The track became an anthem for hip-hop’s appreciation for high fashion (and serves as the title for Krishnamurphy’s recently published anthology).
Cardi B. Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage
Cardi B Wears Vintage Mugler At The 2019 GRAMMYs
Cardi B has solidified her "it girl" fashion status in 2018 and 2019 with bold and captivating style choices and designer collaborations that consistently turn heads. Her 2019 GRAMMYs red carpet appearance in exaggerated vintage Mugler gown, and many custom couture Met Gala looks by designers including Jeremy Scott and Thom Browne that showcased her penchant for drama and extravagance.
But Cardi B's fashion influence extends beyond her penchant for custom high-end designer pieces (like her 2021 gold-masked Schiaparelli look, one of nine looks in an evening.) Her unique ability to blend couture glamour with urban chic (she's known for championing emerging designers and streetwear brands) fosters a sense of inclusivity and diversity, and makes her a true trendsetter.
Beyoncé & Jay-Z in Tiffany & Co.’s "About Love" campaign
The power duo graced Tiffany & Co.'s "About Love'' campaign in 2021, showcasing the iconic "Tiffany Yellow Diamond," a 128.54-carat yellow worn by Beyoncé alongside a tuxedo-clad Jay-Z. The campaign sparked controversy in several ways, with some viewers unable to reconcile the use of such a prominent and historically significant diamond, sourced at the hands of slavery, in a campaign that could be seen as commercializing and diluting the diamond's cultural and historical importance. Despite mixed reaction to the campaign, their stunning appearance celebrated love, adorned with Tiffany jewels and reinforced their status as a power couple in both music and fashion.
Kendrick Lamar Performs At Louis Vuitton
When Kendrick Lamar performed live at the Louis Vuitton Men’s spring-summer 2023 runway show in Paris in June 2022 following the passing of Louis Vuitton’s beloved creative director Virgil Abloh, he underscored the inextricable connection between music, fashion and Black American culture.
Lamar sat front row next to Naomi Campbell, adorned with a jeweled crown of thorns made from diamonds and white gold worth over $2 million, while he performed tracks including "Savior," "N95," and "Rich Spirit'' from his last album, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers before ending with a repeated mantra, "Long live Virgil." A giant children’s toy racetrack erected in the Cour Carrée of the Louvre became a yellow brick road where models marched, clad in designer looks with bold, streetwear-inspired design details, some strapped with oversized wearable stereo systems.
Pharrell Succeeds Virgil Abloh At Louis Vuitton
Pharrell Williams' appointment as the creative director at Louis Vuitton for their men's wear division in 2023 emphasized hip-hop's enduring influence on global fashion. Pharrell succeeded Virgil Abloh, who was the first Black American to hold the position.
Pharrell's path to this prestigious role, marked by his 2004 and 2008 collaborations with Louis Vuitton, as well as the founding of his streetwear label Billionaire Boy’s Club in 2006 alongside Nigo, the founder of BAPE and Kenzo's current artistic director, highlights the growing diversity and acknowledgment of Black talent within high fashion.