After looking abroad for trends in pop culture and fashion for decades, it seems like Germany’s youth has recently discovered domestic rappers as its role models. In context of our current GERMAN ISSUE, we talked to brands, artists and an artist manager to examine if fashion and rap are having a romance that is made to last.
Whereas German rap was rather a niche market for nerds in the early 2000s, YouTube clicks have reached the millions–the most-clicked songs range between 50 and 80 million streams–which makes it more popular than ever before. For the kids, the appeal of German rap lies in its edge. Different to German pop stars who play on the radio, the rappers do still polarize with their music as well as with their style and thus, are better to identify with. With looks wrapped in Lacoste, Adidas and (fake) Gucci in form of bum bags, bomber jackets or tracksuits the kids follow the example of their favorite German rap artists as seen in the music videos or on Instagram. The fashion industry is now starting to recognize the trend and how high the influence of those rappers is on the buying behavior of their audience–and rappers have always loved name-dropping brands as status symbols or to simply represent their image and expressing their style.
Brand-dedicated songs play a major role in German rap. Whereas Bushido and Kay One claimed to have “style and money” back in 2010–when the indications of fashion sense in the German rap scene were still rather low–the contemporary artist Capital Bra raps he’d wear “only Gucci” in his 2017 track “Nur noch Gucci” and RIN, who just dropped his first album in September, serves the hypebeasts rapping about Gosha Rubchinskiy, Supreme and Dover Street Market in “Doverstreet.” In contrast, Hamburg’s most successful rap crew of the moment 187 Strassenbande make Lacoste the trademark of their songs and music videos (in one of them someone gets a Lacoste logo tattoo–if that’s not true love for the brand!) and add a ghetto momentum to the brand’s usual high-income earners image. Another of their merits is that they made the Nike Tuned 1 which they call “shark Nikes” have a comeback in 2015 with their song “Haifischnikez.”
That German rappers are still inspired by their US role models from the ’80s and ’90s but have widely detached from them in the meanwhile, confirms Syn, CEO of the label 385i and label manager of Azzlackz, which maintain some of the most successful German rappers of the moment: “In the past, they definitely checked on the US, but nowadays they have their own style–tracksuits for example are worn by our domestic rappers, which was never a thing in the USA. German rappers now try to set their own trends without looking like a stereotype New York rapper.” And that the signature style of German rappers and the items they wear are highly demanded amongst their fans shows in the likes of Instagram pages such as rap.closet which is generally dedicated to German rap artists or rintintincloset which deals with RIN’s style only. Ranging between 15,000 and 114,000 followers, the pages are popular among Germany’s Insta-youth who go on there to find out how much the latest items their idols wore cost and where to get them.
German rappers now try to set their own trends without looking like a stereotype New York rapper.
The 385i rappers Nimo and Olexesh, as well as Azzlackz rapper Hanybal cooperate with Adidas on the basis of the brand’s soccer segment. Oliver Brüggen, senior director public relations of Adidas, states: “It is essential, how authentic the cooperation is lived. We offer a platform for young creatives and get credibility back.” For artist manager Syn the cooperation is also based on giving and taking and that his artists are able to identify with the brand. For him, that is the case with Adidas as well as with Nike and the Frankfurt street rap duo Celo & Abdi: “The cooperation between Adidas and Nimo and Olexesh is very tight, as well as the one of Celo & Abdi with Nike. Those are cooperations that work because Olexesh wore Adidas even before their cooperation and Abdi rapped about AirMax before there was an AirMax deal.” Part of these partnerships are that the artists get sent clothes and that they participate in brand events, for example Adidas’ Tango League where they played soccer with kids or Nike’s similar event, the Street Soccer League.
Whereas those two brands have embraced the German rappers and their audience as part of their target group for a while now already, brands outside the sportswear spectrum still seem afraid of working with them. Higher end brands seem to rather stick with their former target group and neglect the influence of German rappers on their sales–many of them shy away from anyone “too ghetto” for their image. In conversation with Syn, he criticizes these circumstances: “German rap has still way too little influence on the fashion industry. The attention German rap enjoys at the moment is not reflected enough by cooperations with big brands etc. But I believe it can happen and that it’s just a matter of time–it only takes more time than in other genres.” Outerwear brand Alpha Industries already sees street credibility–which German rap definitely provides–as an essential cornerstone of its brand identity. Ben Birkl, European marketing manager of the brand, declares that it does not yet collaborate with German rappers, but is keeping the option open for the future since the MA-1 bomber jackets are very popular amongst rappers and their fans. However, Alpha does send some rappers jackets and also use pictures of them in its styles for advertising.
German rap has still way too little influence on the fashion industry. The attention German rap enjoys at the moment is not reflected enough by cooperations with big brands etc.
That female German rappers are in demand as well and finally gain more attention could be seen at Berlin Fashion Week in July, where Adidas and its women’s support initiative Girls Are Awesome had a launch party featuring the German trap and cloud rapper Haiyti who performed on stage. Berlin’s female rap duo SXTN also collaborated with Adidas Originals and the sneaker store Overkill for an EQT launch back in August. The girls were shot for the campaign and they performed live at the launch event. But the young rapper Ace Tee, who had an international hit with her single “Bist du down,” has probably landed the biggest deal among her female hip-hop colleagues: thanks to her distinctive ’90s style, she launched an exclusive collection with textile giant H&M on September 7. Moreover, she starred in the campaign and had the chance to promote her first EP which launched the day after, September 8, in brand events.
German rappers as brand owners
Similar to 2000s US rappers who stepped into fashion such as Jay-Z with his brand Rocawear or P. Diddy with Sean John, German rappers nowadays also own their own fashion brands. On one hand, because they want to expand their businesses, but on the other hand because already established brands do not yet provide enough opportunities for them to collaborate and get creative. A circumstance which has already changed in the US; big brands no longer shy away from collaborating with gangster rappers and therefore not too many younger US rappers see the need to launch their own labels. As for Germany, one finds different rapper-owned fashion labels: Whether it be the Offenbach-based gangster rapper Haftbefehl, Berlin’s rap pioneer Fler, or pop-rapper Cro; what they all have in common is that they hold their own fashion brands. Fler already launched his brand Maskulin in 2011 and therefore is not only a member of Germany’s first rap boom around 2002, but also one of the first German rappers to successfully step into fashion. Even if it’s far remote from merchandising, the brand offers styles inspired by the Berlin streets primarily meant for rap fans with many nods to hip-hop culture. It sells mostly via streetwear online stores and retail prices range between €30 for snapbacks and €160 for outerwear. Even earlier to launch his fashion brand VioVio was Cro in 2007, years before his musical career took off in 2012. Under all of the rapper-turned-designer careers, he is the only one who did it the other way around and became a designer-turned rapper.
Like most of the German rapper-owned brands, it mostly ranges in the sportswear segment, but has already collaborated with Kangaroos for a sneaker, which reflects its autonomy from Cro’s commercial success as an artist. With prices from €35 for a snapback and about €110 for outerwear, the pieces are sold via VioVio’s own online shop. In comparison, Haftbefehl’s brand Chabos launched in 2015 is quite new to the game. Nevertheless, it already achieved great success with its bestseller, the beach slides Brudiletten which sell for €20. Outerwear prices range up to €100. Essential to the brand’s image are also urban styles such as tracksuits, sweatpants and print pullovers. In addition to its Web shop, the Chabos collections are also sold at sportswear retailer Snipes.
German rap represents an innovative genre–not only with the next generation of male rappers, but also with all that girl power going on at the moment–and has just entered the mainstream, seemingly there to stay. With distinctive styles and an approach on combining fashion differently, genre members offer a new perspective, as well as high influence on their young audience to the fashion world. If fashion companies decide to work with them, interesting chances for both sides can result. Concerning brands owned by German rappers themselves their current popularity proves them right, but in both cases, one will see what the future may bring.