in

Rap Gone Natural

One style trend many rappers have adopted over the last generation is natural hair. Artists from trap to emo-rap are letting their hair down. Heavy-hitters like J Cole, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, and Snoop Dogg have all embraced wearing their hair naturally. While these may not seem like a big deal, gradual visible change is needed to help our society accept that Black hair is allowed to grow in its natural state. Style is one of the most crucial parts of Rap culture. Sound, clothes, jewelry, and wealth signal style. They have become standards by which we measure rappers. Sometimes even more than their talent.

Roots Run Deep

The concept of natural hair dates back thousands of years but rap’s introduction to dreadlocks likely came with Jamaican and other West Indian immigrants moving to New York City in the 1970s and 80s. DJ Kool Herc, the Godfather of Hip Hop, was one such traveler. ’90s groups like The Lost Boys and Black Moon and of course Busta Rhymes, Lauryn Hill, and Erykah Badu, helped dreads crossover from street to fashionable. The Lady of Rage brought her “Afro Puffs” in the Death Row era and later, the Hyphy movement in Oakland, CA helped popularize locks circa 2006.

“Jesus Christ had dreads/ So shake ’em/ I ain’t got none /But I’m planning on growing some”

-E-40, “Tell Me When to Go”

In the years since, locks of all lengths, sizes, and colors have become a regular feature of Rap. XXXtentacion, Chief Keef, Lil Durk, Juice Wrld, Denzel Curry, Lil Uzi Vert, 2 Chainz, Wiz Khalifa, Joey Bada$$ and Migos, among others, have made their natural hair a defining part of their look. In this same time span, Hip-Hop/ Rap became the most popular musical genre in the world.

Changing the System

During colonial times, in places like Jamaica, it was legal for police to shoot on sight if someone wore dreadlocks. Imprisonment and violence were the consequences of wearing a natural hairstyle symbolic of resistance. Today, at schools and companies across the country, there are restrictive dress codes that forbid natural hairstyles. People with dreadlocks are racially profiled and folks are still getting turned down at corporate interviews for wearing natural hair. California became the first state to outlaw this type of discrimination in workplaces and schools K-12. Children are being forced to cut their hair or be suspended from attending school and graduating. Jay-Z’s NFL deal with Roc Nation is bringing up this issue with the athletic community as well as music. Rappers may not always identify with the history of dreadlocks, they don’t have to. When they wear them, they reflect the image of natural hair that connects us in an ancestral way and it can force the system to change over time.