Trends in streetwear come and go each season. From all-over print to kefiyahs to 3M to ray ban-esque shades, most things don’t last. As much as some sucker at Funky Fresh Styles wants to think the skinny purple jeans in his hands will be the last pair he’ll ever need in life, odds are he’ll be back at the same spot looking for a roomier pair next month when he rips the seams bending over to tie his lobster dunk lows.
One thing in hip hop and streetwear has stayed constant….the message. Although the frequency of cultural commentary rises and falls, there’s always someone with something to say. The question isn’t whether there is commentary, but whether there are people willing to listen and represent. These 10 shirts may not be your cup of style or substance, but big ups to them all for doing their part and reppin’ the culture!
Off Bowery: “Where Have All the Junkies Gone?”
Off Bowery just doesn’t give a fuck. They come hard every time and stay true to who they are. This particular tee is familiar to New Yorkers for its play on The Village Voice billboard that went up last year in the Lower East Side proclaiming, “Where Have All the Junkies Gone?” There was also a billboard that said, “Welcome to McHattan.” With Whole Foods, the Bowery Hotel, and a bunch of other wack shit gentrifying the neighborhood, the junkies, artists, b-boys, etc. are no where to be found. There is a lot of crappy sushi and American Apparel though!
A lot of tees that try to say something say it REAL F’UGLY (I see you dissizit!). Acrylick does it right here with an ill graphic featuring runners of all ethnicities tryin’ to get theirs. The message is simple, but the aesthetic and placement has a nice effect. Well done.
Hoodman: “I Shoot Hipsters”
We got paid in hate mail for this one and it was worth every letter. A lot of people get it twisted thinking hipster hate is about hatin’ on style, but it’s not. Yeah, we think wearing venetian blind (Kanye) shades to lunch with your grandma is mad funny, but itâ€™s more the swagger jacking, co-optation and “tourist” mentality that pisses us off. People consume sub-culture like itâ€™s a trend or fad, but for a lot of people who live those sub-cultures this is what it is everyday.
You ain’t gonna catch us listening to Jonas Brothers while rockin’ K-Swiss on Monday and then decked out in Triple Fat Goose on Wednesday. We’ve been stompin’ cockroaches in 6-inch timbos and livin’ on MSG since the early 90s. It’s not Halloween and it’s not a game! Hipsters cheapen what we do and what we represent when they chew it up, spit it out, and go looking for the next culture to beast on. Don’t be a fucking hipster!
Caked Out: “Spike Tee”
Before I looked closely, I thought this was some overly wordy and philosophical tee somebody made to rock at a Dunkxchange, But, I got to give them props. It’s on point with the commentary. Everyone wanted to be a baller like Mike, now they want to nerd out with the bicycle hats and extra small tees. The difference for me is that rockin’ Jumpman/Nike gear made sense. It was comfortable, fresh, and the highest quality athletic gear out. You weren’t trying to be someone else and the kicks were dope for playinâ€™ ball. It was functional! With the nerd thing, you can’t move your legs, you look like you eat your boogers, and your costume ain’t gonna make you any smarter. Now, you just look like a drop out crack head who’s wearing clothes he stole from the kid he beat up for lunch money.
Staple: “Non Serviam”
Staple always has a knack for saying a lot with a little. Here, the words Non Serviam come from Lucifer and the Latin translates to “I will not serve.” Any iconoclast or revolutionary knows that confidence in one’s self and refusing to serve are the first steps to not ending up a bitch at McDonalds! I remember a teacher asked us to get in groups of five one day and said, “Pretend you’re in a falling plane and there’s one parachute. Who should live?” Everyone was shook and some people said, “Let the girl live” or “Let the youngest live” but after about 10 minutes, the teacher said, a leader would have picked herself or himself cause they believe they are the most valuable. Don’t get in a plane with me homie cause your ass is DEAD!
Off Bowery: “Support the Scene”
Another joint from Off Bowery reppin’ what they refer to as the “sixth borough.” Look, their scene definitely ain’t for everyone and they probably aren’t accepting applications anyway, but a lot of what they create drives mainstream as well as independent art and downtown NY. A lot of what they touch eventually turns to cool. They know what they’re about and they rep it to the death so much respect.
Sould: “American Excess”
Nice flip of the American Express logo pointing out the obvious. Sould easily had two or three other shirts that could have made this list so definitely check them out. They’re consistent with putting the message first and come pretty hard every season. The look can be a bit clunky and heavy handed for some tastes, but they’re still one of the few brands I cop from on the regular.
Two Black Guys: “Some of My Best Friends Are…”
TBG remains one of my favorite brands and they do everything with a grimy sense of humor. Even when people disagree with the messages on their shirts, they gotta just swallow their pride cause TBG is right 99% of the time. This shirt was pretty funny playing on insulated people who love to claim some of their best friends are of such and such ethnicity as if the friendship shields them from backlash for making ignorant comments. Itâ€™s a strange phenomenon that people would rather “appear” to be non-racist as opposed to actually look themselves in the mirror and grapple with their own prejudices. Everyone’s got em so don’t front!
Yes No Maybe: “Bukake Ruined My Carpet”
I’m an advocate of porno tees. We have some porno inspired graphics in the works, but in the meantime, peep this. I have no idea what Yes No Maybe is about, but if this shirt is any indication, they party like Japanese Rockstars. I was never a fan of censored bush in far east skin flicks, but bukakke is something Japan should win a Nobel Prize for.
Hoodman: “Revolutionaries Eat Fried Chicken”
I end with this tee because it puts things in perspective. A lot of the tees and commentary above attack people, stereotypes, dominant culture, etc. While the anger and causes are real, there’s always a point where a so-called “revolutionary” has got to sit back, relax, and eat some fried chicken to calm the nerves. Obviously, gettin’ blunted before is recommended, but as long as there’s chicken involved, you know the battle’s on hold. The quote is inspired by Spike Lee’s “School Daze” where one of the characters asks, “Do revolutionaries eat fried chicken?” The question is dope on a few levels: 1) Just cause you have a cause and want to champion it, doesn’t mean you need to get all decked out looking like Che Guevara and disown all the people you knew before. 2) Being a revolutionary doesn’t mean you’re not a human anymore, feel free to take a break and eat some damn chicken. And, 3) It’s serious, but it ain’t that serious if you know what I mean. Don’t lose your sense of perspective.
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