Hip-hop ties to fashion: Influence of Tyler, the Creator's brand 'Golf Wang'


Hip-hop’s current infiltration into the fashion world is one that is used to scandal, change and politics. Of course, Kanye’s many years spent as the prodigal son lost in the wilderness has garnered more attention than almost any artist this year. 

There’s the tumultuous and troublesome saga of VLONE head ASAP Bari’s sexual assault arrest in May 2018, in which his accuser has dropped her suit, and he’s picked up a defamation suit against her, according to XXL Magazine. Virgil Abloh’s ascent to Louis Vuitton broke racial barriers and shattered glass ceilings, a watershed moment for hip-hop’s presence in fashion. 

While each man has been in the news for distinctly different reasons, it’s clear that the press often runs on creatives mired in controversy and criticism. 

Many a rapper has made their name from controversy, a tactic that’s been exploited for all its worth in the age of social media. The biggest success born of controversy may be an artist whose contentious behavior gave way to flower-adorned runways and shops on Fairfax: Tyler, the Creator. 

Tyler’s music has always connected to listeners, mainly because it’s intensely introspective. He’s spent time across his entire discography literally talking to himself about himself, whether it be through a therapist on “Bastard” or the fake friends tacked on the end of “2SEATER.” 

Although Tyler’s music is a key component, it’s fascinating to see that for quite some time, Tyler’s most blatant political statements have come from his clothing line, Golf Wang. 

There’s the “GOLF Pride” T-shirt from his spring/summer 2015 collection, which co-opted Nazi and LGBTQ+ rights symbolism. Tyler explained the purpose behind the shirt and picture as seen in his lookbook on Tumblr

"What if a Black guy wore this logo on a shirt? Would he be promoting self-hate? Would he be taking the power out of a shape? What if a gay guy wore this on a shirt? Would he (be) promoting homophobia? Then BAM! I had it ... This made the photo even more important to me, because it was me playing with the idea of taking the power out of something so stupid," he said.

Time and time again, Tyler has raised eyebrows and opened up conversations on intensely political topics through his clothing. With the release of his autumn 2018 collection, that uncompromising streak is still evident with a tee that bears the mugshot of George Stinney Jr.

Stinney’s story is one that’s depressingly indicative of American life. A 14-year-old living in South Carolina in 1944, Stinney was at home when the police showed up on his doorstep. Stinney and his brother Johnny were arrested and whisked away, regardless of the fact that their parents weren’t home. 

Turns out, the bodies of two white children were found in a ditch on the Black side of town with fatal wounds “inflicted by a blunt instrument with a round head, about the size of a hammer,” according to the medical examiner. Stinney and his brother were arrested on suspicion of murder, but Johnny, age 17, was released. From there, a hallmark of Black American life took place: the complete failure of the criminal justice system.

The arresting officer claimed that he’d gotten a confession out of Stinney, even though to this day no signed confession has ever materialized. Stinney’s father was fired from his job at the local sawmill and his family was forced to relocate after being evicted from the housing provided by his employer. Stinney was kept in a jail 50 miles away to avoid lynching, and his family never saw him during the course of his 81-day confinement. 

The trial itself was a sham, taking place in one day with a jury that had been selected that very morning. Stinney's court-appointed defense did nothing to refute the police officers' claims in a courtroom that held 1,000 people but allowed no Black people. An all-white jury took 10 minutes to decide his fate, which was death by the electric chair. There is no transcript of the trial and there was no appeal filed. 

Stinney died on June 16, 1944, donning a mask that was too big for his teenage frame. When the first 2,400-volt electrical surge hit him, the mask slipped off. 

That’s the history that Tyler wanted us to contend with when he plastered the only known image of Stinney on a T-shirt, sandwiched by the bold words “TEENAGE EXECUTION.” It’s a history of truth losing to lies, racism and a flawed police state. 

The words pop out in both colorways, either a bright soft pink cast against a muted green or a sky blue spread across sepia brown. The contrast ensures that you can’t run away from the message, one solidified by Stinney's blank stare into the camera.

Compared to all the garments that have landed Tyler on the hot seat, this may not stand out as jarring. That in itself is a testament to how politically and socially active GOLF has been in its short history. Tyler has made it clear that he’ll make anything his canvas. Whether it be gay rights, civil rights, mental health or anything else, he isn’t afraid to paint the picture he sees fit. 


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