The Influences of Hip Hop on Design...

I am starting to write my dissertation as part of BSc Product Design, and have decided to look at ‘the influences of Hip Hop on design’. Not sure of the specifics yet but i may focus upon… a single period- such as the 80’s; the influence Hip Hop has had on fashion/trainer design over the years; or simply (or not so simply!) the major effects Hip Hop and the culture has had on design as a whole.

Anyone have an opinion or any advice on this?

Much appreciated,


I don’t know about product design specificly but its influence on society has been a great one, from sports to fashion to music in general. Everyone knows the now old addage, white suburban kids are the biggest consumers and market of hip hop and rap.

i agree with that, i think it would be reaching though to find a link to product design. and i think focusing the 80’s hip-hop scene’s would likely be a bad idea, remember hip-hop then was much more of a fringe culture, imo anyway, and companies were not really courting the hip-hop audience. as with other genres we would tailor the trainers/apparel to fit our needs

with fashion and sneakers the link is more evident, i think the trend of customization was one of the things that may in some way be attributed to it, especially with sneakers.

i think you would have a much greater opportunity if you had a broader scope like the affect of the music culture as a whole on product design/design in general. maybe it would be too broad though?

You rarely see them packing up milk crates full of vinyl…

hmm…i do not know about that one, it is slowly changing but most hip-hop heads swear by their vinyl collections, would be a great thing to touch on though, with the progression from the technics turntables, to the cdj decks, and now ipods/mp3s…

Great! I like Hip Hop very much~And I am also interested in the design with some Hip Hop style. I think Hip Hop is a special style that I feel comforatble and happy.There are a lot of people ,specially young people like the style with the reason like me. Simply is the best.You don't need to foucs on how to use HIP HOP in your design product. Some music,rap or NBA…Anything will help you improve your feeling of thinking.But just help.About design,we need real life.

i would first ask, what do you know about hip hop?

how did it start and why?

who were the major players when it first came into being?

and what were their influences?

i don’t think Mic was trying to say that hip hop = product design, but merely exploring the influences that it had on design. like most genres of popular music, in any form it has had a significant influence when it comes to design.

historically, hip hop probably has had a greater influence on design than any other type of music for something as young as it is.

i would have to say that RUN DMC’s song “My Adidas” was probably the first hip hop and fashion collaboration. i forget the name of the book, but it was about the history of sneakers, and featured an interview with them about their song. at the time, Nike was “in”. “My Adidas” was more about not fitting “in”. so, to some degree, hip hop has an association with rebelling against what is accepted as normal. additionally, the style of dress also had some degree of functionality. there were definitely fabrics that were better for busting a windmill on cardboard.

as far as actual products are concerned and examining the tools of the trade, hip hop music revolved around vinyl records (pun intended). so, i would also look at how record players (specifically the needles and different table drives), speakers, mics, have evolved to accommodate their skills.

Sure there are aspects of culture and fashion affected by music… because music is expression of current culture. But getting away from that, I think the unknown influence of music (in general) is in the type of equipment used to play it and in the architecture of the venues.

How many of us have a visual image of Edith Piaf being played on a wind-up Victrola? Classical and opera have created the grand theatre houses with all the latest acoustic treatments. Woodstock demanded amplification and really big portable soundstages. Pink Floyd required the best recording facilities. The “night club” was invented for people to disco dance. Arena rock demanded that venues not only cater to sports but to acoustics, resulting in the multi-use facility.

So we turn to hip-hop. Equipment that come to mind… subwoofers that quickly went from stage and studio to home and car, the resurgence of vinyl in an age of CD’s, microphones that are designed to used near the mouth, bass boost circuitry, and boom box design.

When we consider that the car is also a venue, we get slammed Escalades, tires with a lower profile than a Ferrari, gold plated everything and the latest thing… spinner wheels.


historically, hip hop probably has had a greater influence on design than any other type of music for something as young as it is.

maybe it just seems that way, as hip-hop grew up in the information age with file sharing, the internet, and greater dissemination (sp?) it has become much more pervasive because it has had greater exposure…

i am really interested in this and curious to see the parallels you can come up with because i really do not think there are very many in the product design arena.

it might be cool to break it down in terms of the original elements of hip-hop:


and seeing what products influence has been on these elements and vice versa? another interesting angle could be the co-opting of products into the culture (turntables, trainers) and the co-opting of culture into the products?

I have been very involved in many different aspects of hip-hop culture over the last decade (djing 9 years strong, bboying almost 10, dabbled in graffiti, organizing events, etc.) and surprisingly (to me atleast) one of the best attempts at reaching the hip-hop culture as I see it, is the Toyota’s Scion brand.

The company seems to have done a great job building their identity through a combination of marketing and design (more marketing).

-underground mix tapes (which I have been pretty impressed with - artist selection, overall quality with out hardly a mention of the brand)
-similar to when the Ecko (formerly Echo) brand entered into the t-shirt
business (free mixtape with every shirt)
-a magazine
-sponsoring real events hip-hop like b-boy battles, DJ events, etc.
-customization options

As someone who has been a bit of a contrarian for most of my life, I was very surprised when a Toyota company was producing a magazine that was up on the latest stuff (they had Kanye on the cover like 3 month before I copped the bootleg of College Dropout, not that this is the BEST example, but some on).
At one point I actually was feeling like I owed it to Scion to buy a car from them for doing such a good job at marketing “to me.”

I know this is long and rambly, but I’m tired!

I believe the book is called Where’d You Get Those? New York City’s Sneaker Culture: 1960-1987

sweet book great pics of all the classics

yo crewkid,

sorry…but that ain’t it. looks like a good read tho !

here’s the book i was referring to:

it also has some great historical notes regarding the advances with the materials that go into making the sneakers and discusses some of the early trends in globalization.


I just wantedt to add that maybe you should think about hip hop more conceptually and just about hip hop as the sum of the music, products and fashion associated with it.

One of the main elements of hip hop is the idea of mixing and scratching and personalizing a new sound by mixing two records together. Also, it was really born out of live kinds of performaces and the club scene as well.

Conceptually, there is a bit of the themes of the Dadaists, the fluxus movement (I think) and the notion of art created readymades involved - take it to marcel duchamp if you want. It seems like a stretch maybe but not so much. A lot of graphic design in the 80’s also has these same visual themes of collages, cutting and pasting, etc.

Also there are some other African themes involved in hip hop / rapping such as call and response types of interaction with an audience, where a DJ or rapper will call out to the audience and they respond with screams, lyrics, etc. Where do these themes resurface in music equipment, communication, etc.? I dunno, but something to look into, I think.

Hip hop has a rich history and has roots in many places. Where these roots lead to links in product design I’m not sure.

Feel free to email me with more quetsions if you want: bored_in_brooklyn[ at ]

Good luck!

I wrote my dissertation at the end of my degree on a similar subject. It was about the links between music and footwear and how companies exploit these links in their mrketing techniques. I’ve got loads of info on resources. PM me if you want info.

I like the idea of flipping it and looking at the influence design had on hip hop.

Things in fashion, art and design style were adopted by hip hop as a way of moving and morphing so as not to become stagnent and played out.

Graffiti was not necessarily hip hop but it was adopted by it. It became the vehicle for hip hop art…

I noticed the bling fashion moving into product in 1990. At school we had a Korean designer - talented guy - who was really into it. He’d do electronics with lots of gold. And straps with faux fur. Got a lot of flak from people. Especially transportation guys (there was no Surf Bling; wet fur stinks).

Interesting how Hip Hop culture might have partly migrated into product. We had a good cross-section of the U.S. in ID. It wasn’t them. They weren’t into it. But majority of visiting and newly-arrived Asians were and they integrated it.

I like the idea of flipping it and looking at the influence design had on hip hop.

…sorry, but wrapping a cell phone in faux fur is not id, nor are low-rider baggy pants, nor are diamond necklaces that spell out your name, nor are spinner hub-caps for that matter…i got no issue with these things existing, nor the people who create them, buy them, sport them…fashion is not id…never has been and never will be…(athletic shoes? some are and most are not)…again, not that there is anything wrong with any of this…it just ain’t id.

I’m with trixie on this one. Dig deeper into what is going on in the culture. Not just the “what”, but the “why” and what prpmpted the “why” in the first place.

Think about this: The music (dj’ing) started off as being totally sample based. Cut-n-paste baby! I’ll let you think about the rest of what that may imply.

Check out the movies Wild Style and Scratch.