Last night at Rolling Loud, Meek Mill gave his first show since being released from prison. The Philadelphia rapper had endured a Kafka-esque trip through the legal system thanks to a parole violation conviction that was overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. His performance, which was introduced by DJ Khaled, can be described as nothing less than a triumphant return and concluded with his hit "Dreams and Nightmares." Then came a promotional video for the Innocence Project, a nonprofit that battles wrongful convictions.
Curiously, his outfit for the performance was blue and green dirt-bike gear emblazoned with the number 24. At the spectacle that is Rolling Loud, every piece of clothing sends a message. Meek perhaps wanted to telegraph his allegiance to Philly's underground motocross and ATV community, which is said to give young people in the city an outlet during summer months. Also, Meek was arrested in New York for riding a dirt bike last year.
Then there was Lil Uzi Vert, who wore a "We Should All Be Feminists" T-shirt. It's a powerful statement, though Uzi might have sent mixed signals when he asked if any of the white women in the audience wanted to hook up with his friend.
Almost every rapper on the bill sent a much more prevalent message, whether by wearing jewelry or through conspicuous branding. Meek, for instance, wore a massive diamond and gold chain around his neck that was an unabashed display of wealth. There was a socioeconomic subtext to it: For a black person in a nation dominated by racism, there is no shame in letting others know you are not poor. In the hip-hop scene, it's a way to say you've made it, to display your success — or at least the illusion of it that your career depends on maintaining.
The kind of apparel worn depended upon a few things, including taste, but the general rule is that the richer you're assumed to be, the richer you must dress. Migos, who've had four Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, were the richest of the bunch, so they were positively dripping in diamonds during their main-stage set. Lil Pump wore a sweater with Bugs Bunny on it; an educated guess would be that it's part of the neo-vintage Gucci aesthetic devised by designer Alessandro Michele and popularized by the "Gucci Gang" rapper.
Outfits were more niche at the side stages. There, the acts were less likely to wear giant jewels and instead decked themselves in buzzy streetwear brands.
The obsession with streetwear and branding trickled into the crowd. Here is a brief list of the labels I recognized while milling about the festival grounds: Nike, Adidas, Air Jordan, Yeezy, Commes des Garçons Play, Vlone, Supreme, Off-White, A Bathing Ape, Gucci, and Balenciaga. There was more than one person walking around in $500 Raf Simons Adidas shoes. I wept at the sight.
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Of course, this isn't to imply everyone was running around in Yeezys and Balenciaga. Most of the men dressed for comfort. The most dynamic outfits included sports jerseys, floral shirts, and graphic tees. There were ball caps, bucket hats, and even some boat shoes (frat bros). Women almost uniformly wore short shorts, strapless tops, and sneakers. But there were enough of Gucci's trademark red-and-green stripes around to imply a certain truth: If a brand reflects one's wealth, enough people are willing to fake it till they make it.
Coming tomorrow: A slideshow of the styles of Rolling Loud.