NEW YORK — “You can’t understand the youth market unless you understand hip-hop culture,” said Matt Diamond, chief executive officer of Alloy Inc., a junior apparel and market research firm.
Alloy last week sponsored a presentation by AMPdi, a lifestyle marketing company that works with various clients in fields like entertainment and fashion to help them capture their customer’s attention.
Alloy’s team of experts — which includes Tru Pettigrew, senior vice president; Tony Fair, Kenny “Mac” McAlister and Bobby Jones, all directors of strategic solutions — believes that education is key in order to target these customers. Their message is this: The company offering the product has to know the history of the lifestyle — where it started and how it fits into American culture. AMPdi experts focused on hip-hop culture and its importance to corporate America in their presentation last week called “Hip Hop Lifestyle Immersion,” held at Jay-Z’s 40/40 club here.
“We want our clients to understand that the culture is American culture,” Pettigrew said. “These people want and strive for the American dream, just like anyone else in this country. The lifestyle they are living is hip-hop, which is surrounded by an appreciation of the four elements — MC-ing, DJ-ing, graffiti and breakdancing.”
While this group of consumers may have been brought up in the inner cities, they strive for respect and a better quality of life. Hip-hop, Pettigrew said, gives people the opportunity to live the American dream — and with lifestyle role models like Sean (P. Diddy) Combs and Russell Simmons, who are now both multimillionaires with interests in several businesses surrounding the hip-hop lifestyle, young people have more than just rappers to look up to.
But in order to understand why hip-hop is so influential in society today, it’s important to know the history of the lifestyle — from the streets of New York in the early Seventies to today as rappers like Jay-Z and Missy Elliot sign endorsement deals with major corporations.
Some key turning points in hip-hop history:
1974: DJ Grandmaster Flash takes hip-hop music from the streets to the clubs and changes the way club music is played.
1979: The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” lands the No. 1 spot on the top 40 singles chart. They are the first hip-hop group to do so.
1981: ABC’s “20/20” airs a special on hip-hop and the effect it will continually have on American culture.
Mid-Eighties: BET (Black Entertainment Television) is launched, dedicating some of its content to hip-hop music and lifestyle.
1984: Def Jam Records is founded by Russell Simmons, who prepares to take the music mainstream.
1988: Run DMC and Doug E Fresh become music and style icons. NWA starts as a West Coast rap group — to prove that hip-hop isn’t just a product of New York.
Nineties: Hip-hop becomes the power in American music. “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” hits prime-time television; Vibe magazine launches; Bad Boy is founded, and Snoop Dogg’s latest album sets sales records in its first week at retail. Other ethnic groups begin to take notice of the lifestyle. The war of words between East Coast and West Coast rappers becomes a reality when California-based rapper Tupac Shakur is killed, followed by the shooting death of Biggie Smalls in New York.
“This was the time when hip-hop took a step back to look at the effects it had on the world,” said Jones. “They decided they have to become more socially acceptable.”
That resulted in a series of new events for the hip-hop audience — which leads to hip-hop today. Russell Simmons launched the Hip Hop Summit to make young people socially and politically aware of their surroundings, Jay-Z gave money to Columbine High School for outreach efforts, and Combs ran the marathon to raise money for New York public schools in his “Diddy Runs the City” campaign.
According to the speakers, it’s clear that hip-hop has invaded American culture beyond music — Nelly has his own soft drink, Eve has her own clothing line, G-Unit has its own Reebok sneaker and while the music industry loses money on CD sales because of the popularity of Internet downloads, Outkast’s albums continue to sell well past platinum status.
THE HIP-HOP CUSTOMER:
- Is willing to take risks in fashion.
- Is willing to experiment with new brands.
- Has a desire to be unique and stand out.
- Has a desire to outshine everyone else in social settings, athletics, etc.
- Believes that brands need to be credible to help them maintain their status and self-image.
KEY INFLUENCES AND DRIVERS:
- The streets.
FASHION: WHAT’S HOT FOR FEMALES:
- Group 1: The Fashionista
- She is ahead of the curve, daring and complex.
- Brands she likes include AG, Agent Provocateur, Yanuk.
- Group 2: The Fly Girl
- She is ready to impress, sporty but sexy, likes to mimic peers and entertainers.
- Brands she likes include Adidas, Gucci, Diesel, Seven For All Mankind.
- Group 3: Thrifty Sistas
- Price is paramount; they like to stretch the value of their money.
- Brands they like include H&M, Gap, Old Navy, Lady Enyce, Baby Phat and thrift stores.