Polo and Hip-Hop, an Oral History [Pt. 1]

1. 1967 – Birth of An American Dream:
In 1967, Bronx-native and son of Jewish immigrants Ralph Lauren (born Ralph Lifschitz) begins selling neckties he’s designed under the name “Polo.” With no formal fashion training, he spends the 1970’s expanding the Polo brand to include women’s and men’s clothes that emphasize a classic American look marked by upper-class imagery. Polo goes on to become the flagship brand of a multi-billion dollar fashion empire by selling a lifestyle that would captivate hip-hop culture in the coming years.

Just Blaze: It’s more than just a brand… It’s the way you carry yourself. The way you walk, the way you talk, the kind of places you frequent. Ralph is from [New York City], he’s not from the country but he had this whole ideology. I remember he said once, “I designed this line behind the lifestyle I wished I could live. I didn’t have all of this when I was growing up, these are the things that I love.” At the same token, I’m not out riding horses; I’m not out at the country club. But a lot of those same ideologies and those same motifs are the things that I love in terms of a standard of living. The way you present yourself to the outside world. There’s a certain level or certain standard that kind of comes along with that lifestyle.

Dallas Penn: Polo is the most hip-hop brand of all time. The brand embodies aspiration. And hip-hop at its core is about the aspiration of doing better… Polo, Ralph Lauren and hip-hop follow a parallel path of aspiration culturally and economically. Ralph Lifshitz, a working class boy from the Bronx, created a brand of clothing that envisioned the grandest Anglo-Saxon lifestyle— so much so that he had to change his surname to Lauren. Hip-hop grew up from the working class neighborhoods of NYC to become the most prolific artistic movement of the 21st century. Both from the humblest of beginnings to the zenith of culture.

Raekwon: It expressed you had money. It’s like when you think of that horse on your shirt, that horse symbolizes them cats out there playing polo. You know majority of them is well-off— is comfortable. So it kinda made us feel like, if you got anything Polo on, you got money. You got a certain amount of status in the neighborhood. Don’t get me wrong, we love camouflage jackets and all that good shit. But at the same time, when it was time to get fresh, if you ain’t have a good Polo shirt on, or some Polo sneakers, or anything like that, we didn’t consider you really that fly when you came out that day.

Young Dro: It’s the apparel that had came out that was for the rich and the poor. Because I’m from the projects, we wasn’t fortunate to have a lot of things. But once we put that outfit on, we could go chill at the gables with the White people, you know what I’m saying? I could go places. I’ma do this through my outfit, nah mean? I’ma go make a living and a life out of what I got through these clothes right here… I could just be standing here and then I could just be going to play golf with a stockbroker or two.

Victor Ving: I think that it was all about taking something that wasn’t meant for you and making it yours. Turntables were not made for scratching originally. It’s about breaking the rules, being rebellious and creating something out of that.

  • brand-new

    polo always been the shit…way better than ralph lauren’s other creation, c.h.a.p.s (coulda had a polo shirt), as i call it.

    • Mike The Preacher

      I’m not gonna lie polos look dope and I do own one, albeit I got it for my b-day, but it gets ridiculous when you have to spend damn near a bill($75 plus tax) for just one basic polo from the Ralph Lauren store. I mean fiscal responsibility must not be in our vocabulary b/c this obsession is just sad. I appreciate fashion as much as the next guy but it’s all made in China for $2. We’re paying 40 times the true cost for a horse logo. I know I’m gonna get some hate here but we’re never gonna get out the hood when we spend it on polos, nikes, jordans, etc. Open your eyes people.

      • kanker

        go and rob them then and save the bills

  • mr50000

    damn yall went in for this i could have read even more. what is in store for part 2??

    • Malik-Lo

      Yes there is a part 2 but in the Source mag highlighting Malik-Lo, Seminole Sport, Meyhem Lauren and others coming in like Jan/Feb ‘ 11 keep an eye open for it

  • NAPTOWNNUISANCE

    Yall left out Pimp C one of the biggest supporters of Polo.

    • Malik-Lo

      Pimp C wasnt doing it when we were u gotta remember we going back to like 85 and better homie.

      • d;d

        i bet he was ma nigga. ugk came out in 1990. pimp or chad as he’s known in the area was a bigtime hustler around port arthur, tx and southwest louisiana before the rap shit. so im pretty positive pimp chad was fuckin wit polo in the 80′s bruh

  • BRIX

    ^@brand-new: Ha! Me and my peoples used to call Chaps – Cheap Ass Polo Sport…bc it was basically the lesser version of Polo.

    Damn, this takes me back when I was kid rocking Polo here and there bc my pops would get me some things…but once Rae rocked that Snow Beach piece, it was a wrap! I remember wanting a summer job just to get my Polo game up for the summer/next school year!

    I get a little mad these days when I see some of these whack ass young kids wearing Polo with skinny jeans and shit just looking stupid…feels like they just not representing right!

    • http://www.facebook.com/platnumreaux nickreauxbitch

      Ay don’t be hatin on skinny jeans sayin they not reppin right and shit. when will you see me eva hate on another mans jeans? grow up ya oold nigga

  • puerto-black

    Co-sign^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
    HAHA! C.H.A.P.S= Can’t. Have. A. Polo. Sucka
    These young boys be killing me with the “Beverly Hills Club” shit too. Part 2 talk about the the rugby Game and “POLP FUCK THAT HILFIGER” -PIMP C, C DA PIMP

  • ginoblu

    i like polo but once ralph said he aint fuck with us he was dead in my eyes

    • Malik-Lo

      Ralph never said that that was a rumor Tommy Hilfiger was caught saying something to that nature never Ralph. He said he made his clothes as a lifestyle.

    • Marco- LO Harlem Original LO Head

      I’m A Lo Head And Have Been Rockin Polo Gear For 25 Years… I Was One Of The First Cats To Bring The Polo Buzz To Harlem… It Was A Brooklyn Thing That Was Taught To Me In My Days Of High School In Park West…. I Wore Polo So Much I Was A Regular At The Mansion And The Sales People Knew Me There And I Got A Job There…. That Abled Me To End Up Working For Ralph Directly… So I Can Speak On It.. It Was Tommy Hill That Said That And Timberland Co-signed By Stating That They Don’t Make Or Design Their Clothes To Be Worn In The Urban Market(An Nicer Way to Say They Don’t Sell To The Minorities)… Wearing Polo & Supporting It In This Hip Hop Generation Shows The Power Of The Dollars That We As A People Are Capable Of Generating So As A Business Man Why Wouldn’t Ralph Embraced It To Make His Business Grow??? As You Can See Tommy Has Fell To The Waste Side…. As Far As Polo Being In The Front Line Of Hip Hop Fashion… It’s Always Been For True LO-Life’s & LO Heads That Have Been In The Game… Its Funny How Cats Are Saying They Are Bringing It Back Or That They Started This LO Everything In Hip Hop Without Giving The True Originators There Credit Like The LO-LIFE’S,Ralphies Kids etc,etc…. These Were The True Real Cats That Were In The Trenches Of This LO Movement And That Made It What It Is Today….. The LO-LIFE’S Of Brooklyn Started This Frenzy So Don’t Forget Your Past…. 2 L’s Up & Salute To Malik- LO & The Other Original Real LO-LIFE Fam Of LOve & LOyalty

  • fuck yall

    i thought that was fuck boy tommy that said he didnt mess with black folks on rossie o donnels show

  • south ambassador

    Yall really missed out on Trick Daddy….”Is that bugle boy jeans you’re wearing, hell naw ho you know they polo”. I was heavy into polo until the last couple of years. These young guys have the fake polo with 2 men on the horse. That shit is a disgrace to the brand.
    Players only live once

    • Mr. Uda

      When I first read this the first thing that came to my mind was T DOUBLE D aka Trick Daddy $…….but i was to shocked not to see his name on this blog…….in the late 90s he was iconic for “rocking” nothing but POLO……

  • http://www.bboycult.com Don mcCaine

    P!

    dP!

    who did this blog? Nice yo…

  • jam

    i thought it was tommy hill that said that

  • Magnetic

    I think it was the head honcho at Timberland that said he didn’t fuck with us, it may have been Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph put Tyson Beckford in his ads, tatoos and all, that was a big representation for blacks and hip hop

  • http://www.spag-lo.com SPAG-LO

    Polo RL is timeless…But the LO-LIFE movement is deeper than the brand itself and deserves more than a magazine spread #REALTALK.
    Nice article
    peace,
    SPAG

  • KRASHONE

    good read . why do they keep saying the snow joint cost 300+? i remember passing on that jacket(hate it) in the spot on 72nd & mad,an for mens it was $190 an kids was $89/$98(at the time i could rock kids i.t.’s) i didint fuck that line sept for the gloves an buckit/ranger hat.glad they talk to real dudes that was really there from jump street(thirst,p! an dallas) …well most of them an not the duck tales crew!!!

  • Trap Daddy

    The thing with RL Polo (as mentioned in the blog) it’s a timeless look. Never will get played out like other urbanwear. It’s a classic, simple look. I have many polos, some of them are like 5 years old but are still hard, still get complements on them. If you take care of them, they”ll take care of you. Lol. It’s a lifestyle.

  • stoney boy

    “POLO HORSES ON MY BACK, PHUCK HILFIGER”

    R.I.P. CHAD BUTLER

    and if u ask who im talkin bout u a hatin ass bitch, probably from new york

  • CARTEL

    I can think about so many LO pieces that I wish they would re-release. All the younger dudes today would go crazy if they could see some of the pieces I saw growing up as a teenager in the mid 90′s….

  • CoupDeLa

    Thank you based god for a great article on Hip Hop’s fascination with Lo.

  • Kalon

    im 24 just really getting into the shit…i only shop at ralphlauren.com and macys.com

    you gotta know how to match and create your own style and stop copyin off other niggas b…people in new orleans disgrace me with this…copying ass niggas

  • Ayre

    Damn! I remember getting my first Polo shirt when I was like 12 in ’86! It was a ‘Lo love affair until I realized I wasn’t getting paid to advertise Ralph’s wares, I was paying him! Now I try to stay away from logos as much as possible.

  • Smear

    Great piece….glad to see the original Lo-Heads getting the recognition for the lifestyle.

  • Axeo

    Since nobody said it: Buy Us Fuck You.
    Classic Method Man and Redman How High

  • Mike The Preacher

    I’m not gonna lie polos look dope and I do own one, albeit I got it for my b-day, but it gets ridiculous when you have to spend damn near a bill($75 plus tax) for just one basic polo from the Ralph Lauren store. I mean fiscal responsibility must not be in our vocabulary b/c this obsession is just sad. I appreciate fashion as much as the next guy but it’s all made in China for $2. We’re paying 40 times the true cost for a horse logo. I know I’m gonna get some hate here but we’re never gonna get out the hood when we spend it on polos, nikes, jordans, etc. Open your eyes people.

  • http://www.bboycult.com Don mcCaine

    we got Lifers on the thread huh? get you’re shine…

    don’t forget to shout out all of the fallen Lifers…

    SmDh @ dude trying to throw darts at NY cats on a NY thread…like we don’t know Chad is Pimp C (RIP)…and no NY cats weren’t the only ones rocking ‘Lo…just some history on how they did it then…it’s part of Hip Hop history too…

    @ Preacher Mike

    there are spots that have sales…even the site has sales…I even caught a ‘Lo shirt last year @ Goodwill for $16…

    and c/s whoever said there are a lot of vintage ‘Lo pieces out there that would make cats foam at the mouth right now (nhjic).

  • Durbey E. Macon

    I would very interested in hearing what Mr Laren (yes I know that not his real name), has to say about the article.

  • sb

    Ralph has timeless pieces,great quality material, hot designs and patterns.. Been wearing Polo since 84. 70 percent of my warbrobe is Ralph, the same with my kids…

  • Worley

    I went to school in BK all through the 80s to ’91. Lo Lifes were everywhere. I was like damn those are some fly n!ggas right there. I also remember seeing cats robbed and beat to the floor at the B’way East New York station. I’m talking back before they built the precinct in that piece. My parents saw the violence and the price tag too. They said they would never buy me Polo. But going to school in BK, I had to have it.

    Well, on our senior trip we went to colonial Wiliamsburg where they had a Lo store with only one white dude at the register and no security. We went ape on that place. It got so bad this one dude, my man Big Al, took an orange windbreaker right off the mannequin in plain sight. Dude at the register wanted no part of us. That’s how I got my first Polo – it was blue with a white bar in the middle that said Polo in Red and Sport in blue. The response I got while wearing that joint made Lo an indispensable part of the wardrobe to this day.

  • you thought wrong…

    Neither Ralph or Tommy ever said the “not made for black people” line… that is an urban myth. And i find it offensive that people still always bring that up like its truth but ignore REAL shit that should have people revolting in the streets. FUCK outta here.

  • south east d.c.

    dudes in d.c were wearing polo before it was influenced by rappers. weve been wearing lo from way back in 83 84. its a fact. for the record dc dudes were not influenced by new yorkers in any way to wear polo. any body that really know d.c dudes will know that we were known for our polo and track new balance sneakers

  • LOuesco

    Big up all Decep!! HAIL MEG!!!

    And all original LO-LIFES!!!!

  • http://www.luckylogan.com Logan P. McCoy

    Phenomenal article. I am thoroughly impressed. I saw it happen. To read about it however many years later is definitely incredible. This is how history happens. Some people live it, and others write about it. My long beek (had to pin it 20 times for it to fit my head) stadium hat off to the writers for this one. In the words of the truly aspirational, “bravo, my good people, bravo!”.

  • http://www.spolop.com tba

    Tommy Hillfiger never said that about the minorities, it’s an urban legend, that he has been trying to rebute ever since it started popping off in 1996. Tommy H tried embrassing the hip hop community and was the first “high” fashion brand to use Hip hop artists as models on the runway, but after the racist rumors got out of hand they lost the “street” market and stopped fokusing on it.

    • Godzilla Jr.

      “embrassing” or embracing?

  • http://www.showyalo.com Wiggz-LO, Extraordinaire

    This article is cool but kinda corny at the same time and seems rather rushed. My man over at The Source already had this mapped out a minute ago and that story will actually feature “official” heads giving you the realz on the movement from then-2-now. There’s real speech being spoken here, but a lot of this ground has been covered already, not to mention, the weak visuals that were just snatched from any ol’ place online actually diminish what Mr. Stovall was set out to accomplish. It’s not a total FAIL especially since the game is now back at a feverish pitch and it’s been a minute since any hip-hop publication has shed some light on the culture; same time, I know money’s aim was to cover a wide spectrum of cats who are in or around the industry, from then to now, but c’mon fam…Jose Hustle??? Vado and Young Dro?!? Even 88-Keys is suspect, especially when he was quoted saying he used to rock back in the early 90′s in another interview, and now on here he’s claiming to be “LO-down” since 2006…wtf?!?! I respect a lot of these dudes and their contributions to hip-hop, but a lotta cats got they stories twisted when it comes to this ‘LO sh*t…smh…look out for the official story to drop in The Source mag at the top of the year…

    • NAUTY BOI

      YO WHAT ABOUT THEM NIGGAS THATS BEEN ROCKIN NAUTICA SINCE 93 THE NAUTY BOYZ YALL FORGOT ABOUT US WE WARRED WITH THE WACK ASS LOLIFES I WAS SHITTIN ON CASHMERE BEARS WITH MY NAUTICA FITS IM 45 NOW AND IM STILL BOOSTING NAUTICA. FUCK POLO

  • Artie Mcfly

    Ok! I’m a Lo head from the 90s .. stated!!!!! People forget it wasn’t just about having a lil horse on your chest it was about rocking HEAT!! Dope pieces from 1988-1996! Thats when all the best shit came out! It was about starting a movement in your neighborhood>Being FLY!!! Your dad wore the little horse on his chest that means Nothing.. This is reason Pimp C and Trick Daddy aren’t mention!!! They just wore regular pieces.. Some of you wont understand that, and its fine. Just proves to weren’t paying attention anyway

  • http://thirstinhowlthe3rd.com THIRSTIN HOWL THE 3RD

    THE CROWN CAN NOT BE SHARED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    2L’S UP

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  • Guillaume

    Been wearing Polo since ’79.