Polo and Hip-Hop, an Oral History [Pt. 1]
3. 1988 – The Lo Life Era:
Crews like the Decepticons make wearing Polo in NY’s streets not only a fashion statement, but also a statement of bravery. They and others in Brooklyn and the Bronx become infamous for robbing Polo items and then rocking them with pride. In 1988, Brooklyn’s two most prominent Polo crews, the Ralphie’s Kids from St. Johns, and Polo USA (United Shoplifter’s Association) from Marcus Garvey Village projects joined forces to form the Lo Lifes. The Lo Lifes become legendary in NYC for boosting Polo, wearing it in excess and making the brand an essential part of the city’s hip-hop fashion scene.
Thirstin Howl III: More than anything, from a fashion standpoint— ‘cause there’s many stages of Lo Life— fashion wise, it started because there were a lot of people in Lo Life who were the dirtiest and the kid who got laughed at about his clothes when he was younger. The kid who didn’t have nothin’ because his family was poor so he was the bummiest in the class. That’s what made Lo Lifes. Muhfuckas that didn’t have anything; and it made them go get it. Just to be ridiculed where we from, you know how Brooklyn do, Brooklyn is real harsh. Even in the jokin’ and the rankin’ as a young kid, when they talkin’ about reality, it’s harsh. And they makin’ a joke about it. So Lo Lifes is actually built off of that, man. People who didn’t have anything and that’s what made them go get it and want to look the flyest. ‘Cause you didn’t want nobody to joke on you. Or when you was gonna joke on muhfuckas they couldn’t say nothin’ back to you because your shit was extra sharp.
Sean Price: I’m from Brownsville projects. And across the street from me is MGV, Marcus Garvey Village. Thirstin Howl, my man Ski, Disco, they Lo Lifes. I’m a Decepticon, B. But you know, they lived across the street from me, I seen ‘em. I’m from Brownsville, nah mean? … We [Decepticons] wasn’t influential, we was bums… If we had Polo, we took it off another person. The Lo Lifes were influential in bringing that shit to the hood like that. Everyone else just followed suit, man. I come from an era where if you wanted to be fresh, you had to defend your shit. You had to know how to fight. You couldn’t be fresh and pussy, ‘cause you wouldn’t be fresh that long.
88-Keys: I always heard of the Lo Lifes and stuff, but I just never personally saw any around that time outside of back in the days. When I used to live in the Bronx, I saw a couple Decepticons. But back then they were damn near an urban legend out in the Bronx because their reputation had grown so much as far as being notorious gangsters and stuff like that. Like on some they roll deep and they’ll just beat down whoever the fuck they felt like and keep it moving. So I always heard of them. Then I actually saw like a crew of them a few times in passing hoping that they don’t pick on me.
Raekwon: I would definitely say the Lo Lifes was like the leaders as far as wearing a bunch of Polo. From the sneakers, to the Rugby shirts, to the hats and all of that. I remember times I used to go downtown, and we used to go shopping like on Fulton Street, but we used to always bump into them. They was doin’ they thing. They was runnin’ around robbin’, flippin’ cats and whatever. But everybody was ‘Lo’d out, though. It was either ‘Lo or Gucci back then. ‘Lo, Gucci or Benetton, but it was definitely a lot of Polo. And we would cross paths with these cats, you know. They would have they little gooses on, we have our little gooses on. You know, it was around that time when it was hard body.