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Polo and Hip-Hop, an Oral History [Pt. 2]

7. 2004 – Yeezy Taught Us:
Kanye West emerges on the scene in a bright array of tight golf shirts, popped collars, and sweaters featuring the signature Polo Bear. By portraying the traditional preppy image originally associated with Polo, Kanye contrasts hip-hop’s universal uniform of baggy jeans and throwback jerseys and reignites mainstream hip-hop’s interest in Polo, inspiring a new generation of ‘Lo Heads.

Kanye’s Top Five Polo Lyrical References:

  • “On the Polo Rugby it look so nice, how could something so wrong make me feel so right?”“Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)”
  • “Back when they thought pink Polos would hurt the rock, before Cam got the shit to pop, the doors was closed.”“Touch the Sky”
  • “From the Polo Fleece, to the Jesus Piece/I got family in high places like Jesus’ niece/Can I please say my piece?/If y’all fresh to death, then I’m deceased.”“Selfish”
  • “As long as I’m in Polo smiling, the think they got me/But they would try to crack me if they ever saw the black me.”“Gorgeous”
  • “And I’m doin’ pretty hood in my pink Polo/Nigga please, how you gon’ say I ain’t no ‘Lo head/’Cause my Dior got me mo mo-del head?”“Barry Bonds”

Thirstin Howl III: Yeah, nobody who did ‘Lo in hip-hop ever did it that way until he did it. Because you know, everything else was hard. Even though it was preppy stuff, we didn’t look too preppy, man. We still looked hood and still looked thug and still looked pretty at the same time. I mean everybody got their own style. I ain’t mad at that. But I know how we do it. When I think of hip-hop, I think of streets. Everything came from the streets within hip-hop. Hip-hop is born in the streets. So the pure breed of it is street and the hood feel. Once you start taking hood away from everything, you mixing the DNA with something else, it’s not pure no more.

VADO: He kinda turned it up. But when Kanye was like that in the game, I was already like that outside the game. Like in the streets I was doin’ that. So, that’s one of the reasons why I was rocking with Kanye. Like, “Hey, this a Polo head.” He remind me of me, the way he bringing it to the game.

Sean Price: We was doin’ that before. I mean, I wasn’t doin’ no tight pants ever, but pink ain’t crazy to wear. It’s just crazy to wear everyday. You know what I mean? I’ve definitely busted out a pink shirt before back in the day, nah mean? But you rock that bitch, you put that bitch up. [laughs] You know Cam’Ron, I’m not mad at Cam’ron, though. Cam’Ron was rockin’ the pink right. It’s just that you know, that’s Harlem. In Brownsville, you get the dirty version of Cam’Ron. You’ll get a nigga with a nasty ass pink headband, with a big ass pink 5XL shirt with some dirty shoes on. Dirty pink is wrong, period. Never do dirty pink. Never do bummy pink, dirty pink, man. I suggest niggas don’t do pink like that, but you know, every now and then you wanna bust out one time, get extra with it. You can do that. I’m not mad at a nigga for that.

88-Keys: I thought it was funny that it became a style and that he kind of cultivated that style because him and my relationship is really tight. Like he’s one of my best friends. So just to see him spearhead something which became trendy, or him being identified with a style, was all really funny to me. It was almost unbelievable but again, this is like the beginning of his career as an artist. So, like that saying goes, who ever thought we would take it this far? Yeah, the one [line] that Kanye said on “Barry Bonds,” I thought was funny because I was in the studio with him when he came up with that verse, which was all completely freestyled straight off the top of his head into the mic. So, I was in the studio and [he was] like “How you gon’ tell me I ain’t no ‘Lo head?” I thought that was funny. I’m not saying that I had any influence on him coming up with that line because of who I am and him knowing the fact that I don’t rock anything but Polo… but it was just funny ‘cause we look at each other like, “Aw, this nigga.”

Just Blaze: Obviously I was there. I think you could definitely credit him. There’s obviously people who have been doin’ it, myself being one of them. But you can definitely credit him with bringing that preppy look back to the mainstream hip-hop audience. You can’t take that away from him. But even in those years when it wasn’t necessarily mainstream cool, there was always a certain sector of people who were always on it. From that preppy look even down to the more colorful vintage pieces, and that market’s always been there. But in terms of the mainstream hip-hop consciousness, I would definitely say he was the main force behind bringing that preppy look back… That element is always there. It never died, but it definitely fell back.

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