As a genre and culture, hip hop runs a lot deeper than most people give it credit for. It has its roots in class struggle and repression in the 1970s, is used for political expression in many countries, and lends itself to a remarkable array of music styles. Even hip hop hair has its history: it has seen 30 years of evolution, faithful to the times yet always reliably edgy. Proud, playful, and at times even conservative, hip hop hairstyles always make their mark even on non-fans.
Not surprisingly, African influences abound in hip hop styles, especially in North America. Men tend to have low, tapered cuts, Mohawks, rat tails, and other elements designed to warrant a second look. Those with low cuts often have logos or designs shaved onto the scalp—this usually requires a skilled barber as the design involves some precise handiwork. As men’s hairstyles go, this is arguably among the most high-maintenance.
Another popular style in hip hop circles is the faux Mohawk. It’s a little more toned down than the original Mohawk, which nowadays is more associated with punk rock culture. The sides of the head aren’t completely shaven, but cut noticeably lower than the middle strip. Others choose to add a rat tail, or a strip of uncut hair starting from the back of the neck. Surprisingly, this is also quite hard to maintain: if not regularly groomed, it can look scruffy and out of place.
Women’s hairstyles are a lot more varied. There are hip hop hairstyles for almost every hair type, length, and color. The most recent trend is the asymmetrical angled bob, where the hair is cut short but a little longer on one side. The difference can be as subtle or severe as you wish. Curly hair can either be pinned down or allowed to flow freely, but usually kept short. Cuts are best kept even as slants don’t show as drastically in curls.
For a bit of nostalgia, many hip hop fans now sport afros, which was one of the first markers of hip hop culture. If you have naturally kinky hair or fine curls, this look will be easier to pull off, but there are ways to make it work on other hairstyles. Like the rat tail, it also calls for a bit of maintenance, such as avoiding split ends (they make the strands droop) and applying volumizer to help the hair hold its shape.
Whatever you choose, you want to choose a cut that works with your lifestyle—avoid the high-maintenance ones if you like to stay active, or go for them if looks are a priority. More importantly, choose one that reflects your tastes—after all, hip hop is all about freedom of expression!