DANS LA RUE: Paris Urban Youth Culture
 
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A guy I met makes custom ethnic apparel
Fashion is undoubtedly one of the core elements of Hip Hop.  After all, 1990's hip hoppers practically made the Tommy Hilfiger brand.  And where would New Era fitteds be without Jay-Z?  

Hip Hop, in every one of its art forms, is all about stylistic expression.  It's no surprise then that fashion, as an outward expression of style, is so embraced by the Hip Hop generation to connote culture and identity.  It's about reppin' who you are and where you're from.  

The glocalized Hip Hop community here in Paris and France puts its own twist on that concept and the outfit trends from the US.  Sure, the fitted caps, baggy pants, and fly sneakers remain a staple, but here young people spice up their wardrobes with a smattering of ethnic and religious roots.

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World b-boy champ Lilou
At every event I attend, I always feel like I'm at a convening at the UN.  In the middle of a cypher, there will be a gleaming turquoise jacket with "ALGERIE" embroidered across the chest.  To the left, I'll spot the outline of the African continent colored in bright red, green and yellow, on the front of a sweatshirt.  I'll pick out the word "SENEGAL" discreetly wrapped around a friend's wristband.  And then of course, my favorite Tee yells out to me, with huge block letters, "I'm Muslim, Don't Panik!"   As I observe, I notice that I too am rockin' my favorite Philippines revolution crew-neck.

Then there's the case of my friend Sam.  I've seen him all of twice and both times he's worn the same t-shirt.  Either that I always catch him around the same time as his laundry cycle, or he reserves this shirt specifically for Hip Hop gatherings.  The shirt reads, "Algerien Pur Souche," basically "Pure Strain Algerian."  

It's ironic because he's blonde-haired and blue-eyed.  Being the nosy blogger that I am, I tried to pry the ethnicity out of him.

     "What's your ethnic background?"
     "Huh?" (His english is not that advanced)
     "Where is your family from?"
     "Algeria.  I'm Algerian."
     "But you don't look Algerian."  (so insensitive, I know, sigh)
     "My mother is French but she grew up in Algeria where she met my father."
     "Ahaa!"

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'Pure Strain Algerian'
Sam, then, is not pure strain Algerian.  But yet, his identity, regardless of genetics, most certainly is.  The shirt proudly proclaims that identification, which is particularly useful in these settings that are predominately brown.  Without the tee he might easily be relegated as an outsider.  Instead, he wears it in defiance of his French heritage to resolutely say, "I am part of this culture, OUR culture."

This need to assert ethnic and religious identity in these Hip Hop spaces is interesting because mainstream American Hip Hop can sometimes be so devoid of it.  For example, the Caribbean heritage of icons such as DJ Kool Herc, Notorious BIG, and Busta Rhymes is not very well known.  Neither is the Islamic faith of rappers such as Mos Def.  In an America that's wrapped up with racial consciousness, these other forms of identities take a backseat to blackness.  

France, on the other hand, frames it's own issues around otherness along the lines of immigration and Islam.  The sentiment then is not so much racist as it is xenophobic and islamophobic best represented by Sarkozy's most recent efforts.  No wonder then that the Hip Hop heads in France resist by asserting ethnic and religious pride.

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But true, not all drape themselves in flags and call it a day.  Some are pushing boundaries or in fact re-drawing them.  At Who Iz Underground, a guy walking around in his black letterman jacket would occasionally stop to chat up some friends.  He'd open up his backpack and pull out some fresh white tees for them.  He'd leave and they'd put them on immediately.  Suddenly, a number of people had written all over them, "UNIVERSAL STREET."

It didn't matter what country, ethnicity, or religion you came from; the culture and the experience is always the same.  Street is Street.  What's important is drowning out marginalization through unity and solidarity through the language of Hip Hop.
10/19/2010 8:30pm

didn't i give you that Philippines shirt?

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10/27/2011 9:17pm

Nice to such useful and informative article.thank you!

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    Brian is a writer, dancer, activist, and general hip hop head from New York City. He is currently working towards his Master's in Global Communications in Paris.  



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