A Visual History: N.W.A.’s Trendsetting Fashion

Arguably the most influential hip-hop collective of all time, N.W.A. burst onto the scene in the late ‘80s with a brand of hip-hop that terrified middle America and ushered in a new era of gangsta rap. Fueled by Reaganomics, violence, and race relations, N.W.A shed light on the impoverished communities of Los Angeles and went on to have massive success both as a group and as individual artists.

Beyond their music, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and DJ Yella were fashion icons and set trends that are still prominent today. Rocking snapback hats, all-black everything outfits, thick gold rope chains, and black sunglasses, the crew had a look that matched their hard-edged music, and had kids from every race, religion, and creed flocking to the nearest mall to try and look like them.

What made their style so attractive was how accessible the clothes they wore were. While most of today’s popular young rappers glorify designer brands like Givenchy, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci, N.W.A.’s simple look was doable on any budget. Responsible for a whole legion of L.A. Raiders fans and as one of the earliest hip-hop groups to glamorize hockey teams, N.W.A.’s hometown pride and love of sports carried over to their style.

When videos like “Straight Outta Compton” and “Express Yourself” hit airwaves in 1988 and 1989, people around the country had the blueprint for what it took to look like their favorite rappers. With Straight Outta Compton in theaters today, check out a few classic pics of the crew and the styles they helped birth. This is a Visual History: N.W.A.’s Trendsetting Fashion.

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SNAPBACKS
Before snapback hats were all the rage, members of N.W.A. were rarely seen without one. The crew helped put Starter hats on the map and before long, every kid who had seen the “Straight Outta Compton” video was taking after Ice Cube and rocking an all-black snapback. With N.W.A.’s stamp, snapbacks becoming a must in streetwear and Starter script font team hats remain some of the hottest hats on shelves. After a brief hiatus in the mid 2000s, snapbacks came back big time and are an absolute staple in any wardrobe. Everyone can thank N.W.A. for the co-sign.

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N.W.A.
@icecube

RAIDERS/KINGS/LAKERS/WHITE SOX GEAR
Proud Los Angeles natives, the members of N.W.A. repped their home teams harder than anyone. Preferring the black and silver Raiders colors, N.W.A. was also huge proponents of Los Angeles Kings gear and, along with Snoop Dogg, were some of the first rappers to make hockey gear cool. Along with Kings and Raiders gear, Dre and Eazy donned Chicago White Sox hats–sticking with the all-black theme–and, in his post-N.W.A. days, the good Doctor was seldom seen without a White Sox hat.

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NWA all-black style
Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images

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ALL-BLACK EVERYTHING
Well before Jay Z was rapping about “all-black everything” outfits, N.W.A. ditched the bright colors of ‘80s fashion for a more militant look. Black letterman jackets, black denim jeans, and black hats, N.W.A. took the uniform look to a whole new level. Ice Cube explained the all-black outfits in a 2010 interview with The New York Times, saying, “N.W.A. was actually an all-star group–we all had our own style, because we had come from different groups to create N.W.A. So we felt that we needed to look like we belonged together. This was an age of troop suits and uniforms. Run-D.M.C. were in black and leather. We decided we’re not dressing alike but we’ll at least wear the same color. So we picked black as our color. I’d show up in my Raider gear. Next thing you know, other people start buying Raiders gear. It’s just a thing where you looked right, it felt right. It had the same image we had.”

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NWA
PYMCA/Getty Images

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THICK ROPE CHAINS
While N.W.A. can’t take full credit for popularizing big thick rope chains–that distinction goes to East Coast artists like Slick Rick, Eric B. and Rakim, and Biz Markie–their status in the rap world certainly helped the trend gain steam. Style wise, thick gold chains have been a staple in hip-hop fashion since the beginning but with N.W.A.’s all-black outfits, the gold chains popped in pictures and in person.

N.W.A.
Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

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WHITE KICKS
The only time N.W.A. strayed from black clothing was when it came to footwear. Donning white sneakers, the members of N.W.A. were certainly up on kick game. Rocking Jordans, Nikes, and especially Converse, Dre, Eazy, Yella, Ren, and Cube were some of the original sneaker fiends.

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N.W.A. sneakers Nike Converse
Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Follow Peter on Twitter at @Peter_M_Walsh