In 1987, a streetwise d.j. from Queens named Eric Barrier released an album with an eerily mature teen-age rapper from Long Island named William Griffin. They called themselves Eric B. & Rakim (Griffin had adopted an Arabic name after joining an offshoot of the Nation of Islam), and they called the album “Paid in Full.” Its cover was meant to provide proof of the boast: the two men are photographed holding fans of cash, superimposed on a green-tinted image of giant bills. Their fingers are covered in gold rings; around each man’s neck is a gold chain that looks thick enough to suspend a bridge.
Even so, most people who see the cover will find their eyes drawn to the matching leather outfits that the two are wearing. The jackets dominate the frame, and, on the back cover, one of them serves as a backdrop for an impressive still-life composed of jewelry, money, and a personal check signed by Ronald Reagan. The sleeves and torso are black, but the collar and shoulders and wrists and pockets are white leather, decorated with a tiny logo print: a series of double “G”s, the second one inverted, each pair separated from its diagonal neighbor by a black dot. If you look closely at the black leather, you can see the same pattern there, black on black. It’s a Gucci logo, and on the chest is another one: a pair of fist-size interlocking “G”s.
“Paid in Full” was a hit, and a turning point: its imaginative samples inspired hip-hop producers to broaden their palettes, its sinuous rhymes inspired rappers to stretch out their verses, and its audacious cover helped convince rivals and fans that hip-hop fashion might mean something more luxurious than a T-shirt or a track suit. Of course, fans hoping to buy their own logo-print Gucci jackets wouldn’t have met with much success at the company’s Manhattan boutique, at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-fourth Street, which sold mostly handbags and wallets. But within the emerging hip-hop industry the source of those outfits was an open secret: they came from a bustling shop seventy blocks north, in Harlem, called Dapper Dan’s Boutique.
Read more: Harlem Chic – The New Yorker