By now, everyone interested in contemporary Hip Hop culture and Rap music has seen the “dress” that Young Thug wears on the cover of his new self-titled album Jeffery.
To see a man in a dress, especially in rap and hip-hop culture is a rare sight. As a genre of music, rap and hip-hop culture leave little room for eccentric or quirky expression. It also leaves little room for sexual ambiguity. Even Erykah Badu’s
tweet suggesting the Young Thug’s outfit was comparable to a certain ATLien’s style (Outkasts’ Andre 3000) was shot down. It is clear that many people have strong reactions to this image because it is generally understood that a dress is a garment that women wear – not men. Some people and media outlets suggest he is breaking down gender boundaries and others think it should not be allowed, period!
Interestingly, there is another perspective I would like to bring to the table. Maybe it is a result of PhD overload (yes, I am doing my PhD on grime music), but with my research, especially on music and religion, the “dress” looked vaguely familiar to me.
Academic research has found that a vast majority of popular music we listen to today can be traced back to Ancient West (and Central) African music/religious ceremonies and customs. These customs travelled with people during slavery and were still practiced in the Caribbean and the USA (openly if they were allowed, or secretly if they weren’t). Some of them are still being practiced, but in revamped ways with only traces of the original customs included. Part of these sacred music/religious ceremonies were specific costumes and Young Thug’s “dress” seems inspired by those worn in African rituals
or Jamaican Jonkunnu ceremonies. Type “West African Ritual Costume” or “Jamaican Ritual Costume” into a search engine and have a look. You can also see costumes like this in the British Museum (its free, my favourite price!).
Whatever prompted Young Thug’s new image and name change, it gives us a chance to think about daring to be different and not always conforming to stereotypes. There is every chance that it isn’t that deep, it could all be a media hype (that he has been clearly getting), or it could just be about gender. What do you think? Does it even matter?