When we look at the relationship between music and fashion, as well as between fashion trends and youth culture, we get a clearer understanding of the times we live in. In this series, Tsuya-chan, the writer behind the article, “2010s Analysis: A Look at Trap Music, Fashion Trends, and More,” analyzes current cultural events by examining contemporary music with a focus on Japanese hip-hop.
Following Tsuya-chan’s previous article, the subject of this article is once again Chanel. By focusing on the brand’s creations and “real” attitude, as well as the rhyming techniques of ECD, Tohji, ZORN, and others, Tsuya-chan will unravel the connection between the brand and hip-hop.
Rhymes and hip-hop references according to Karl Lagerfeld, and Coco Chanel’s “realness”
Up until now, when it comes to the way hip-hop talks about Chanel, I’ve mainly analyzed how the brand’s name is used to mean something entirely different in rap lyrics. But this time, I’d like to consider how hip-hop talks about Chanel from the perspective of phonetics in rap.
I’m tempted to say Chanel is hip-hop. Perhaps this is because of Karl Lagerfeld’s humor, for example, when discussing the house’s extensive use of lace.
“In the 1930s, Chanel was much more famous for her lace dresses than her suits. When I hear the word lace, I think of Chanel. The French word for lace is ‘dentelle.’ Dentelle, Chanel…it rhymes.”[Note: This quote has been translated into English from a Japanese translation] （Source: Karl Lagerfeld、Translated by Tsutomu Nakano（2020）、『カール・ラガーフェルドのことば』）Kawabe Shobo Shinsha）（カール・ラガーフェルド著、中野勉訳『カール・ラガーフェルドのことば』、河出書房新社、2020年）
In 2018, Nicki Minaj sang a song called “Coco Chanel,” [From the album “Queen”] and in more recent memory, 24knGoldn made a splash with a humorous music video for “Coco feat. Da Baby.” Although Chanel is popular with all kinds of rappers, we can’t forget that there’s actually a history of the fashion house making an appeal to hip-hop.
In his 91-92 AW collection, Karl Lagerfeld shocked journalists with his bold references to hip-hop fashion elements, a far cry from the fashion house’s image up until that point. Although Chanel often used accessories to further enhance its functional, simple style, the gold accessories in the AW 91-92 collection reflected a completely different editorial sensibility than before.
At a time when brands like Versace and Jean-Paul Gaultier stood out with their effective use of gold, the high-class and almost sacred kitschiness of gold gave just the right amount of spice to Chanel’s minimalist style. This was also at a time when hip-hop was starting to attract attention, especially in New York, thanks to the work of Public Enemy, De La Soul, and others. The street vibe of the hats and the accessories, which were sloppily stacked in a way that approached kitsch, were the brand’s appeal to hip-hop. (Regarding Chanel and gold, KOHH sang in his 2013 song, “Jyuu Nin To Iro,”: “Chanel on my neck/Vintage gold.”)
In any case, Coco Chanel is someone who lived by the creed of “realness” that hip-hop has maintained since its inception. Based on her firsthand experiences, she speaks proudly and without lies. That attitude is expressed through the following quote: “I never lie, because I don’t want to live an ambiguous life.” [Note: This quote has been translated into English from a Japanese translation]（Terumi Takano “ココ・シャネル 凛として生きる言葉” PHP Bunko、2015） Her strong-willed way of navigating the world has been recounted in various forms including movies and books, and that legacy hasn’t been limited to clothing; rather, Coco Chanel herself is remembered as a 20th-century pop culture icon. This creates an inseparable correlation between the work and the artist, which feels extremely close to the pressure found in hip-hop.
Rhymes with “Chanel” appear in this exquisite song by ECD, as well as the songs of up-and-coming rappers YOSHIKI EZAKI and AYA a.k.a. PANDA.
However, from a phonetic perspective, the word “Chanel” may have been forced into rap lyrics. In a previous article from this series, I discussed how the affricate sounds of “Versace” and “Gucci” are loved by recent rappers and enrich rap music, but in the case of Chanel, its simple pronunciation lacks any distinction. Thus, it may have been a difficult feat for the word to give color to the music. Therefore, contrary to expectations, there aren’t many attempts to rhyme with Chanel.
Of the few examples, the most famous line is probably in the ECD classic, “Lonely Girl feat. K DUB SHINE” (From the 1997 album “Big Youth”). Chanel is described alongside Fendi and Versace in the famous lyrics, “Making sex a business / Stray sheep X/ The man with a Rolex was supposed to buy you a ring / But it’s a collar that ties you / A cellphone call / Chanel sandals / Polish on her toenails,” Here, ECD tries rhyming “Chanel” with “sandal.” Another recent example is “King Size Bed” (From the 2020 album “Sweet Room”) by up-and-coming rapper YOSHIKI EZAKI, who has gained recognition for his work with LEX and ONLY U. He rhymes “Chanel” and “Goyard” in the following: “If you ask me to do 1, I’ll do 10/ Our value goes up every year /I give that girl Chanel /Goyard.” [Note: When pronounced in Japanese, Chanel and Goyard rhyme] Furthermore, although slight, we can find an example of alliteration in the hook of AYA a.k.a. PANDA’s song, “Show Me Love” (2019). She raps, “I want a Chanel bag/ I want to drink champagne with you.” [Note: In the original Japanese lyrics, The “Ch” in “Chanel” and “champagne” line up]
Tohji and BAD HOP’s “Coco” rhymes give off an air of effortlessness and pop
Although “Chanel” seems difficult to use effectively in rap music, we can observe experimentation with other approaches, such as the references to “Coco” in volume 6 of this series and the construction of anecdotes that go beyond clothing to include perfume. Take, for example, the 2019 song “lastnight” by stei x TYOSiN x Tohji. In his verse, Tohji raps, “I have no business here, so I’m leaving here/Earning foreign capital/Buying Coco Chanel.” In this example, the brilliant rhyme between, “Coco Chanel” [Japanese: Koko Shaneru] and “leaving here” [Japanese: Koko Saru] is remarkable, but the voiceless velar stop [A voiceless sound created by forcefully exhaling and using the soft palate] behind “Coco” gives his verse a unique air of effortlessness, and in some way, a charming impression. Consequently, talented rappers have taken note of this point.
In 2021, BAD HOP rhymed in “Chop Stick (Remix)” (From the album “BAD HOP WORLD DELUXE”), “I put on Fendi/On my neck Tiffany/The perfume I wear is Coco Chanel.” Here, the stop consonants are layered with the words “perfume” [Japanese: kousui] and “Coco Chanel,” giving the song a pop feel that’s perfect for expressing the group’s charm.
Let’s admire ZORN’s technique of incorporating Chanel No. 5 in his rhymes
Since his incredible 2020 album “Shin Koiwa,” ZORN has gained even more respect in the scene with the success of his recent Budokan concert. I’d like to examine his 2014 release, “Party Night” (from the album “Third Children”). He raps: “Midnight club/2:30 am/Everyone’s eyes are on that sexy lady/ She’s too cool, her taste is sophisticated/Nails perfectly done/Words don’t come to mind/It’s like Monroe’s Chanel No.5,” In this verse, ZORN rhymes “Words don’t come to mind” [Japanese: Kakeru Kotoba] with “Chanel No.5” [Japanese: Chaneru No Goban] We can only look on in wonder as he skillfully matches the “a-e-u-o-o-a” vowel sounds between the two phrases. But by specifically referencing “No.5” rather than just perfume in general, the word serves as more than a rhyming sound, emphasizing the allure of a woman dancing seductively on the club floor at 2:30 a.m.
As many may already know, Chanel N°5 was a product that went against the norm of the 1920s, when overly ornate designs were commonplace. It was sold in an unconventional, minimalist form, resembling a rectangular medicine bottle and featuring a modest sans-serif logo. It was overwhelmingly simple with an ideal minimalist appearance. Graphic designer Kenya Hara said of the N°5 bottle: “People have heaped a stockpile of images into this empty object. That overwhelming stockpile—that’s why N°5 holds the tremendous weight of its images. This is the unique characteristic of a design that has survived for a long time.” (“high fashion”, February 2008 issue)
N°5 is one representation of how Chanel has always been particular about its simple and functional style. That’s precisely why it’s continued to expand that style by being receptive to various combinations and all kinds of elements. As I’ve discussed three times in this series, the brand’s charm is how in rap music, it allows for the association of “cocaine” through the addition of the word “coco” and expands the imagination of listeners by combining “perfume” and “N°5.” This openness itself is Chanel’s identity. We should keep a close eye on Chanel—not only under new designer Virginie Viard as she undergoes a trial and error process, but also how it’s represented in rap music.
Incidentally, while Chanel moves onto new challenges under a new designer, one brand is exploding in popularity and increasing its presence in hip-hop by the day. Oddly, this brand has been Chanel’s perpetual rival, and is the same house behind Coco Chanel’s return to trendy fashion. In my next article, I would like to report on the interesting situation this brand currently finds itself in as it enters its golden age once again, and how its image is being carved out by hip-hop music.