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, an up-and-coming writer, analyzes current cultural events by examining contemporary music with a focus on Japanese hip-hop.
Starting with the 10th installment, Tsuya-chan will discuss the fashion house with Virgil Abloh as the menswear artistic director and Nicolas Ghesquière as the womenswear artistic director: Louis Vuitton. She will analyze the relationship between hip-hop and Louis Vuitton, a brand that has resonated with a wide variety of cultures, while unraveling the symbolism found in hip-hop lyrics.
Louis Vuitton: Repeatedly mixing various cultures to create hybrids
JP The WAVY, who says he always goes shopping before recording, confessed the following in an interview:
“For example, with the song ‘Stay’ from my last album, I was in the studio, but I just couldn’t write anything. I was at the point of, ‘Oh no, what do I do?’ So I was like, ‘I’m gonna head over to Louis Vuitton.’ I hopped in a cab, bought a pair of sunglasses at Louis Vuitton, and came back. And then all the lyrics just came flowing out. (laughs)”
Source: GQ JAPAN – JP THE WAVY and LEX talk about their encounter, production backstories, and their views on fashion (Part 1)
Louis Vuitton and artists have always inspired each other. Consequently, there hasn’t been a single season where the fashion house hasn’t delivered a surprise. Recently, news came out that the brand had named BTS its newest brand ambassadors. Virgil Abloh commented: “I am looking forward to this wonderful partnership, which adds a modern chapter to the house, merging luxury and contemporary culture.” Around the same time as the announcement, the LOUIS VUITTON & exhibitiontook place in Tokyo. The exhibition, which is still fresh in our minds, was based on the concept of collaboration. It compiled the brand’s history of making headlines and its continuous journey into defying the boundaries of time and genre. The history of the brand is one that has approached various cultures and repeatedly created hybrids, especially since it entered the world of trendy fashion in 1998. Enjoying Louis Vuitton is a journey-like experience, one that is reminiscent of sightseeing/appreciating art culture from the classics to the contemporary; in its presentation, the brand has the confidence to point that out and redefine the innovation of a brilliant era. Undoubtedly, one source of Louis Vuitton’s inspiration is music. There are two examples of this: The collaboration with Pharrell Williams on sunglasses and jewelry, thanks to an invitation from the art director at the time, Marc Jacobs, and campaign featuring ads with Madonna, Keith Richards, and David Bowie. These examples remain etched in our memories today.
Since the mid-2000s, the brand has steadily built up its popularity under former menswear directors Paul Helbers and Kim Jones, going on to further solidify its popularity in the hip-hop world with the help of Virgil Abloh. It appears that this journey of sorts is continuing to progress without boundaries. In the current season—the 2021 men’s summer collection—21 Savage was featured as a campaign model. The watercolor technique [used on the clothing] expresses the brand’s commitment to diversity, something which blurs and obscures boundaries. When we see 21 Savage standing there dressed in the collection, it appears as if the brand is entrusting hip-hop culture with its future as a brand loved beyond borders and racial barriers.
How has hip-hop referred to Louis Vuitton in its music?
When one thinks about hip-hop’s love letters to Louis Vuitton, the best example is undoubtedly Kanye West. Furthermore, 2Chainz’s “Birthday Song” (2012) features Louis Vuitton alongside Gucci in his wishes: “When I die, bury me inside the Louis Store.” Louis Vuitton—which one could call the king of luxury brands—holds a diverse range of cultural meanings, and the brand is referenced in numerous lyrics.
Such is also the case in Japan, where the typical reference to the brand as a luxury item is quite common. One representative example is NORIKIYO’s “Hey Money feat. ZORN, ACLO&OMSB” (2014), a song that celebrates everyday work and modest family values as part of an ideal lifestyle. The lines, “Vuitton Dolce & Gabbana/Now they’ve turned into pajamas,” reference the brand in contrast to the down-to-earth outfit of a white shirt and pants. KOHH uses the same symbolism in his song, “Binbou Nante Kini Shinai ” (2014) [“I don’t care about being poor”], where he rhymes, “There’s no point in being rich but poor inside/Going out of your way to show off/Expensive Louis, Gucci, Versace/You don’t need anything except what you really need.”
Meanwhile, there are cases where Louis Vuitton is seen as synonymous with the concept of a brand. GOBLIN LAND, two brothers who refer to themselves as “neo-chinpira,” rap the following: “GL are icons/We’re the brand/We’re the trend like Louis, Gucci, Fendi, Chrom, BG, Prada/We’re the trend” (From the 2019 song, “icon feat. Mackey”). In this verse, Louis Vuitton is first to be mentioned as an example of a brand. By claiming that they are both a brand and icons, they paint a picture of the LV logo.
This technique is close to the one used by Elle Teresa, who equated herself to a brand by saying, “If you like me, come here/With me, like Tiffany” (from FEMM’s 2018 “Dolls Kill feat. ELLE TERESA”). However, GOBLIN LAND’s example is only made possible by the fact that Louis Vuitton is representative of luxury brands and that the symbolic nature of its logo is firmly imprinted in our minds.
The skillful rhyming approach by BAD HOP, KOWICHI, and YDIZZY
Louis Vuitton is often included in lyrics because of its multiple meanings. Yet, many rappers seem to have a hard time incorporating it into the rap format from a linguistic perspective. Unlike Gucci, one can imagine that Louis Vuitton is a difficult word to work with based on the sound. As a result, great rappers have paved the way by cutting off and modifying the sound; rappers’ ingenious solutions have included shortening “Louis Vuitton” to “Louis,” “Louis Vee,” and “LV.” The aforementioned GOBLIN LAND is a case in point, as is BAD HOP’s “Foreign feat. YZERR & Tiji Jojo” (2019), where “Louis” is chosen to rhyme with “booties” in the line, “Prada and Louis/Chanel booties.”
As for the usage of “LV,” I’d like to cite KOWICHI’s “No Lease” (2019). KOWICHI lists brand names that he can now buy as a successful person: “It’s not borrowed/Clothes and jewelry/None of its borrowed/Versace Fendi Gucci LV Balenciaga.” In order to rhyme with “Versace,” “Fendi,” and “Gucci,” we can see that he says, “LV.”
Perhaps the most sensual way of utilizing Louis Vuitton in recent rap music may be YDIZZY’s “OOOUUU (REMIX)” (2016). This number is based on the Young M.A. track that was a huge hit in the scene that same year, with many rappers responding with their own remixes. But while he follows the simple bar-by-bar rhyme of the original, YDIZZY manages to give the lyrics his own color and thrilling appeal. He raps: “Don’t make me laugh, you depress[ed] motherfucker / You good at tongue twister[s] / Feel nothing with that kinda song / Go to sleep you stupid ass, I’m done.” [Note: These lyrics are taken from the translation found on the artist’s YouTube video] In his lyrics, he carefully rhymes in a relaxed rhythm to keep all the fast rappers in check, and the rap unfolds with the following lines: “kiLLa are[sic] ready to fly/This is just foreplay/Always look beyond the things/Diamond[s] and LV on my body.” It follows the order of ready→foreplay→action [Note: The Japanese version of the lyrics contain the word “action”]→ Louis Vuitton, and the word “body” is incorporated as something that wears the Louis Vuitton. One of the most talked-about rappers in the Tokyo hip-hop scene at the time, Y-DIZZY’s style is encapsulated by this flowing description and outstanding compositional skill.
Louis Vuitton thrown into the flame
Another example worth mentioning is DJ CHARI & DJ TATSUKI’s “YAKEDO feat. Candee & OGF Deech” (2020), a song that showcases acrobatic rhyming techniques. As one can see from the earlier examples, “Louis Vuitton” is easy to rhyme with other brand names by using the “ii” sound. In the verse, “Cartier, Burberry/Amiri and Louis Vuitton/No one can touch me/I’m like a flame /The smoking city, we’re the origin of the fire/Leaving burns behind one after another,” the first half of the verse uses an extended “ii” sound with “Burberry” and “Louis,” while the second half uses the “o” sound at the end of “Vuitto(n),” “honoo” [fire], “himoto” [origin of the fire], and “yakedo” [burn]. Here, Louis Vuitton exists as a bridge between the “ii” and “o” sounds. This methodical example draws attention to the brand’s position as an indispensable presence.
While Louis Vuitton is compared to other luxury brands such as Cartier, it is also subsequently thrown into the fire of “flame”, “origin of the fire”, and “burn.” I’d like to finish this essay with one more statement. Did you know that there’s a work that amplifies the dramatic effect of this depiction [of Louis Vuitton being thrown into the flame]? If you’re a hip-hop lover, you may already know this song. I’m referring to a 2020 music video that maintains a sense of self-restraint through light and shadows that fill the screen. In my next installment, I would like to further the discussion on the relationship between Louis Vuitton and the flame. I will write about the wavering, irresistible emotions revealed by the camera and the unstable emotions that drift like smoke.