by MIKE CHAIKEN
Even if you don’t recognize the names of Misa Hylton and April Walker, you probably have seen their work.
In the world of hip-hop of the late 1980s and 1990s, the style of the moment had the fingerprints of these two women all over it as they helped dress artists like Mary J. Blige, Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliot.
A documentary, now available on Netflix, offers insight on how these two women helped take hip-hop style from an underground construct to a mainstream force.
“The Remix: Hip Hop X Fashion” is the brainchild of directors Farah X and Lisa Cortes.
The two directors said the influence of Hylton and Walker on the world of hip-shop was a story that needed to be told.
“It’s a hidden history, but a history that had a tremendous impact on changing cultural norms,” said Cortes “These women were the architects of this change.”
Women in hip hop, like Hylton and Walker, often were overlooked in the male-dominated world of the genre. Men were the ones who were telling the story but women were not.
If women wanted to receive the recognition for their roles in shaping hip-hop “it’s up to us to tell the story,” said Farah.
Hylton and Walker, by shaping hip-hop culture, also helped shape mainstream culture, said Farah.
For instance, Hylton had the idea of putting a colored wig on Lil’ Kim that matched the color scheme of the set design on the video for “Crush on You.” The decision raised a few eyebrows in the community.
But the idea resonated with fans. Cortes, who is black, said when she was younger she wore blue in her hair because she had seen Lil’ Kim do it.
“Misa did a lot to bring that (style) into the mainstream,” said Cortes.
“There’s been tremendous innovation… in the way we could express ourselves,” said Cortes because of Hylton and Walker.
Hylton also shaped how male vocal groups dressed, said Cortes.
Prior to Hylton, said Cortes, male vocal groups dressed in suits and silk shirts.
But when the group Jodeci was brought to Hylton for styling style, she had the idea to dress the members like their fans, said Cortes. So Hylton dressed the young vocal group in Timberlands and baggy jeans.
Again, it resonated with fans.
Hylton and Walker, by helping raise the profile of hip-hop in mainstream culture, also helped promote the cause of diversity, the two directors explained.
Farah, who is Pakistani, said when she was growing up, she never saw anyone who looked like her in the media. This changed with the growth of hip-hop culture.
After hip-hop became mainstream, Farah said, “Kids would see people like themselves. (People of color) realized they were part of the narrative; they belonged.”
Cortes and Farah said the subjects of the film, Hylton and Walker, helped open doors with the sources they interviewed, such as Mary J. Blige, who was styled by Hylton. The directors also were able to speak to style icon Dapper Dan as well.
“I think Misa Hills and April Walker are so revered by the community, it made our job so easy (connecting with sources),” said Corte.
“The Remix: Hip Hop X Fashion” finds itself on Netflix just as the cause of Black Lives Matters and the fight against systemic racism has gained considerable momentum in America.
But when the documentary was being filmed (the film appeared in the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019), said Farah, BLM had taken the backseat to #MeToo in the collective consciousness.
After the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, BLM has now grabbed the public’s attention.
“It was so necessary,” said Farah of the movement.
Farah said she hoped “The Remix: Hip Hop Fashion” helps add to the conversation about race relations.
“(The documentary) shows the beauty of black people and the value of black people,” said Farah. “All I can hope is to show that a black person is not someone to be feared,” said Farah.
“The Remix: Hip Hop X Fashion” is available on Netflix.