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Combat Ready

'War core' and The revolutionary origins of military style and camouflage streetwear in hip hop.

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Vogue Magazine recently suggested that 'war core' (clothing that reflects violence, war or chaos) is the latest dominant trend on the runways.

Dystopian, guerrilla warfare-style clothing is increasingly coming out of designers’ collections. But why?

“As long as there is war, conflict and political unrest in the world…military-style fashion will continue to be absorbed by popular culture,’ suggests Timothy Godbold in his book Military Style Invades Fashion

Growing anxiety over the state of the world is now influencing the runways.


But the truth is it has been influencing the streets for years.

Hip hop is one of the cultures closest to the streets and has for years embraced surplus clothing, fatigues, camouflage, and military-style boots.

Back in 94', Brooklyn’s Biggie Smalls rapped that unlike the "goodie-goodies" he liked “black Timbs and black hoodies" - referring his love for Black Timberland boots.


In what is now known as the 'Golden Age of hip hop', military-style infiltrated hip hop and the streets. Still in the streets, 'warcore' is now infiltrating the runways.

The Military and Hip Hop

Biggie Smalls


The Gulf War has a huge impact on street fashion. Soldiers returning from the War brought military style and surplus uniforms with them. Cheap and durable, it wasn't long before it flooded the streets. 

The first hip hop artists to adopt camouflage and the military-style look is a topic of much debate. However, it is widely accepted to have originated in New York.

Some leading sites have incorrectly claimed that Boot Camp Clik was the first in 1994. 

However, two years earlier in 1992, New York MC Kool G Rap was pictured wearing fatigues on the album cover of Kool G Rap & Dj Polo's Live and Let Die.


Boot Camp Clik looking more like a platoon than a crew of MCs

Kool G Rap & Dj Polo

Revolutionary origins

The truth is neither of these artists was the first to rock a military-style commercially in hip hop.

No, it was a more political New York hip hop crew, Public Enemy that adopted the military aesthetic even earlier.

Formed in Long Island in 1986, the politically charged group were known for their renegade lyrics and protest songs like Fight the Power and Burn Hollywood Burn.​

In 1988, the group was pictured wearing a woodland camo pattern during the promotion of their seminal album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back.


The 'S1Ws' - a sub-group of Public Enemy - was known to wear military fatigues and parade on stage like a squad of guerillas.

The leader of the S1Ws, 'Professor Griff' (Richard Griffin) actually served in the US Military before forming a security company for venues then joining Public Enemy.



Another New York-based crew of MCs would help popularize military style even further and permanently cement the style as part of hip hop culture. 

Wu-tang Clan told kung fu-laced street tales of the struggle in New York's economically disadvantaged boroughs.


The group gained a sizeable underground following after releasing the independent single 'Protect Ya Neck' in 1993 and would go on to heavily influence not only New York street style but the worlds.


Wu-tang members would often be seen in military-influenced garb like timberlands and in 2001, the group released an album inspired by the Iwo Jima flag-raising photo from 1945.


Hip Hop Sub Cultures

When the military-style and camouflage streetwear began appearing in hip-hop videos, it exploded on the world stage and was adopted by youth in urban areas from France to Sweden.  

It's telling that the military aesthetic remains perhaps most popular in those subcultures closest to the struggle.


The themes of struggle and battle are most acutely represented in more recent sub-genres of hip hop
Genres like trap music and drill music represent modern-day 'reality rap' with laced urban tales of hustling to survive and gang warfare.​


These young rappers/dealers see themselves as outlaws and like to flex with street-made wealth. With music production now possible with a laptop, these rappers produce their own music, find an audience and become tastemakers by default.


Camouflage streetwear and military-inspired apparel continue to be popular in these sub-genres where dystopia and guerilla warfare is a genuine reality.

As long as it remains close to the streets, it will be seen on the runways.

G Herbo.jpg

Chicago drill rapper G Herbo 


Atlanta trap rapper 21 Savage

Hip Hop & Streetwear

While the streets influence hip hop, hip hop also influences the streets, inspiring style trends and turning some clothing brands into streetwear brands almost overnight.


People born after 1990 would be forgiven for thinking Timberlands were designed especially for the hip-hop community, when in reality they were made for New England construction workers.


It was hip hop and artists like Biggie, Boot Camp Clik and Wu-Tang that that drove the widespread adoption of the 'Timberland 6'.

Recent collections from doyens of streetwear like Supreme, BAPE and Stone Island in 2019 reveal that the military-aesthetic isn't going anywhere anytime soon.


 Supreme x Stone Island technical SS19 collection

A Bathing Ape SS'19