In the halcyon ’90s, being a heavy rapper was in. Now? It’s more of a punchline. Emilia Petrarca traces hip-hop’s evolution through waistlines—and explains how we got from Big Pun to Theophilus London.
For whatever reason, summertime in New York is when all the ghosts of hip-hop past come out of the woodwork. It’s mid-June, and I’m at a Celebrate Brooklyn! concert headlined by the ’90s hip-hop group Blackalicious. Big Boi is supposed to be performing, but he had to cancel thanks to a mistimed jump at his last concert. The Gift of Gab, the only original member of Blackalicious present, is twice as big as Big Boi but only half as well known. All 300 pounds of him slowly makes its way onto the stage, one of his feet lagging behind the other in a sort of smooth swagger. He’s wearing a huge bright orange polo, nondescript blue jeans, and a pair of Nike Air Force 1s. I turn to my friend and say, “Who is this guy?” I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone on stage who looked like him.