The In-Da-Club-ification Of Africa
Black is the new black. Trends set by music videos of the 2000s have returned, but beneath the low-rise jeans and bling, there's a deeper cultural history at play.
Street To Street is a monthly column on the globalization of Black American culture through fashion.
When 50 cent was in da club and Nelly was prompting everybody to take off all their clothes, much of the world was still culturally in the 90s. (Personally, I was toddling around and trying to make words for the first time.) And while 50 and Nelly’s music at the time were sticky with residue from the 90s, they remain symbols of the zeitgeist of the 2000s in our collective memory. With the recent spotlight on early and mid 2000s fashion––specifically Y2K, McBling, and their -core derivatives– and the fast-paced nature of all the algorithms vying for our attention, it can be easy to fixate solely on the aesthetic offerings of the aughts; but I’d like to take a moment to examine the decade as it relates to Black American culture as one of the US’s most successful exports.
Prior to the digital boom of the mid 2000s that ushered in forums, blogs, and later social media, it took a while for trends to disperse into the world. What would eventually be regarded as "cool" would start in major US cities and through catalogs, music, television, and word of mouth ripple throughout the rest of the country and eventually make its way across the globe. The further you were––geographically or culturally––from these hotbeds, the further you were from the vanguard and the longer it took for trends to reach you.
This partially explains the location-based subcultures of streetwear. For example, NYC, Philly, and the DMV each have distinct styles that feed into, coexist with, and sometimes even contradict broader regional and national trends. The aughts just so happened to be a time when the South was the place to be. By taking over hip-hop, the South would also take over the US’s greatest source of soft power, popular culture.
Sweatbands, sideways fitted caps, raw denim three sizes too big, colorful camisoles and customized cropped tops, huge hoop earrings and even larger chains––with hip-hop at the forefront of all things cool if you wanted to be down you were now forced to engage with Black Southern fashion, and this is what it had to offer. Following the trickle of the traditional media trend cycle Black southern culture slowly spread across the country, eventually making it as far as east Asia.
As evidenced by musical acts Styl-Plus, Wizkid, and P-Square, Africans really embraced this era of hip-hop despite its delayed arrival. Fully leaning into the culture they not only mimicked the sonic elements of southern rap at the time, as seen by the resemblance P-Square’s “More Than a Friend” has to Mario’s “Let Me Love You” and Alaye’s use of a generic American accent in his feature on P-Square’s “Temptation," but they also adopted visual markers, incorporating them into their music videos and personas.
Still from P-Square's "Temptation."
Africa’s affection for Black American culture during this time period presents us with an opportunity to examine how the US’s power as the world’s largest exporter of culture intersects with postcolonialism. The aforementioned Nigerian twin duo P-Square serves as an interesting study given that much of their work was released during the early and mid 2000s and drew inspiration from popular Black American music at the time. The duo being Nigerian and the Black South being at the forefront of pop culture make for a unique connection.
As a result of chattel slavery, Black American culture as we know it has its roots in the southern United States and is an amalgamation of the bits of West African culture that slaves managed to preserve and scraps of what is now known as white American culture. The South is perhaps the most notorious home of slavery––in the US or otherwise; and West Africa being the main source for slaves during the transatlantic slave trade places a country like Nigeria in closer cultural proximity to Black America than its geographic location may let on.
Growing up Black in NYC, I had a limited understanding of Africa. I was mostly around Black Americans and Caribbeans; and for much of my early life, my connection to the continent mainly came up whenever we arrived at the slavery unit in history class, bringing on pitiful stares from my mostly white classmates and arousing feelings of embarrassment and shame within me. For a long time, I had this idea that, because their ancestors weren’t shipped across the Atlantic and thrown into a physical, psychological, and spiritual stupor, continental Africans had strong memories of and bonds to their indigenous cultures. It wasn’t until earlier this year, when I visited the continent for the first time, that I began to truly grasp how uninformed that viewpoint is.
I felt entrenched in the colonial footprint left by the British from the second I stepped out of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. I didn’t consciously plan to travel from colonizer to colony but having come from the UK made the British’s impact abundantly clear. At first, I noticed the little things, like the outlets and driving on the left side of the road. But it didn’t take much conversation with Kenyans to recognize that, while perhaps not comparable to chattel slavery, colonialism took a significant toll on the people who are now Kenyans. Despite remaining on ancestral land, they too were disassociated from their cultures in ways that feel irreparable. Unable to reverse the clock, they must now build upon what they have which, not unlike the Black American circumstance, are the parts of indigeneity that survived colonialism and the inherited culture of the colonizer.
I know that Kenya and the East Africa region are distinct to other African regions and their countries, but I think, when applied with care, the perspective I gained while in Kenya speak to the continent more broadly without homogenizing it. Given that many countries throughout Africa’s subregions are rather young, with most gaining independence in 1960 or later, it makes sense that Africans would look to Black America as a model of how to build identity out of turmoil.
If fueled by the heat of independence and stirred by the rapidly growing access to the outside world via media, I, too, would find Black America’s ability to survive and propel culture forward in the face of antiBlackness seductive. And when one considers that Black American culture, especially that of the South, is a reimagining of West African culture, it makes total sense that Africa would find its way in da club during the 2000s.
Enslaved Africans used remnants of their culture and scraps of foreign ones to create something so irresistible that white (and other nonBlack) people co-opted it and exported it far and wide. The power of American media, technological advancements, and the connection between the South and West Africa made the 2000s a perfect time for Black culture to make its way back to the continent. Having come full circle, we’re left to wonder and decide how Black culture will continue to innovate as it inspires itself.