Given rap’s persistent, historical obsession with authenticity, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that some of its earliest, greatest innovators were also some of its most flamboyant dressers. Rap pioneers like Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five and Afrika Bambaataa adorned themselves in outfits that signified their uniqueness as performers and thinkers–and, ironically, would have made them objects of ridicule during hip-hop’s Golden Age and the years that followed, the age of Wu Tang’s grime, the Ruff Ryders’ rawness, and a general rejection of anything that didn’t immediately announce street authenticity.
In 2013, we’re privy to so many different styles in hip-hop as to almost make the genre centerless in terms of fashion. You’ve got the Carhartt classicists, the kilt-wearing all black fashionistas, the ironic outfit-rocking hipsters, and every shade in between. Kanye wears masks. Drake wears cardigans. Macklemore wears fur coats. Rick Ross often doesn’t wear a shirt. Hip-hop’s closet is evolving.
Still, when a rapper looks and dresses like British emcee Jake Emlyn, he’s probably going to turn some heads
Emlyn is, in short, a statement. Twisting lithe, dense rhymes over a loop of Glass Candy’s electro-thumping “Digital Versicolor” for his new single “The Wonka Hath Landed,” Emlyn sounds every bit the outlandish rap stylist, an inheritor (whether intentional or not) of Kool Keith’s hyper-sexual, otherworldly lyrical exercises.
Emlyn’s image is flamboyant to say the least, a combination of platinum blond hair and eye brows, elaborate outfits, and a general aura of oddness that speaks to his self-anointed nickname “The Cockney Willy Wonka.” His closest comparisons in the current landscape are perhaps rappers like Mykki Blanco and Le1f–rappers for whom style and sexuality are as central to their intrigue and performance as their music.
You may need an open mind to fully enter Emlyn’s world, but it’s certainly an intriguing addition to the ever expanding palette of hip-hop iconography.