Were you fly? Flyness wasn’t about how handsome you were, although that helped, or about how expensive your clothes were, although that helped, or what brand they were. … Power was fly, and fly was power.
I only learned who Dapper Dan was recently, in the context of hearing about his partnership with Gucci after years of being raided and copied by major European luxury brands.
The short version of who he is and why he’s known: Dan was a hustler who had made a name for himself making “knocked up” (not “off”) fashion. He applied the logos of famous brands to clothes that were closer to the aesthetic of the street. He wasn’t copying a Gucci bag, he was making sweatshirts and jackets and branding the leather with the Gucci logo. His styles were enormously popular, first with the local Harlem hustlers and dealers, then with rappers. As rap grew, so did Dapper Dan.
That’s the Cliff Notes, though. Dap spends most of the book describing how the streets of Harlem led him to fashion. The journey winds around, hitting some expected corners as well as some unexpected ones.
The long-term benefits of getting an education seemed abstract at best and a lie at worst.
A lot of Dap’s years are spent on the wrong side of the law, though I suspect that he would take a more philosophical view. A lifelong student of metaphysics–there’s a whiff of hotep-ism in there–I imagine that Dap views laws in about the same way he views religion: there’s a kernel of truth there, but the manifestations of it are more artifice than real. He’s very matter-of-fact about his life of crime, and doesn’t spend a lot of time regretting the petty thievery that kept him from hunger or the scams that paid for his children to attend private school.
The book is written in informal African American Vernacular English, but it sounds very natural. I could hear any of my uncles in the voice and that was somewhat soothing. I would read this in conjunction with The World According to Fannie Davis. Where Fannie’s life as a hustler ends, Dap’s story begins.
If all you know about Dapper Dan is his clothes, and you’ve almost certainly seen his clothes if you saw any rap video in the late 80s, this book will introduce you to the warm, intelligent, creative man behind them. (You’ll also find a couple of giggle-worthy swipes at LL Cool J.)
And to Teddy Riley, LL Cool J, and the Boogie Down Productions crew: technically y’all still owe me money.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley in order to facilitate this review.