The first time I saw a white dude with cornrows I almost choked to death on my own laughter. The year was 1991. George H.W. Bush declared the end of the Gulf War; everybody celebrated in their baggy Cross Colours. While the 80s shrugged hip-hop off as a passing fad, the 90s welcomed it with open pocketbooks. Even parents in the suburbs were like, “Yo!” So I should have been more prepared when I watched in awe the teenager strutting down the center of Arden Mall with a huge cellular phone in one hand, his obese girlfriend’s hand in the other and some big, nasty, greasy-ass blonde cornrows sectioning off the real estate of his scalp.
In the 90s, even skateboarding was taking on an urban feel. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a hobby for miscreants and rejects, but metropolitan influence was slowly creeping in. Skateboarding meandered away from its Southern California surf roots of punk rock, vert ramps and neon headbands to merge with a city aesthetic of hip-hop, the streets and baggy pants (and I’m convinced that because of this union Shameika Evans finally let me feel a gigantic boob under her shirt). It was somewhere around 1992 that skateboarding and hip-hop’s marriage was solidified.
“We were outcasts, so I hung with people that was like me,” says Del the Funky Homosapien, the Oakland rapper who has always identified with skateboarders. “[Hip-hop and skateboarding] are both creative, and they both take skill. You can’t just pick up a skateboard and be raw—you have to practice; hip-hop used to be the same way. There is no way you could get in a cypher if you couldn’t rap. You might get whooped on.”
Del’s catchy, high energy track “Ahone Two, Ahone Two” was eventually featured in the 1992 Plan B skate video Questionable (often thought of as the most innovative skateboarding video of its time) which fused hip-hop, rock ‘n’ roll and skating into an iron structure of counter culture, which has held to this day.
Del’s manager and rapper/skateboarder/graffiti artist Tion Torrence, aka, Bukue One, is also a product of the era when skateboarding and hip-hop began to meld. “I’ve been skateboarding since ’87,” says the Bay Area native. “Back then, there wasn’t any hip-hop in skateboarding so I got into Operation Ivy, Bad Religion, Dinosaur Jr. and Primus. But when we would go skating we would [also] listen to Run DMC, N.W.A., A Tribe Called Quest … and even the thugs in my hood were skating then.”
Nowadays, there’s money to be made in both hip-hop and skateboarding. Nike sponsors skateboarders. Hip-hop is used to sell breakfast cereal. Counter culture “ is a multi-million dollar industry that took over the world,” says Del. “It’s like in the 60s and 70s, with the new consciousness/awareness that was coming out—a lot of cats didn’t really understand it. So when the media and different industries zoomed in on that, took advantage of it and sold it, you had a lot of cats buying into it but they was just doing it because it was the thing to do.”
I wonder if that white guy even knew why he had cornrows. Did he braid his silky blonde hair to subconsciously emulate DJ Quik? Or was he intentionally ahead of his time? Who knows; times change so fast that it’s useless to ponder. What we thought was ridiculous one minute might be totally plausible in a matter of days. For instance, we have a black President who wears chinos hiked up to his nipples and a former NBA star is the mayor of Sacramento. Del’s cousin Ice Cube, who once rapped in a group called Niggaz With Attitude (“AK-47 is the tool/ don’t make me act a’ motherfucking fool”) is set to play Mr. Kotter in a big screen version of Welcome Back Kotter.
You know, it’s best to not even think about it.