01 February 2024

Black Models Are Breaking Barriers

Growing up, I never saw anyone who looked like me in the fashion magazines my friends and I read.  Even the so-called "diverse" models were often just light-skinned women with straight hair, not dark skin and natural hair.  I never felt like I could be part of the fashion world, because it didn't seem to have space for someone like me, and I know I wasn't the only one who felt that way.  Many women spoke about the lack of representation in the fashion industry.  And when it finally attempted to include models of color, those efforts often fell short, with only one or two in a campaign or show.  But when I look at the industry today, I see huge progress being made.

Popular Instagram model Nyakim Gatwech, aka the "Queen of the Dark",
has dealt with negativity and offensive suggestions due to the color of his skin.

One of the biggest barriers that Black models faced was lack of representation in major fashion magazines, which revolved around a very narrow definition of beauty.  But now, we are seeing more of them on the covers of these publications, not as token representations but centerpieces of large photoshoots.  And as time progresses, more brands and designers are including Black models.

Winnie Harlow @ 2023 Milan Fashion Week

These models are breaking barriers and redefining what it means to be beautiful in the world of fashion . For example, take Winnie Harlow, who was born with a skin disease called vitiligo.  She has become an inspiration to many people with that disorder.

Winnie Harlow modeling for Desigual in 2015.

Winnie rose to fame on America's Top Model and has since been featured in major campaigns for brands like Diesel (2015), Nike (2017) and FENDI (2023). She's also been a brand ambassador for prominent fashion companies, like Desigual.  Harlow is not only redefining beauty standards but also showing that people with skin conditions can be brave and successful in the fashion industry.

Halima Aden, the first hijab wearer to earn the distinction
of becoming an IMG Model.

And what about Somali-American Halima Aden?  She made history as the first model who wears a hijab to become a signee of IMG Models, one of the top agencies of its type in the world.  In 2017, Aden also became the first veiled model to be featured on the cover of Vogue Arabia, and she headlined the publication again in 2019 and 2023.  Halima is demonstrating that fashion is for everyone, regardless of their background or beliefs.

Naomi Campbell recounted how when she began her career, 
"there would be stylists who didn't have any experience working with Black models".

And it doesn't end there. There's Naomi Campbell (the queen of Black models), Joan Smalls, Jourdan Dunn, Chanel Iman, Adut Akech and many others who are doing incredibly well and changing the narrative.                                             


Black models are breaking barriers and redefining what it means to be beautiful in the fashion industry.  They are not just changing the way we see beauty, but also using their platforms to speak out about important issues.  Their influence is having a positive impact on the world of fashion, and their success is inspiring the next generation of models.  I hope the industry will continue to embrace diversity and that more Black models will be given the opportunities they deserve.

11 January 2024

Is Aisha Ayensu "Christie Brown"?

Aisha Ayensu ranks amongst the most-notable fashion designers
from Africa, having basically forced herself into the profession.

I came across a piece last year while scrolling through the 'net and really loved it.  Although I didn't know the designer, I saved the picture, hoping to recreate the dress for a Christmas party we were having at my grandmother's house.  I wanted to look my best.

Did I forget about the outfit?  No.  But I couldn't get anyone to sew it for me, because none of the designers I met and presented the style could replicate that particular design.  And they were very honest about it.  The last designer I conferred with was the reason I changed my mind about the outfit.

The Christie Brown piece that I wanted.
She bluntly pointed out that the pattern could not be easily recreated, and I asked why.  She said because it was "a Christie Brown".  That's how unique Aisha Ayensu's designs are.  I didn't understand at first, until she started showing me more outfits from the brand, and it was then and there that I knew I was biting more than I could chew. 

Aisha Ayensu is the face behind the Christie Brown label.  She was born in Ghana but spent her childhood moving between GH and the UK.  Ayensu's family has a distinct history in Ghana.  Her great-grandfather was a chief, and her grandfather was a renowned doctor and a surgeon.

Aisha was exposed to traditional African textiles from an early age and wanted to bring these beautiful designs to a wider audience, so she studied fashion design at Accra's Joyce Ababio College of Creative Design.  She honed her skills by working for renowned designers such as Yves Saint Laurent and Oscar de la Renta.

Another of Aisha Ayenu's celebrated pieces.

Aisha soon felt the need to create her own brand.  So in 2008, at only 21 years old, she launched "Christie Brown".  Apparently, that moniker is not meant to be a reference to the designer.  Christie Brown is rather the name of Ayensu's grandmother, who herself was a humble seamstress and inspired the creation of Aisha's brand.

From the very beginning, Ayensu's designs were a hit.  She quickly established a reputation for creating clothes that were sophisticated, feminine and modern, while still retaining a strong connection to her African heritage (one of the things I love about her style).  It wasn't long before Aisha's creations were being worn by celebrities including BeyoncĂ© and her dancers during The Mrs. Carter Show tour, Alicia Keys, Jackie Appiah and Black Panther actress Danai Gurira, to mention but a few.

Outfits worn by BeyoncĂ©'s dancers that were inspired by Christie Brown.

Aisha's designs have earned her numerous accolades.  She was named Glitz Style Awards "African Designer of the Year" in 2018 and 2019.  In 2009, at the Arise Africa Fashion Week in Johannesburg, she was crowned "Emerging Designer of the Year".  She was ranked amongst the 2016 "Forbes 30 Most Promising Entrepreneurs in Africa" and was dubbed "Best Fashion Designer" at the Africa Prestigious Awards in 2018. 

28 December 2023

"Big Everything" (2023) by Busta Rhymes ft. T-Pain & DaBaby

The mistake I made with Big Everything was listening to it for the first time while concurrently watching the music video.  That's to say that the plethora of second-rate special effects and almost-naked ass shaking actually distracts from what can be considered an above-average lyrical outing.  But that reality has also granted me the opportunity to further expound on a themed we've been focusing on of late, which is how aged rappers fit into the grand scheme of the hip-hop/music industry.

Busta Rhymes (center), T-Pain (left) and DaBaby (right)
from the music video of Big Everything.


Busta Rhymes wasn't a first-generation rapper, but he can perhaps be considered second generation, having come out early in the 1990s.  To put how long Bus has been around into perspective, when his original crew, Leaders of the New School, dropped their debut album in the summer of 1991, T-Pain was only six years old, and DaBaby wasn't even born yet.

To be honest, I can't say with certainty that I've ever heard any of DaBaby's songs prior to this one.  However, I have read many of his verses and can confidently assert that he's one of the better rappers out there - a fact that's pretty self-evident considering that two of his four studio albums have managed to top the Billboard 200.  In other words, while some of his contemporaries have proven to be one-hit wonders, it's obvious that the DaBaby had a sustainable level of talent.  And for a while there, it looked like he may have even been on the way to becoming one of the kings in the rap game.

That all changed in mid-2021, when he publicly made what can unanimously be considered as anti-gay comments.  The two albums he released just prior to making those statements, 2019's Kirk and 2020's Blame It on Baby, were the ones that topped the Billboard 200.  The latter was also nominated for a Grammy Award.  Meanwhile, the (solo) LP he came out with afterwards, 2022's Baby on Baby 2, didn't even crack the top 30 of the Billboard 200.  Nor has DaBaby dropped any certified hits since 2021.

DaBaby throwing up the "OK sign", a gesture many believe.
has occult connotations, on the music video to Big Everything.

Dave Chapelle even pointed out the irony of how DaBaby actually killed someone - an incident no one seems to care about, yet the media went bonkers when he made a few statements against homosexuality.  So it can be said that Busta sorta looked out by putting him on this song, which appears as if it's being promoted as a single.

As for T-Pain, I thought he had already retired from dropping new material.  He was by far one of the hottest musicians of the late aughts, but last I heard (via a gossip site), his music career wasn't going particularly well.  So it's even more surprising that Busta reached back, if you will, to feature him on this song, though the two already have a collaboration history, including Bus featuring T-Pain on his 2009 track Hustler's Anthem '09.


As for Big Everything, T-Pain's vocal contribution isn't as pronounced as it would have been if this track came out 15 years ago, back when he probably would have been afforded his own verse.  The focus is more on the two rappers, and it's as if they're battling so to speak, seeing which one can spit the fastest while still being understandable to the listener.

In terms of the content of their verses, this is where the debate about the presence and role of older rappers comes into play.  DaBaby uses the first verse to seemingly depict himself as having been a successful drug dealer before becoming a rapper.  Busta doesn't take an identical approach but rather uses his verse that follows to brag about getting drunk to his heart's content and his sizable cashflow.  In the final, extended verse, the two emcees team up to, most simply put, boast about their wealth, women and toughness.  And as for the chorus, T-Pain is also braggadocious but more in an inspirational kind of way, alluding to the notion that he's "been working all day and all night" in the name of generating bread.

Busta Rhymes, to my knowledge, has never been a gangsta rapper per se.  But generally speaking, there's little difference between the nature of his lyrics and that of DaBaby's, despite the nearly 20-year age difference between the rappers.  To some extent that's to be expected, since you can't have two emcees on one song taking different stances.  But this is the problem that some pundits have with many of the older rappers who are still pertinent in the game, i.e. their lyrics not reflecting a higher state of maturity.

And so it is with the music video to the track.  A few years back, HBO aired this special about Black strippers, and one of them was saying that booty dancing, i.e. twerking, is derived from traditional African culture.  Since then, I've learned that's an erroneous statement.  I heard one African elder say that back in the old days, if a woman were dancing and proceeded to shake her ass in guy's face, that would - understandably I might add - be considered an act of disrespect.  Meanwhile, look at your boy Spliff Star in the video:

I'm not against strippers in music videos per se.  For whatever reasons, strip-club culture has been thoroughly intermixed with that of hip-hop.  But I don't necessarily like watching videos - such as this one, which starts off like a cartoon - where about two-thirds of the way through, out of blue half naked asses are everywhere.

One may presume that Busta, given his age, would have opted for something classier, i.e. imagery that could be appreciated by a wider, more general audience.  But obviously, he isn't the parental type.  That said, if I had listened to the song first, I would have definitely known that twerkers were going to popup in the clip sooner or later.

Busta Rhymes' 11th studio album, Blockbusta,
was released on 24 November 2023.


If rappers from two different generations collaborate, it isn't the younger who's challenged to be more mature.  Rather, given the nature of mainstream rap, it's the elder who usually has to make an effort to appeal to a less-sophisticated crowd.

But even if some listeners don't agree with that tactic, you have to give it to Busta Rhymes for being able to hang.  If you would have asked hip-hop fans 30 years ago which emcee they thought would still be strong in the game into the 2020s, I don't think many of us would have predicted Bus.  However it's very difficult, if not impossible when looking at established precedent, to trend musically as an older rapper.  And that may be why, despite the admirable effort, that Busta's latest album, Blockbusta, didn't perform particularly well on music charts.