Half a century ago, in the streets of New York, a movement was born. It started as a rhythm, a beat, and a voice that represented the unheard. Fast forward to today, and Hip Hop has not only become a global phenomenon, but a defining cultural element of our times. Celebrating five decades of prominence, Threadless recently partnered with the 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop to hold a Design Challenge inviting artists from all over the world to capture the essence of this genre.
This challenge wouldn’t feel official without input from Hip Hop’s pioneers, which is why we asked rap mogul Ice-T, legendary breakdancer Kid Glyde, and graffiti maestros Tats Cru to help us judge this art competition. (More from them later!) Before we unveil the top three winners at the end, let’s dive into some of the top submissions that celebrate the four elements of Hip Hop: Rapping, Breakdancing, Graffiti, and DJing.
A portion of proceeds from the designs you’ll see in this post directly benefit the For the Culture Fund, working toward a safer, brighter, more equitable future for hip hop and the communities that birthed the culture.
Echoes from the Mic: Rapping’s Revolution
Born in the block parties of The Bronx, New York, rap started as a rhythmic narrative, giving voice to the voiceless. It became the lyrical embodiment of resistance, change, and empowerment. As rap continued to shape the soundscape, it also rewrote societal narratives. Ice-T, the original gangster himself and a pioneer in the rap community, reflects on Hip Hop’s perseverance:
“Considering when we got involved with Hip Hop, it was supposed to be a fad. The 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop is a huge milestone. They said Hip Hop wouldn’t last, but we knew it was a culture, just like the rock era. It was a moment in time when new music was born. We are excited to make the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop a time to engage and look to the future, support, effect change. The 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop is a time to unite.”Ice-T, Rap Mogul
Following in the footsteps of rap’s rich legacy, we now present designs that pay homage to its indomitable spirit.
Breaking Boundaries: The Dance That Defied Gravity
Breakdancing, or “breaking,” burst onto the scene in the 1970s. It was more than just dance; it was an athletic and artistic expression of life in urban America. Its dynamism and complexity are a testament to the kinetic energy of Hip Hop. Kid Glyde, a stalwart in the breaking community, offers advice to the up-and-comers keeping this dance form alive:
“Breaking transforms lives and continues to as it grows and touches every part of the world day by day. It seems like the talent is getting younger and younger. For the younger and newer generations, always remember why you fell in love with this culture and that will help to guide you in your journey. Learn and educate yourself about the origins and how this dance has evolved.”Kid Glyde, World-Renowned Breakdancer
Inspired by the spins and stunts of this dance form, here are designs that embody its sheer energy.
Urban Canvases: The Evolution of Graffiti
From hastily scrawled tags in subway cars to intricate murals adorning city walls, graffiti has gone from being an underground act of rebellion to a respected form of street art. It has always been a vivid reflection of society, serving as a colorful commentary on urban life and culture. The trailblazing Tats Cru reflects on how far the art form has come:
“The journey from subways to galleries and beyond has been a long and interesting road. We have had to break through the belief that graffiti is vandalism and show the value and the artistic side to this artform. We have worked hard to bring this artwork into places that would never accept it. We now do many murals in NYC schools that was unheard of in the past. We have also worked with many corporations becoming that link from the boardroom to the streets doing nationwide marketing and ad campaigns. Throughout the years we have worked with many hip hop artists creating artwork for music videos, logos, and stage backdrops for performances continuing our connection to the Hip Hop culture since the 80s.”Tats Cru, Graffiti Crew
Drawing inspiration from the vibrant world of graffiti, the following designs give a nod to this ever-evolving art form:
Turntable Tales: The Birth of Hip Hop’s Beat
Where exactly was Hip Hop born? The answer lies in its symphony of turntables. On August 11, 1973, Clive Campbell, later renowned as DJ Kool Herc, hosted a back-to-school party with his sister Cindy at an apartment building in The Bronx, New York. This ended up being a pivotal moment in music history. The folks at the 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop beautifully paint the scene that took place on Sedgwick Avenue:
“…Friends and neighbors dance to the familiar sounds of artists like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and The Meters—only something has changed…Behind two turntables, [DJ Kool Herc] plays two copies of the same record, a technique known as the merry-go-round where one moves back and forth, from one record to the next, looping the percussion portions of each track to keep the beat alive. And amongst this community of dancers, artists, musicians, and poets…HIP-HOP IS BORN.”50th Anniversary of Hip Hop
Echoing this rhythmic legacy, the following designs celebrate the cultural impact of DJing:
Congratulations to the Winners!
Special thanks to our judges, Ice-T, Kid Glyde, and Tats Cru, for providing incredible insights and commentary, and a big shoutout to every participating artist who submitted to our 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop Design Challenge. Together, our worldwide community celebrates and commemorates the enduring legacy of Hip Hop. Find more designs from this challenge on t-shirts, art prints, and other merch in our official 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop collection!