Misa Hylton is proof that Black women can influence an entire culture and shatter glass ceilings, yet still get relegated to the preverbal “B-Side.” I find this to be especially true in hip-hop. This three-part series is an effort to correct that.
For Black women in hip-hop the impact is loud but the gratitude of the culture is relatively silent. Few illustrate this point more than Misa Hylton. Hylton was the woman behind the looks of some of the hottest groups in hip-hop during the 90s. It was her creative genius that put one simple pasty on rapper Lil Kim’s naked breast for the MTV Awards. A show and outfit that will forever go down as a classic, thanks in part to Ms. Diana Ross who lightheartedly tapped Kim’s pasty while they presented an award. It was a legendary moment in hip-hop.
When asked about her success, Hylton always sounds humble yet aware that isn’t given the credit she deserves. In a 2017 interview with Billboard magazine, Hylton was asked about the origins of her legendary career. To which she replied:
“It was with Jodeci and happened because of a "right place, right time" situation. My boyfriend at the time was Sean Combs (aka P. Diddy), who was an intern when we met and had just got promoted to A&R. I was there as he was working with the group and shaping their album. I was able to help him work on the image and to sell it to Andre Harrell. At that time, the look for R&B singers were hard bottom shoes and suits, but we had what was then considered a crazy idea: to put these singers in leather, combat boots, hoodies and baseball caps that were turned backwards. Andre immediately said "hell no," but after about two hours of going back and forth, we convinced him to give us this opportunity, and after this transformation Jodeci's career catapulted. Andre came back to me with another opportunity, this time a female solo artist, and he thought we'd work great together since I was from Mount Vernon, NY and she was from Yonkers, NY. Her name was Mary J. Blige.”
Of course, it probably helped that she was dating Puff at the time, but she always had vision. I truly believe her career would have still launched without it being an “at the right place, right time” situation. I like to think she would have kicked in the door without knowing anyone. Not only did she have the vision and talent to help shape the look of the 90s New York hip-hop scene by styling damn near everyone, but I can also still see traces of her iconic signature decades later. Hylton recognizes that she deserved more credit. She stated “I was never recognized or credited properly in the 90s for my contributions, but I can make sure that now, because of social media, I’m able to promote myself and other stylists are able to do that as well.
Rappers like Nikki Minaj who don colorful pink wigs and aren’t afraid to push the boundaries of fashion always make me think of Hylton. The obvious reaction is to look at some of Nikki’s style and think of Lil Kim, but that’s actually the same thing. Hylton didn’t just style Kim, but Kim brought an unmatched energy to her creations.
One of my favorite things about her relationship with Kim is how their unique creativity was in perfect sync with each other. Hylton would often talk about the way they trusted each other and what it was like to work with Kim. She famously stated to billboard, “Working with Kim really allowed me to get into my creative bag. She's such a sweetheart, she loves to do things that are out of the box, she loves to stand out and she loves fashion. When you talk about changing hair colors and the videos, you really can't push creativity further than that, especially at that time.”
Not only did Kim’s career take off with Hylton’s help, but the style she created helped open up a lane for women in hip-hop to move away from more traditionally masculine attire and express their sexuality in ways that made them feel free. The obvious examples may include rappers like Niki and Cardi B., but the truth is Hylton opened up a lane for future female M.C.s to run in.
Hylton may not be an MC in the traditional sense, but she certainly moved the culture.
*Photo credit: Getty Images