Today, the internet revels in archiving incorrect predictions; it takes pride in its public crucifixions. Knowing this, there’s a level of assumed risk if you aspire to set a trend. For instance, it took courage, thick skin, and faith in one’s personal style to wear clogs a decade ago, only to be validated within the last year. Now imagine being a man in the most macho locker rooms of the ’90s and painting your nails, wearing makeup and dresses, dyeing your hair rainbow colors, and then having to wait 25 years for your coronation as an aesthetic trailblazer. Which is why it’s truly rich that this same internet is unanimously crowning Dennis Rodman as a style god after realizing the similarities between the fashions he introduced in the ’90s and those of some of today’s trendsetters.
Three years ago, Lil Uzi Vert posted a picture of himself wearing a blouse — a very similar look to the one Rodman wore to the 1995 MTV VMAs. It’s not fair to say Uzi didn’t have to endure any slander (he caught heat from old heads P Diddy and 50 Cent, among others), but it only took two and a half years to be validated by a GQ style profile with a subheader crowning him the “Instagram fit pic hero.”
Uzi, who is benefiting from an evolution of taste since Dennis Rodman’s retirement, is largely recognized as being at the vanguard of SoundCloud rappers and the birth of their subsequent aesthetic direction. In a 2017 assessment of the scene, The New York Times described this aesthetic as “high-end streetwear meets high fashion, with face tattoos, hair dyed in wild colors and a prescription-drug ooze.” Sound familiar?
That same look described by The New York Times didn’t get a style feature 25 years ago. Nobody wrote about how Dennis Rodman’s Oakley sunglasses (indoors, for that matter) would be the symbol of stunting a quarter-century later, or how his glitter rayon spaghetti strap — likely sourced from Limited Too — encapsulated an era of mall culture and perfectly revealed his belly chain. And the thinkpiece about how his jean/boxer combo was the true predecessor to Demna’s Balenciaga double shirt and the brilliance of the raw cut jean combined with the masculine sagged boxer, completed with pleating and snap details, wasn’t coming.
But today, the outlook of tastemakers and zeitgeisters is one that thrives when boundaries are pushed. Lawrence Schlossman, brand director of Grailed and host of fashion podcast Throwing Fits, told me where he thinks the new crop of rappers fit into the style hierarchy, after the holy trinity of Kanye West, A$AP Rocky, and Tyler, the Creator: “Once you get the big three out of the way — it’s not fucking Drake, it’s not fucking 2Chainz. You’re talking [Lil] Uzi [Vert], you’re talking [Playboi] Carti, and to me that speaks volumes,” Schlossman says. “People like to write these guys off — they might not like their music — but Uzi might wear a hoodie and Hot Topic pants to the Grammys, but like, that’s crazy. That is such a next level thing. When you take the memes and that shit out of it, these guys really are the actual tip of the spear for an entire cultural moment.”
The choir sounded a little different for Rodman’s similar experimentation in the ’90s. After Rodman punctuated nearly three years of flirting with gender-fluid outfits in public appearances by dressing up as his own bride at a book signing, the Baltimore Sun wrote: “But unlike the Material Girl, this much-tattooed, much-pierced, overdyed basketball star is style clueless, off the court or on, in drag or out.”
“He needs help,” Don Wilson, fashion expert for International Male, the San Francisco-based men’s clothing company, was quoted in the same Baltimore Sun piece. The repeated public thrashing helped form Rodman’s identity as an outcast.
In October 1993, while grieving a failed marriage and the departure of his beloved coach Chuck Daly, police found Rodman asleep in his car with a suicide note and a loaded rifle in a parking lot outside the Pistons’ arena. Instead of harming himself, Rodman wrote in his 1996 autobiography Bad As I Wanna Be that he “killed the Dennis Rodman that had tried to conform to what everybody wanted him to be.” Just eight months later, the Pistons traded him to the San Antonio Spurs.
Rodman’s transformation in the Alamo City can best be characterized by another excerpt from his book, where he described showing up late to the unveiling of the Spurs’ brand new arena because he was bleaching his hair: “When I finally got to the arena, they introduced me and I took off my RODMAN EXCAVATION cap and let the world see the new me. The place went absolutely nuts… When I saw how the people responded to me, I realized, this is the time to break out, the time to be who I really want to be,” he wrote.
His recognition to lean into the skid — in a punk rock sort of fashion — only came after becoming an outcast. And the punk rock ties to both SoundCloud rap and Rodman are pronounced. Instead of following the old-fashioned way of achieving music stardom, relying on a record label or distributor, SoundCloud rappers didn’t buck, which, like Rodman, became their coat of arms. The non-conformist identity of SoundCloud rap, more often thought to be in the DNA of punk rock, threaded the two genres together. The darlings of SoundCloud rap all seem to have success making music blended with the pent-up adolescent anxiety and depression typically found in an emo song — like the song you scroll to during a moody cab ride home alone.
SoundCloud rap’s relationship with punk and emo music squares up with Rodman, too. Eliot Robinson, Dennis Rodman’s Head of Creative, corroborated the premise when I spoke with him: “Dennis used to always say he got his style inspiration from the ’60s British Punk scene.”
And on that fateful night in the parking lot, Rodman recalled that he was listening to Pearl Jam and even went as far as saying their song “Black” saved his life.
Ironically, despite the InfoWars level of connections between the two, no SoundCloud rapper has ever shouted Rodman out as inspiration — not even so much as a namedrop in a song. The only evidence is a spider map of gender-fluid, genre-bending outfits, all pointing back to the kingpin.
But of course, if you truly believe in the idea of dressing for yourself, you don’t seek validation. So we salute Rodman for having the courage to dress true to himself, especially while suffering the slings and arrows that came with this choice. And while we hope his overdue justice in being deemed a style god fills him with gratitude and affirmation, we’ve got a feeling he doesn’t care.