As Lil Uzi Vert set about claiming world ‘fit dominance on Instagram, unspooling detailed carousels of what he’s wearing, he’s done it with an unmissable disclaimer. Above the lurid slideshows that painstakingly tally up all the reasons his outfit is undeniably the best outfit is a straightforward fact that doubles as a declarative brag: “NO STYLIST.” This comes almost a year after French Montana released a whole single titled “No Stylist,” the subject of which you can probably guess. Dave East, a month before that, released a song under the same name. That is merely the tip of the iceberg, the cherry on top of the sundae, the little Thom Browne pouch completing the outfit. According to Genius, since 2007, the exact phrase “no stylist” has appeared in 173 songs. This number doesn’t include the dozens of variations like “Sizzle wildin' / Sizzle geekin'” (Waka Flocka Flame); “I'm my own stylist, I'm dressing me” (Gucci Mane); “I don't need a stylist” (Young Thug). The bulk of them—107 of the 173—have appeared in the aftermath of French Montana’s 2018 single.
Buying and wearing the best and most expensive clothing for yourself wasn’t good enough at one point. In the ’90s and early 2000s, for rappers like Jay-Z and Diddy, true luxury was never having to go to the store. Even coordinating an outfit was a task below their enormous stature. Making it meant paying a person, or a whole team of people, to lay the foundation of great style brick by brick. In 2008, Nelly rapped about rare, retro Jordans on “Stepped on My J’z”: “I had to order these, you can't find them in the store (nope) / Called up my stylist like, ‘Shorty, send more.’" This was Peak Rap Stylist.
But as rap evolved, alongside fashion’s myth- and image-making power, the brags have swiveled 180°. Kicking the help to the curb and declaring “no stylist” in a song is currently rap’s biggest flex. What changed?
It was the summer of 2007: Hope and change were in and stylists, suddenly, were out. The first utterance of “no stylist,” according to Genius, came from a little-known artist named Nicki Minaj, who had just put out her debut mixtape, Playtime Is Over. On its titular track, she rapped: “I don't need no stylist.” But Nicki Minaj wasn’t Nicki Minaj in 2007, so I mean no disrespect to Onika when I suggest that the ground-quaking moment likely came a few months later. As with most things fashion and rap, Kanye West was prominently involved. Remember a song called “Champion”? On it, Kanye rapped, “I don't see why I need a stylist / When I shop so much I can speak It-al-ia-n.”
Suddenly, other rappers started to loudly and publicly agree. If Kanye didn’t need a stylist, why in the world did they? “It shifted with Kanye West,” says Bobby Williams, who styles Future, who has rapped about not working with a stylist seven times. (One more than the closest competitor, Gucci Mane.) “He was one of the first artists who we all love, because we were like, 'Wow, this dude can rap, he produced, and he can dress himself.’” In the years since, Drake, Future, 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane, Kodak Black, Gunna, 21 Savage, both Offset and Quavo from the Migos, Chief Keef, Soulja Boy, Young Thug, and Playboi Carti all caught the bug. (French Montana, Soulja Boy, Dave East, and Lil Uzi Vert did not respond to a request for comment; the Migos declined.)
The brag changed because what’s cool changed. Rapping about buying Gucci, Versace, and Givenchy, it turns out, is a lot less enviable when all of your peers know to do the same thing. And ultimately, rapping about not using a stylist is less about what you’re buying than it is about flexing heightened taste. “It's a competition thing,” Williams says. “It's about them not only being able to make a hit song, but also dressing themselves.”
The rise of rappers dissing stylists runs parallel to the growing importance of style in a rapper’s persona. Shouting out all the labels a rapper could afford was already the lingua franca of flexing for most Billboard Hot 100 toppers—and as style became an element of persona creation you couldn’t opt out of, going from naming labels to claiming all the credit was a natural next step. In 2019, dressing well can elevate a well-liked rapper to beloved status. In that way, bragging about not having a stylist is a business decision. “Artists’ personal style says a lot about how you connect with them,” says Leontae Thomas, a stylist who works with the likes of Wiz Khalifa and Playboi Carti. “It’s not enough to just be musically talented; your talents have to be complemented with an exclusive wardrobe. Everyone wants to be viewed as authentic and the main source of inspiration.” To cop to using a stylist is to admit to fans that one of the reasons they adore you actually has nothing to do with you at all.
(Some rappers take the boast to extremes: A$AP Rocky has a song called “Shoot Ur Stylist,” while Ludacris hopped on a remix of “Same Damn Time” and said, “You rappers ain’t got no swag, you need to kill your stylist.”)
The funniest thing about the rise of anti-stylist rappers? The fact that, outside of a few exceptions, practically every rapper uses a stylist. I asked the stylists I spoke with if they felt discarded by these rappers. Bobby Williams and Leontae Thomas’s responses were equally sanguine. “Artists have a message they want to communicate to the world, and the idea of them drawing inspiration from someone else could be perceived as them not being real in some people's eyes,” Thomas explains. “So they may get the feeling that they don’t want to mention the fact that they have a stylist.” Plus, as Future’s stylist, Williams says: “I work with all the fashion houses, I work with all the stores, and everyone knows [I work with Future], you know?”
At the end of French Montana’s “No Stylist” video, the camera pulls away from a car carrying the rapper and Slick Rick, who is wearing a full baby blue outfit, complete with an eye patch and beret, like he’s dressed for a pirate-themed gender-reveal party. The zoomed-out perspective reveals the car is in fact stationary, plopped in front of a green screen behind them. An army of makeup and hair people descend on the pair. It’s a spell-breaking end to an otherwise braggadocious video. You can’t help but wonder: Who styled it?