Killa Cam: How Pink Fur Became A Hip-Hop Emblem

Getty Image

The ensemble cost him $5,000, roughly a fifteenth of what Cam’ron tried selling it for in 2014. The farmer jacket alone took a month to create; the dyeing itself is a two-step process. But what that cotton candy pink mink has come to represent — well, not even Cam’ron can put a price on that.

“[Pink] has been a color that has been associated with not being masculine. Anybody that knows Cam knows that he is masculine,” said Monica Morrow, his personal stylist at the time.

It was Morrow’s idea for the Harlem rapper to start wearing pink from head to toe in music videos and public appearances. She couldn’t have been more right. At the 2002 Grammys, he turned heads while wearing that Liberace-like jacket with matching Timberland boots and headband. Outside a 2003 Baby Phat runway show, to meet childhood friend-turned manager Damon Dash, Cam pulled up in the same mink with a matching flip phone. This was his first time at New York Fashion Week. He made the appearance count.

To his recollection, the next day Cam’ron was pictured on Page Six in The New York Post. He made the third page of New York Daily News. Pink fur was now a hip-hop emblem. “I knew there was going to be a thousand cameras around,” he told Complex in 2014. “Everybody’s coming in there fresh — what am I gonna do to stand out?”

By the late ’90s, when Cam’ron released his debut Confessions Of Fire, hip-hop was touted as a key influence in fashion. Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Timberland and Nike built their brands off of hip-hop artists’ cosigns. Sean John had just launched at a Las Vegas trade show. Christian Dior featured low-slung “hip-hop” pants in its “Street Chic” collection, its runway show complete with exaggerated, chola-inspired makeup.

Cam’ron was compared to Diddy early on, because of how he fused his pop sensibilities with tongue-twisting lyricism that critics often found to be hardcore. But his own sense of style wouldn’t come into full focus until several years later. To this day, one of his fashion role models is hip-hop forefather Slick Rick. As the self-proclaimed Sultan of Swag, Slick Rick rocked his signature eye-patch as hard as he would a stack of gold chains. Meanwhile, Cam’ron wasn’t wearing pink yet, though he was sporting velour suits and earmuffs, furs and alligator shoes.

The plot of Cam’ron’s 2002 “Hey Ma” video, silly as it is, solidified the color’s cool factor to a growing audience: Fellow Dipset crew member Juelz Santana, wearing a basketball jersey, can’t get inside a club because the bouncer won’t let him through. But when Cam’ron arrives, mobbed up in a pale pink sweatsuit, he strolls right in.

“I’ve always loved men in pink and other pastel colors, but there was a time when men wouldn’t wear it,” one New York woman told EBONY in 2004. “I’m delighted that Brothers have come to realize the appeal of pink. To me, it’s sexy. It shows confidence. I love men in pink.”

A few hip-hop influencers claim to have men rocking pink before, including Russell Simmons via his then-burgeoning Phat Farm line. “It seemed like after Cam’ron saw me rocking my pink-striped Polo shirt, he went pink crazy. I was known to throw on pink Polo shirts every now and then since 1989,” Prodigy of Mobb Deep said in his 2011 autobiography My Infamous Life.

But as “Hey Ma” began climbing the Billboard Top 40, only Killa Cam, artist-turned-Diplomat Records CEO, would receive credit for men seeing pink — for making it okay for even hardcore rappers to wear. Phat Farm added argyle sweaters, baseball caps, cardigans, wool hats and shoes to its 2004 collection. One Harlem menswear store sold more than 30 pink suits in less than a month. Sporting goods stores began carrying racks of pink menswear from caps to sneakers, as seen on the likes of Simmons, Diddy, Andre 3000 and R. Kelly. One teenaged gang in Rochester, N.Y., was so inspired, its members wore all pink while being linked to 10 homicides. That crew’s name? Dipset, of course.

Cam put it best in the victorious “Take Em To Church,” off his 2004 fourth album: “One glare and wink / Everybody wearing pink.” Of course, by then he had moved on to sporting another color — what he called Purple Haze.

As Cam’ron later found, attracting that much attention would have its drawbacks. “Range look like Laffy Taffy,” he boasts in “Killa Cam,” referring to the 2003 Range Rover featured in its music video. Only a year later, though, he put it up for auction, starting at $180,000.

“When I drive it, it’s a headache,” he said to MTV News. “My driver be signing autographs if he’s in there by himself. No matter who’s driving, if they are in the car, you’re a star. If your grandmother got in that driver’s seat, she’s gonna be signing autographs.”

In 2005, Cam’ron was shot twice, once in each arm, during Howard University’s homecoming weekend. He was driving a royal blue, $250,000 Lamborghini, while several members of his entourage were following in the pink Range. Several D.C. residents said only the Dipset ringleader was to blame for what happened. “A lot of people thought he was really stupid driving a Lamborghini in D.C., a Howard senior said to The Washington Post. “This isn’t New York.”

Cam’ron’s flamboyance would also be at odds with his one of his favorite catchphrases. What started in 1998 as “Every night I stroke hoes / no-no for homos” would eventually be pared down to “no homo.” Killa clarified to Nardwuar this summer that no, he didn’t coin the term: “[B]ut I definitely took it international. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about that.”

He isn’t wrong: Lil Wayne and Kanye West would say it in songs. Chef-turned-memoirist Eddie Huang made it a hashtag. But by taking it “international,” though, Cam’ron also made “no homo” sound like a nervous tic. What made the pink mink genius was that it seemed in total disregard of gender norms — that he didn’t give a fuck. What is especially tiring about “no homo” now is how it implies that, not only did he give a fuck, but he was insecure.

“[W]hen Cam’ron named a song ‘Silky (No Homo),’ it was hard to decide what he was disavowing,” Jonah Weiner wrote for Slate in 2009. “The emotions of sadness and longing expressed in the lyrics? Or the tactile sensation of silkiness itself?”

While any rap verses containing “no homo” haven’t aged well, the color pink has recently made a comeback in fashion, having the same effect as Cam’ron did during Dipset’s glory days. The sugary pink of his mink isn’t necessarily to be mistaken for what has been called, for better or worse, Tumblr pink or millennial pink. As seen on Acne bags, in Glossier marketing materials and in Drake’s “Hotline Bling” video.

Today’s pink hues much closer to rose quartz, one of two colors Pantone named for 2016, along with the blue shade serenity. Both are muted, a bit greyer, exuding calm in a hyper-digital age. But they, like Killa Cam pink, are also “connected to this gender blurring we’ve been seeing over the last five years,” says Laurie Pressman, Pantone vice president, to Fashionista.

You see this attitude manifesting itself in hip-hop, too. You see it in Tyler, the Creator, who has long stopped performing the songs he wrote at age 19 containing the word “f****t,” and recently told a sold-out crowd how he was bullied for wearing pink, which isn’t what “real men wear.” You see it in D.R.A.M.’s delightfully goofy “Cash Machine” video; as the 2016 reincarnate of Biz Markie, he rides around a suburban neighborhood on an adult tricycle, shooting bills out a Cash Cannon matching his pale pink ensemble. To be honest, the cover art of Mac Miller’s The Divine Feminine better conveys his newfound craving for intimacy than some interviews he’s given. “I’m trying to cuddle the world after sex, not keep the Uber running and dip out,” he told Complex.

Some of hip-hop and R&B’s biggest personalities have even taken to wearing pink furs this year, to recall when Cam’ron arrived at Fashion Week. For less than ten seconds of her “Work” video, Rihanna arrived at a Jamaican restaurant in Toronto wearing a pink hooded jacket, as if she was at the red carpet. Slim Jxmmi wore a bubblegum pink fur, while bare-chested underneath, to a round of interviews promoting Rae Sremmurd’s college party movie soundtrack sequel SremmLife2. Nine months after he stepped out with RiRi in the “Work” video in a matching puffer coat, Drake hangs out with 21 Savage in his “Sneakin‘” video in a dogwood pink mink. His lyrics (“David Blaine last summer, you had to vanish”) only add to what his attire says — “Sneakin’” is Drake at his pettiest.

View this post on Instagram

✌🏽️☝🏽️ and 👌🏽✌🏽👌🏽

A post shared by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on

No matter how these artists may be feeling, though, Cam’ron is always cited as their spirit animal. I wouldn’t be surprised if Slim Jxmmi, who was still in elementary school by the 2002 Grammys, was actually inspired by Killa Bart, an illustration by artist Chas Truslow that circulated on Tumblr and social media two years ago. Meanwhile, for her “Don’t Touch My Hair” and “Cranes in the Sky” videos, Solange created moodboards with personal stylist Shiona Turini. According to Turini, they featured photos of Cam’ron among those of Diana Ross and Lil’ Kim, along with paintings by portrait artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

“[Solange] wanted to create images where black men and women looked very regal and strong and beautiful,” Turini said to The New York Times, about the “Cranes in the Sky” visual. “So we asked, ‘What are those iconic images in our culture?’ And it’s Sean John velour tracksuits, do-rags and fur and finger waves.”

Turini didn’t specify which photos of Cam’ron they selected for those moodboards. But the opening shot for “Cranes in the Sky” makes it plainly obvious. While staring resolutely into the camera, Solange appears in a baby pink cloud of an overcoat. It’s one instantly iconic image, inspired by another.

Cam’ron has spent the better part of the past decade scheming on how to trademark his influence. The latest update on this endeavor came last summer, when Cam’ron admits to looking into making his own toilet paper. (“It was pink and blue toilet paper when I was little,” he said to Shade 45’s VIP Saturdays. “But I did the due diligence, and the dye was fucking people up.”) He had recently commissioned a custom shade with Pantone’s Color Institute. Killa Pink was featured prominently on his limited edition Reebok sneaker of the same name. Printed on the insole was that photo of Cam’ron outside the Baby Phat runway show.

Cam’ron’s Reebok collaboration came after Dipset’s online store started carrying bath towels, shower curtains and slides bearing the same image — what is now his intellectual property.

“I was like, these people are making money off my likeness,” he said to Forbes, of when he first noticed the unlicensed merch. For all his savvy and unmistakable swagger, it is still impossible to imagine how anyone could beat Killa Cam to the punch.