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STYLE : FASHION : She's Gotta Have It

February 16, 1992|MAUREEN SAJBEL

When the first ladies of rap emerged in the late 1980s, they dressed pretty much like male rappers--in androgynous, street-tough fashion--to proclaim they were ready to compete on the men's turf. Now, as they command a growing audience with their explicit raps about sexual politics, women's power, self-respect and independence, they're out to scratch the copycat image.

The groundbreaking women rappers--among them, L.A.-based Yo-Yo and her East Coast counterparts Queen Latifah and Salt-N-Pepa--have moved from jeans and windbreakers to beautiful clothes and model-perfect makeup. The idea, they say, is to reveal themselves as women who are proud of their gender. Says Ted Demme, producer of "Yo! MTV Raps": "They don't look like they're coming out of a gym anymore. They wear incredibly sexy, classy looks."

Last year, regal Queen Latifah called on designer Todd Oldham to make his boxy, latticework jackets and baggy pants for her concert wardrobe. He also created coordinating Nefertiti-inspired hats to preserve the singer's Afrocentric edge.

Members of Salt-N-Pepa have grown more feminine, with an emphasis on asymmetrical haircuts, creative makeup and eclectic clothing: everything from fur coats to short, shapely business suits to organza jackets over catsuits.

Yo-Yo, a leading female voice musically and politically, wears long gold braids and likes to mix off-the-rack sportswear with quirky accessories such as sequined crop tops, bright bowlers and embroidered or quilted jackets. "I'm known for the hard-core lettin' it be told, but I'm from L.A., where fashion's important. It sounds like a contradiction, but it's not," she says of her image. "Fashion makes the statement. Rap makes the point."

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