All Photos by Tom Wallace
Sometimes when going to shows or events, it can be so chaotic and fast-moving in terms of getting the interviews, story, and images that it’s easy to gloss over exactly went down. In this story based on T-shirt graphics from the Dub Show in Los Angeles last month, and the land of merch surrounding dub, lowrider culture, and the after-market car market scene, taking a look back across the top images of graphics you can see the strong, fierce undercurrent of an influential part of American society that is as core and authentic as it gets. Here, in the land of T-shirts, sneakers, urban vinyl toys, and accessories such as bandanas, you can see the influences of street tribes and gang warfare, anti-cop attitudes, luck, money, jealousy, guns, and religion. It’s mixed with a huge dose of in-your-face reality because many people buying this apparel or copying the designs which seep their way into other subcultures, live in a side of town, whether it be LA, New York, or Detroit, that keeps to a code all themselves. And then, ironically, gets copied.
Brands that are hugely popular in this undercurrent include Raifle Clothing, Old English Brand, OG Abel, Sancho Choppers, Bad Bones, Lows Angeles, and 187. Bandana graphics, plaids in blue, red, black, and white dominate, as do symbols such as dollar bill roses, the Queen of Hearts, lions, and sayings like “F the Ghetto Bird” and Bad Bone’s “Bad Pig.”
Westside hand signs with the LA city map behind it mark strong territorial trends (and will eventually circulate outward seeping into other T-shirt graphic designs), as does Ice Cube’s overblown face bringing back the NWA “Straight Outta Compton” vibe. New to this subculture and increasingly more poignant and terrifying are graphics/collages of American child soldiers (not to be confused with the African child soldier version) wearing hoodies with AK47’s strapped to their backs such as illustrated from Raifle Clothing. Knowledge of guns and weaponry in general does not go unnoticed in this graphic landscape -if anything the graphics provide a lesson in what’s trendy, street-war style. There’s tattoo artistry, but not in the pop Ed Hardy way, instead it’s skulls and dead roses with street graffiti fonts, territorial colors, disturbed Marilyn Monroes, bullet target signs, green-money hand signs, lighters, downed heli’s, and lowrider hydraulic suspension lifted cars in baseball graphics, Storm Troopers, hot women, and of course, Jesus Christ.
The passion and pain and multi-cultural aspects from many of these graphics is why so many tend to get picked-up, morphed, and recontextualized by others in the fashion industry, especially streetwear which is the closest, then music and sports styles -then shipped out to the ‘burbs and malls in perhaps a slightly less hostile format. Such styles are then bought by unsuspecting people who simply like the “badass” attitude the new version reflects, giving them what they perceive as street-cred, but never really knowing the origins that such designs come from, nor understanding the urban detritus that acted as “inspiration” found in surviving a harder lifestyle.
Tribal, gang-inspiredl bandanas
American child soldier graphics by Raifle Clothing
Target shirts are very popular–notice it says Marca Humana at the bottom
Popular graffiti and T-shirt graphic artist–he also does art on cars
From the Slums to the People
Green hand signs are big
Beautiful girl motifs with dollar-bill roses
Ice Cube circa NWA “Straight Outta Compton” era
Lows Angeles makes interesting lowrider-inspired graphics
Marilyn Monroe in various graphics, including one with a bandana over her face, are popular
Lions, the Queen of Hearts dead and alive, and Angel Girls
Westside Connection over an LA map
Clean graphics of a green lighter. Green often meaning cash
Nasty graphics get to the point
Lowrider pumped up by a hydraulic suspension system in the old-school baseball T-shirt graphics style and colors. Very sporty
Looks like a graphic from French/New York graffiti artist WK Interact
Artwork on display from various T-shirt graphic artists
All-over graphic prints show an intricate story of urban lifestyles