Marc Ecko’s Return Riding On “The Underground”

Daniel White

The Underground has always been an amorphous sect of the Rap Culture. So what is Designer Marc Ecko doing plastering his name in multiple places to be seen by the citizens of The Underground?!

“Marc Ecko” can leave a bittersweet feeling of nostalgia in your gut as you utter the words. Memories of baggy pants, Air Force 1’s, and t-shirts sizable enough for your round uncle dance in your head.

It wasn’t just the clothes, though. The catchy crunk rhythms and the drawl of southern rappers, such as Lil’ Jon and Yung Joc, play back in your head as you begin to snap your fingers. Do your step. . . all by yourself! But that’s the past. The crunk, rump-shaking empire that hailed from the “dirty south” dissolved right before the rise of the territory-less Young Money. Young Money’s wide-spread influence on Rap culture was the conception of a long standing transitional period where “Urban Culture” stumbled to find its new niche.

But, it’s been a solid five years and Rap still seems to be fumbling on who is “running the game.” A certain level of diversity has evolved in Rap (contrary to the homogeneous sound of the “dirty south”) and it doesn’t allow for one person, group, or coast to run the game. Now, we can bicker about Compton rapper, Kendrick Lamar’s, attempt to dub himself the “King of New York” and say that he is the best mainstream rapper out, but we’ve got to accept that everyone is different now. Joey Bada$$ can’t be compared to Meek Mill and Meek not to Kendrick and Kendrick not to Drake. They all serve their purpose whether it’s as the pothead, hypeman, reflective or emotional one and you cannot compare any of them to the other.

This leads me to believe that “diversity” itself is the new niche for rap culture. Different artists of various mindsets and fashion sense are having their style appropriated by their listeners. Chicago rapper Kanye West (who never fails to push the envelope with clothes or music) began the wave of intricate and colorful t-shirts that we now see being produced by companies like Hudson. LA rapper Tyler The Creator helped to popularize the Vans, accompanied by 5 panels and khaki shorts look. The list goes on . . .

In late February, Joey Bada$$ (it’s fair to say that he’s an Underground rapper) unintentionally announced his new position as Creative Director of the clothing company Ecko, during an interview with Fuse TV. Just days after, the video for “Underground Airplay,” a song featuring Joey, Big KRIT, and Smoke DZA dropped with Marc Ecko’s name all over it. Subtle advertisements appeared on shirts, in backgrounds, and blatantly in the center of the screen. This brought all of the previous associations that Generation Y had with Ecko to an end. As opposed to guffawing at the surfacing of the name, those who knew the name raised the question, “Can Joey resurrect a dying brand?”

The clothing company isn’t just trying to sell clothes; they’re also trying to sell their name. The Underground is a collection of people who, in some way, are anomalies. It’s a term that has failed to have something tangible connected to it. The ambiguous phrase invokes ideas, sounds, and people, but it lacks a solid brand, logo, or face.

Marc Ecko has seen this niche within Rap and is attempting to capitalize on it by plastering his name in the appropriate areas. On their YouTube channel, eckotv, you can find videos of underground rappers displaying their lyrical ability in a studio booth. However, before the song starts, you hear the voice and see the lips of a woman who connects three terms: Ecko, Rebel Radio, and The Underground. What a perfect way to advertise! It’s indirectly telling rebels and citizens of The Underground that Ecko has something to offer them.

And it does. Their stores have now been transformed from the flashy, brand-crazy place of its past into the boutique-style that many people now gravitate towards. Their selection of clothes runs the gamut, dabbling in different fashions. Embroidered jean jackets, t-shirts that mimic Nike’s JUST DO IT look, camouflage galore, patterned sweaters, bucket hats, it’s all there.

If you travel to the Marc Ecko website, you’ll see tabs entitled Graffiti and I Am An Artist. One advertises the different Graffiti art found in New York and contains relatively old videos that are a reflection of the look that Ecko used to chase, but recently abandoned. The second is a tab dedicated to his and others’ art. After looking at all of the work, it became evident that Marc is an artist with edge and a very specific style.

He recently expanded his horizons as a visual artist by directing the video Bigger Picture by Big KRIT, (also an Underground rapper) “Krit! Thanks for this opportunity! This is the first music video I’ve ever directed— I am a lucky dude to get this canvas to paint on,” Marc said on his blog.

In the song, KRIT uses painting and art as a euphemism for love. He addresses his turbulence in style (relationship) and how, as he evolved, his girlfriend neglected to follow him and they eventually grew apart. In the second verse, he longs for her to return and is now willing to paint (love) the way she prefers.

Marc assiduously uses a frame and creates visuals that reaches beyond its boundaries. He plays on the girlfriend’s inability to see the complete work of art. She only sees what’s in the frame. This is displayed when KRIT says /Back to my roots/; Marc places a square root sign outside of the frame. Meaning, she is unable to see KRIT’s work as he returns to who he is as a man, however, Marc didn’t fail to depict her selfishness by placing words such as “YOU” inside the frame.

“Krit’s lyric is simple and elegant. I wanted to allow the viewer to sense his effortless ability to be thoughtful — but never heavy handed.” Marc said.

It’s evident that Marc is an artist who is using his skills to build a rapport with yet another underdog in the Rap game. He brings his specialty to the table and uses symbolism to connect with KRIT’s audience, tapping into yet another aspect of The Underground culture.

Marc is taking his skills as a businessman and artist and using them to become the fulcrum of The Underground community. Art, clothes, and music are essential and Marc is slowly becoming the face and name that we connect to it.

After the the decline of Ecko in 2006, Michael Londrigan, chair of fashion merchandising at the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising, said, “He was overexposed in thinking that the brand has an unlimited shelf life. But like most of these brands, they need to retrench and look at changing their product mix.”

Marc Ecko hasn’t only retrenched and explored changing his style, but he’s taken clothing and used it as a lane to create a name and identity associated with The Underground culture. Is it beneficial for The Underground to be used so that an “ol’skool,” mainstream company can revitalize their audience?