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A medium-length hi-top fade.

A hi-top fade is a style of haircut where hair on the sides is cut off or kept very low and hair on the top of the head is very long (in contrast, a low fade is when hair on the top is kept shorter). The hi-top has been a trend symbolizing the Golden Era of Hip Hop and urban contemporary music during the late 1980s and the early 1990s. The hi-top fade was common among African-American youths between 1986 to 1993 and to a lesser extent in the mid-1990s (1994-1996). The style fell completely out of fashion by 1997.


In the hip hop community throughout the mid-1980s, young African-Americans leaned towards Jheri curls or simple haircuts without tapers or fades of any sort. It is also believed that the High-Fade derives from Ancient Egypt as Queen Nefertiti's famous Empress headpiece resembles the High-Fade form.

In 1986, rappers like Schooly D and Doug E. Fresh had the first, somewhat developed, styles of the hi-top fade in hip hop. However, their hairstyles lacked the geometric precision that characterized the more modern hi-top fade styles. In the hip hop community, one of the first public appearances of the more modern hi-top fade hairstyles was in the "Tramp" video by Salt-N-Pepa, released early in 1987. In this video, the dancers could be seen with this hairstyle. They can be also seen dancing in a 'New Jack Swing' style form based on their wardrobe and choreography, which was not seen in other hip hop and R&B videos at the time.

However, by 1986, many young Puerto Ricans and African-Americans, especially in the New York City and Philadelphia area, began to follow the hi-top fade trend. At this time, hi-top fades became more geometrically defined, becoming more massive and 'higher' along with differences in shape as well as more designs. More music videos released from the fall of 1987 to the spring of 1988, such as "I Don't Care" by Audio Two (1988), "Move the Crowd" by Eric B. & Rakim (1987) (a few extras could be seen wearing one), "Paper Thin" by MC Lyte (1988), "Rising to the Top" by Doug E. Fresh (1988), "Do This My Way" by Kid 'N Play (1988) and "Ain't No Half Steppin'" by Big Daddy Kane (1988), shows examples of early trends of the more developed hi-top fade. Different substyles emerged around the same time such as the 'gumby' (slanted hi-top that had a shape similar to the Gumby cartoon character) or reagan (similar to the gumby but with more 'parts' and designs). Many of the teenage castmembers on the films Lean On Me (1989) with Morgan Freeman and Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing (1989) could be seen wearing these Gumby-shaped hairstyles. Sing groups like TKA, Coro and other freestyle people wore the hi-top fade.

From late 1988 to 1989, the hi-top fade was the symbol of the urban culture at the time. Rappers such as Kid 'N Play, Big Daddy Kane and Kwamé were internationally famous for helping promote this trend worldwide. In late 1988, hi-top fades even became more developed, more hip-hoppers and people outside the New York area began following this trend. This hairstyle also helped define the New Jack Swing movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In the video "Fight the Power" by Public Enemy which was shot in April 1989, shown how much the trend set across the world, highly symbolic of urban style at the time.

The hi-top was still semi-popular through the early 1990s, but by 1990 many people who had sported the hi-top fade style started to move toward braided styles. Still, the hi-top remained common among many groups of young adults and teenagers. As for the braided style of hi-top fades, it characterized an era of 'afrocentricity' of hip hop and embracing the alternative culture. Golden age MCs like Def Jef and the hip hop group De La Soul are known for their braided hi-top fade styles in 1989 and 1990. Many back-up dancers in many hip hop, dance, and R&B videos could be seen wearing similar hairstyles from 1990 to 1992. This trend continued until 1994 when urban hair style simplified into low-cut fade hair cuts and cornrow hairstyles. This hairstyle was also a fashion trend of New Jack Swing era. The Hi-top fade was and still is commonly called just a flattop, due to the great likeness of the two styles. In fact the Hi-top fade could qualify as a variation on the flattop. The style began to slowly reemerge in popularity in the late 2000s as a new generation of musicians and even actors of color begin to embrace this hairstyle.

The hi-top fade will be featured in the upcoming 2010 film Hot Tub Time Machine, where four men time travel back to 1986, and one of the men finds himself with a high top fade, the same hairstyle he wore in the 1980s.

See also



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