Karl Kani’s contribution to hip-hop culture is undeniable. Since its inception in 1989, the iconic brand has become synonymous with the bold, head-turning streetwear worn by some of hip-hop’s biggest names. We’re talking legends like 2Pac, Heavy D, Big Daddy Kane, and the Notorious B.I.G., as well as more contemporary artists, such as GloRilla, Quavo, YG, G-Herbo, and the late Pop Smoke.
In celebration of his work, Kani was presented with the lifetime achievement award at this year’s MAGIC Las Vegas, a bi-annual trade show that took place this week in Sin City’s Convention Center. The three-day event, presented by Informa Markets Fashion, included a performance by Busta Rhymes; guest speakers Billy Porter and Lauren Bosstick; top retailers, like Primitive, Honor the Gift, Vero Moda, and Barefoot Dreams; as well as a celebration of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary. The latter featured a conversation with Kani, who reflected on his career alongside Vibe magazine’s Datwon Thomas.
“Fashion, music, and culture have always been on parallel paths,” Edwina Kulego—vice president of PROJECT, MAGIC Men’s, and International Business—told Complex. “With 2023 being the 50th Anniversary of hip-hop, we couldn’t imagine a more quintessential pillar of the fashion community to compliment this moment than Karl Kani … When we decided to focus on celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop we started thinking of designers that made a prominent impact in that space. The very first name that was mentioned was Karl Kani. To make the connection even more meaningful Karl had a footprint on the MAGIC show floor during that time.”
Kani, born Carl Williams, was presented with the award during the hip-hop 50th anniversary celebration.
“Being a part of the celebration and reflecting on the growth of hip-hop through these years feels like a movie that’s still being written. Back then, no one knew if hip-hop would last. We did,” the designer told Complex. “… The relationship between hip-hop and fashion has grown tremendously throughout the years. Kani was the first clothing brand to embrace hip-hop because our brand is the embodiment of hip-hop culture.”
He continued: “Back in the early ’90s, most fashion designers were afraid of having artists endorse their products. My, my how things have changed. Today every fashion house wants to be a part of hip-hop and to be associated with hip-hop. We knew what we had from day one. Just like hip-hop being the real deal from the streets, the Kani clothing brand had that same DNA. That’s why the Kani brand’s connection with hip hop is so iconic.”