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The Nappyheaded Black Male Revolution

While much attention has been paid to the natural hair movement as it relates to Black women, we're dead in the middle of a nappyheaded Black male movement too.

Named after Rakim from Eric B and Rakim, the “Rakim” cut was a box with a part going from the front of the head to the back. It was a very popular hairstyle in 1989; a fact I remember quite vividly because I had one too.

By 6th grade, I’d cut the Rakim off and just had a fade, a hairstyle I kept for five years until the Georgetown-era Allen Iverson inspired me to get a Caesar — a cut where the hair was even on all sides. In some parts of the country, this hairstyle is called a “regular.” In others, an “Even-Steven.” It was the optimal cut to have if you wanted your head covered in “360” waves. I did, because waves were the shit, so I carried a brush in my bookbag, brushing my hair between homeroom and first period (calculus) and fourth period (physics) and lunch. And, when I’d skip seventh period (civics) to play spades and cop dollar Whoppers at the Burger King on Frankstown Ave, I’d brush then too. By senior year, I had 360s. I remember the day I first noticed them too. I saw them while looking in the bathroom mirror, and I celebrated with a Jordanesque fist pump.

Damon's hair evolution

Damon’s hair evolution

This happened in 1997. For the next 18 years, I kept the same haircut. A “low cut Caesar with the deep waves,” according to Beyonce. The only difference between me in 2000 and me in 2013 was the amount of hair on my face. This may seem like quite a long time to have the same haircut — and it was — but it also wasn’t very uncommon. If you were a Black male in America between 1998 and 2012 and you had actual hair, there was an (estimated) 47.9% chance you had some form of a Caesar.

All meticulously brushed and lined up; all given as much delicate care and attention as car enthusiasts give vintage Hemi engines.

And then something happened.

Unlike the Caeser’s popularity and Allen Iverson, or how Michael Jordan made bald heads en vogue in the early 90s, I can’t quite put a finger or when exactly it happened (2012, maybe?) and who’s most responsible for it happening. (Kendrick Lamar, maybe?) But, if you were to go to any inner-city high school cafeteria, or a college campus student union, or U Street in Washington, D.C. on a Friday night, or even to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the NBA draft — basically, anywhere you can find a large amount of young Black males — you’ll see hairstyles ranging from frohawks with bleached tips and full beards to afros and boxes that have been meticulously and intentionally uncombed for months. You’ll see 12 year olds with full locs and 14 year olds with full locs up top and shaved sides. You’ll see that, while much attention has been paid to the natural hair movement as it relates to Black women, we’re dead in the middle of a nappyheaded Black male movement too.

And it’s amazing.

So amazing that I decided to be a part of it too. This summer, I changed my hairstyle for the first time in almost two decades, going from the ubiquitous Caeser to a fade.

And now…well…now I don’t know what the hell I’m doing with my hair. Aside from “just let it grow and see what happens

I still go to the barber once a week to line it up and manage my beard. But I haven’t cut the hair on top in at least three months, and I don’t plan to any time soon. I wash it, of course, but I also don’t comb it. It just exists, in all its nappy-ass, Black-ass glory. (It also has finally helped me understand the concept of “good hair days” and “bad hair days.” Because if I sleep on it wrong, I’ll wake up with it matted all on one side, like I was wearing one of those leather football helmets from the 40s. And it takes all day for it to regain its shape. That, from my estimation, is a “bad hair day.“)

It’s apropos that this is happening at the same time when attacks on Black bodies and Black culture and Black legacies and Black histories have inspired so many Black Americans to, effectively, double down on our Blackness. The #Blacklivesmatter movement isn’t just external; those words serve as an internal reminder of the beauty and the limitlessness of Blackness, and a call for us to embrace it. This natural and nappy hair movement, started by Black women and expanded by Black men, might seem like an inessential aesthetic trend, but it’s ultimately a sign of that embrace.

And my hair is here for it too.

About the Author

Damon Young is the co-editor of 1839. He's also a co-founder and editor in chief of VSB (VerySmartBrothas) and a contributing editor and columnist for EBONY Magazine. Damon is busy. He can be reached at damon@1839mag.com.

Comments

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  • Dilon Wilson

    I had the fade for about 2 yrs and i loved it. Then my new job told me I had to keep a “clean” look so I had to get a temp fade with a 2 guard smh the messed up part is I saw nothing wrong with the cut I had guess it just made them uncomfortable

    • Jalen Gordon

      I hate that smh… I always said if I was asked to cut my afro I would let them keep the job. I have been growing it for a little over a year now and I love my extremely thick hair lol

  • Brandon Allen

    It was Jimmy Butler. He started it.

    • Brett Burgundy

      It was wiz and currency

  • Angelique Jewell

    I am a high school teacher and have taught in high schools with 45%+ black populations and I definitely noticed this change over the past few years. The locs phenomenon in the the south (I lived in Houston) was very much an emulation of Lil’ Wayne. But I have noticed more and more boys rolling in with full-on afros, high top fades, twists, etc. I love it. I’ve been natural for 30 years so I am so geeked to see young people in the south (where girls under the age of five can be found with relaxed hair) embracing the many incarnations of our beautiful, nappy hair. I currently teach in China and I really miss it!

    • Antonio Jackson

      Small world! I’m from the South and I used to teach in China, specifically Shenzhen, now I’m in Xiamen studying. This article really resonates with me, because during my first year in China one of my students asked me why I always got my hair cut so short. I actually had no idea. So from then on, I didn’t and I LOVE MY HAIR!

  • Ethan Brisby

    Fresh read. I have a 12 year old son, and I noticed the craze this summer when we went to a national AAU basketball tournament. So many of the boys from all over the cpuntry had the natural hair look with the red tips, it was crazy! Low key though, I’ve quietly gone eight weeks without a cut. Just tappered sides and edge ups. It was so unconscious, but now I’m wit it too.

  • Frank Chambers

    That’s some lazy bullcrap. Proper grooming is essential to a healthy lifestyle. Combing of one’s hair is proper grooming.

  • Ebony Dawkins

    I’m a college professor and noticed it, too. I love it.

  • Kapp_N

    Hmm… while not exact to what I am seeing now, I’ve had this hair since around 06-07… Lil Boosie rocks a unkempt fade. I have since gone away from this since it’s the thing now..

  • Newslord

    Yes! Finding the right barber can be tricky. But it’s great to see black people own their blackness, reclaim kinky hair, and rejoice in the bigness of their lips, hips, and shapely butts.

  • Echo

    my two sons have really curly hair (the kind you get when your mee-maw is not black) they have been trying it and it doesn’t work as well. I like the look on most kids, some of them need some upkeep but it’s cute and I like that we have our own thing that can’t be duplicated.

  • Cdmita Manso

    In my early 50 s and I love my Natural hair, any length, any color as long as I never pay for it.

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