Flipping the Parks With a Song

Skateboarding Branches Out

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Although it seems like skateboarders have always listened to hip-hop, the half-pipes of my formative years were mostly frequented by pasty kids like myself. But, according to a recent Times piece, the racial dynamic of the sport did a kickflip last year thanks in part to rapper Pharrell Williams. In the N.E.R.D. video for "Rock Star," he personified and redefined the song's title by rapping in a gym filled with guys breakdancing, shooting hoops and flying over mid-court skate ramps.

He was wearing a Shorties skate shop t-shirt, but the benefit was really for the entire industry, which suddenly became hip to young black kids who now saw skating as a rebellious urban endeavor. Later, the Berkeley hip-hop group The Pack recorded an EP called "Skateboards to Scrapers" with a song called "Vans," which created more momentum.

"I'm walking through some of the grimiest parts of Oakland and I'm seeing kids on skateboards, that's something you would never see before 'Vans' came out," said Keith (Stunna) Jenkins, 19, a rapper from the Pack. "I used to wear Vans and people used to tell me I looked like Mr. Miyagi with those karate shoes."

This is the sort of cultural shift that's hard to force, but it proves the power of songs and legit icons to transform culture and create skate shops in Harlem.