Bury Me With The Lo On, a new book from New York-based photographer and director Tom Gould and Lo Life founder/rapper Thirstin Howl the 3rd, explores how a group of style obsessed kids from some of New York’s hardest neighborhoods went on to influence mainstream rap stars and make Polo Ralph Lauren a religion for hip-hop heads the world over.
Photography: Tom Gould & Thirstin Howl the 3rd | Author: Elliot Aronowwww.gq.com
Equal parts sociological study and street-style bible, the book features never before seen portraits and interviews with rap luminaries like Raekwon, Just Blaze, and Action Bronson, plus dozens of old school-street style photos from Thirstin’s private collection of Lo Life polaroids (or is that Poloroids?
To take us through the amazing story of how the Lo Lifes went from shoplifting Ralph’s American dreams, to wearing them on their backs, and igniting a global style phenomenon, we chatted with Thirstin about the real life world of Lo Lifes.
Disco, Boostin Billy & Thirstin Howl the 3rd, 1988
Polo USA, 1988
"A Lo Life comes from the last syllable of Polo, Lo. It means that you live the live of Lo. You were a Polo enthusiast. You wore the clothes and lived that lifestyle out in the streets. It’s always LO, never LOW."
Raekwon, 2012 | Photography: Tom Gould
"New York was really grimy and gritty and hip hop was still evolving. I was a breakdancer and so, before Polo, I wore the Adidas suits, Kangols, the sheepskin jackets, all that. A lot of the bold colors and styles of those clothes were perfected later on with Polo. Polo was very exclusive and you couldn’t get it in the ghettos. Being from the projects, these were clothes you had go on a journey (ed note: shoplifting expedition) to Saks and Bloomingdale’s to procure. We all lived hip hop and so the Polo just helped us describe ourselves as hip hop. Polo became our religion.
It said a lot about your confidence and character to be rocking thousands of dollars worth of Lo in the projects and to clubs where people were ready to jack you at any moment. The Lo Lifes were arguably the first street-style stars, rocking Polo to every club and event and getting photographed by people outside the culture for our incredible looks. As a Lo Life, you had to have the newest, and combine it in cool ways. That’s why the style became so exaggerated, everyone was trying to one up one another. Cats would bring Polo to hold when they couldn’t fit any more on their body. We made our own custom garments from stuff we stole, like XL shirts made out of 3 or 4 $500 silk scarves. There was a lot of creativity."
A lot of us came from broken homes and had a lot of problems so the clothing helped us to get through a lot of hard times. Cats would never know what you were going through when they saw you dressed in the Lo. The garments gave us new identities."
Meyhem Lauren, 1999 | Photography: Thirstin Howl the 3rd
Sometimes we would be head to toe Lo but we would definitely style it with other brands. Like, Guess Jeans were the hottest thing ever back in the day so if you had those jeans with the Polo, you were the ultimate. We had Gucci, all types of sneaker and hats brands. What people don’t realize is that we literally touched every brand. We happened to be very knowledgeable about Lo but we wore every brand that was hot in the street and a part of hip hop culture. I personally didn’t really care about the quality or the construction or the materials. I just cared about how it looked and how it made it me feel. Who knew these pieces would last 30 years? I was just living day to day and dressing for the moment."
Thirstin Howl the 3rd, 2015
"No, and that is pretty crazy to me. We come from the bottom, from the ghettos, and we made Polo a religion for hip hop. But all of Ralph’s competitors like, Tommy Hilfiger, where looking to us for inspiration. That’s why you saw all the big logos and the crazy primary colors and the large fits. Brands were watching us."
'92 Ski, 2012 | Photography: Tom Gould
"Every new photo was done by Tom Gould and everything else is from my archive. I have an extensive, massive collection of archival photographs. What made it into the book was just the best of the best, a fraction of the images I have of our culture and the people behind it. It took over six years to compile but I’m really happy with the final product."
Fi-Lo & Gucci Jones, 1992 | Photography: Thirstin Howl the 3rd
"This is a culture, not a trend. We don’t love Ralph Lauren, it’s not about him and his clothes. It’s about us and our connection to one another. We initially maybe had a negative effect on our neighborhoods with the boosting and all that but once we transitioned to having a positive message, we were able to pull so many people into positive routes. Through our people and our brotherhood, we made a worldwide culture—every color, every ethnicity. We don’t discriminate. It’s all about love and loyalty." "Bury Me With The Lo On" is out now via Victory Journal.
Left: RLPC Equestrians, 2010 | Right: Sun Lo & Had Lo, 2015