June 2010

Jerkin’ Jeneration

  • Tra ’Star of Kream Kidz
  • Asia Lynn
  • Ben J of New Boyz
  • Kream Kidz (from left)
J. Nasty, Kid Dougie, Freshman,
Tra ’Star and Young Ace
  • Prophet and BB the Jerk
  • JC Suavity, Indigo Unchained and CoCo
  • Young Ace
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Music, fashion and social media fuel the internationalization of L.A.’s latest homegrown movement

For those who haven’t caught on to the three-year-old West Coast swagger, jerkin’ is its own genre of hip-hop-infused dance, music and style. Like surf culture and gangsta rap before it, the movement—with its laptop-created beats and home-crafted dance moves—was pioneered on L.A.’s sunbaked streets. The phenomenon has now gone global, propelled at warp speed by YouTube and other social media. And it has caught the attention of culture prognosticators.

Celebrated fashion figure and photographer Hedi Slimane—perhaps best known for transforming the male silhouette with ultra-slim-fitting clothes during his reign as the designer at Dior Homme—loves the jerk look. The style incorporates hair streaked Kool-Aid colors, bleached flattops and fro-hawks, chromatic tees and thick-soled skateboard shoes. But most important, jerk kids rock skinny jeans—they are now the official garment of the movement.

“When I was designing, I had in mind Jimi Hendrix, and I could hardly find skinny indie black kids to wear my clothes,” Slimane says. “I remember one telling me he had to swap his skinny jeans for baggy ones in the subway before going home, so he wouldn’t get in trouble in his neighborhood.” After meeting the jerk crews, he was captivated by their fresh presence: “I loved that sense of individuality, a certain wit and cool. It’s also accelerating this mutation between the indie rock world and rap.”

In his photography series Jerkin’ Jeneration, which we sample here, Slimane depicts arresting images of Southern California’s spirited crews, including members of New Boyz, JINC, Kream Kidz, Team Dummy and UCLA Jerk Kings.

Seventeen-year-old Indigo Marie Ford has a shot of herself from Hedi’s shoot on her MySpace page. Not the norm for a high school girl, but “Indigo Unchained”—her hip-hop alias—is determined to prove she is not the average teen. Ford is part of the constellation of YouTube jerkin’ celebrities.

The high-profile shoot with Slimane initially came as a surprise, as Ford arrived at the studio expecting just another project documenting her fiercely creative, camera-obsessed community. Like most her age, Ford had no idea who the French designer was. So when Slimane showed up, she Googled him with a flick of her finger and saw he was one of the biggest names in fashion. “No way!” she told her friends.

“I didn’t even know jerkin’ would leave L.A.,” Ford says. “Like, when it first started, we were just doing it for fun, and now people everywhere are looking at the videos.”

Perhaps owing to its eyebrow-raising moniker, jerkin’ is all about youth, dance, sound and a truly distinctive look. Like so many other youth-culture movements, it started here. And if history is any guide, they’ll be jerkin’ everywhere—from the cornfields of the Midwest to the runways of Europe.