Named after Rakim from Eric B. & 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 sixth 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 s—t, so I carried a brush in my book bag, 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.
This happened in 1997. For the next 18 years, I kept the same haircut. A “low-cut Caesar with the deep waves,” according to Beyoncé. 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 percent 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 Caesar’s popularity and Allen Iverson, or how Michael Jordan made bald heads in 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 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 number 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 Caesar 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 anytime soon. I wash it, of course, but I 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 a nonessential aesthetic trend, but it’s ultimately a sign of that embrace.
And my hair is here for it, too.
Editor’s note: This article was first published in 1839, a Pittsburgh-based magazine that takes a nuanced look at the intersection of race, politics, the arts, community and culture in the city and beyond.
Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas.com. He is also a contributing editor at Ebony.com. He lives in Pittsburgh and he really likes pancakes. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.