At Brooklyn’s Afropunk, Hair Matters – Racked

You’d be hard-pressed to find a music festival that radiates more genuine cool than Afropunk. Sure, it can be argued that the event has strayed from its punk roots since it started in 2005, but there’s no debating that the summer close-out in Brooklyn’s Commodore Park has held up as a space for the black community to show up and show out.

Drawing people in from quite literally all over the world, the festival has become just as much, if not more, about personal style, self-expression, and cultural identity than it is about its headlining artists. (Though it still has those in spades — this year’s lineup included heavy-hitters like Solange, SZA, and Macy Gray.) There’s a lot to see walking through the crowd: a marketplace of small, black-owned brands; political activations and artwork; wildly eccentric outfits; and, of course, the hair.

Afropunk attendees pay just as much attention to their hairstyles as they do their afrofuturistic, boundary-pushing ‘fits that will inevitably flood street-style stories the following week, deciding well in advance what style and color to take on (sometimes even just for the weekend). Which makes sense, considering the significant and expressive role that hair plays in the black community on a daily basis. But on the festival grounds, it reaches a whole new level.

This weekend we saw everything from flower-adorned afros and head wraps to free-form dreads, bright orange curls, long platinum wigs, every type of braid, and plenty of pastel-colored buzzcuts, à la Frank Ocean. Ahead, we’ve thrown together just a handful of our favorite looks.

Whether they wear their hair like this on the regular or went for a special style just for the weekend, attendees’ Afropunk looks illuminate the powerful relationship between black people and our hair: indisputably strong, beautiful, and able to take on just about any form we choose.


Cordrell; Long Island, New York

“I’ve had my hair like this for six and half years. It’s kind of a personal journey. It was inspired by a discussion me and my mom had about her smoking. It was almost like a protest to get her to stop smoking.”


Goblie; Bronx, New York

“I’ve had orange since last year, so I’m committed to this shit. I bleached it and then somehow it became a part of my branding because I’m a photographer and mixed media artist. I use Dove products, actually, because I’m tired of these $15 leave-in conditioners, so I just go to Rite Aid, get Dove conditioner, and I’m cool.”


Naomi; Brooklyn, New York

“People call them bantu knots, but my mom is from Saint Vincent and calls them corkscrews. I did them myself even though I hate doing my hair. It’s never usually like this.”


Stephanie & Thaddeus; Jersey City, New Jersey & New York, New York

“I bought the outfit first. It had sunflowers all over it and I’ve been having a huge obsession with them this summer, so I thought, ‘Why not put them in my hair?’” —Stephanie

“I was going for a bed of lilacs. I saw this Kaytranada shoot where he was laying in a bed of flowers, and I really wanted to represent that. So I put a whole bunch of Shea Moisture up in my hair to keep the roots locked in, and I did it. I feel like a crystal gem.” —Thaddeus


JoJo; Washington, DC

“[My hair] is always blonde and will be blonde for the rest of my life. This is just me.”


Naim; Brooklyn, New York

“Naturally it’s in a ‘fro, but I like experimenting with yarn braids. I just wanted to do something different. The shells and beads have been in for a good week. I went to a salon. I knew I wanted them half a year ago, and I felt this was the place to do it.”


Adachi; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“I dyed my hair last night, actually. They were sold out of the color I wanted, so I thought, ‘Why not cotton candy pink?’”


Gabrielle, DJ GabSoul; Long Island, New York

The New York-based DJ took time away from her set on Saturday to show us how to do pigtails in a not-basic way.