Here’s a trivia question for you: What do Luther Vandross, the Jackson’s, Kurtis Blow, all of the members of the groups Full Force and Ready for the World along with Eazy E, Ice Cube, Ola Ray, Babyface, Lionel Ritchie, actor Eric LaSalle and Little Richard have in common?
Answer: the ‘Jheri Curl’.
Depending on what part of the country you lived in, if you didn’t have a curl – you couldn’t a girl. I got my shit relaxed so I was alright.
Back then there wasn't a hair style more popular in Black America than the Jheri Curl. Back in those days the Jheri Curl was king, and damn near every celebrity wore one.
No one wore dreadlocks in the 80's but them 'crazy ass Rastafarians' (as we used to call them). Put it like this, if you wore dreadlocks in the early 80’s you were an oddity. I don’t know who would’ve gotten more attention back then: E.T. or a brother walking down the street wearing dreads.
"Look at that nigga, he's crazy...I never would wear my hair like that..." is what you heard when Rastas came around with their dreads and ganja smoke.
But back to the Jheri Curl.
From my own estimation there were at least a dozen different variations of the doo that a Chicago hair-stylist named Jheri Redding concocted sometime in the mid to late 70’s. Redding, is said to also be the inventor of hair conditioning. From Jheri Redding’s infamous ‘Jheri Curl’ came: the ‘Carefree Curl’, the ‘S Curl’ and the ‘California Curl’. In Black neighborhoods in damn every part of the country on Friday and Saturday morning’s barber shops were packed with people getting their hair done.
First the chemical was applied, then washed out of the hair, after which came the rollers. Although it was a good look (at least at the time) it was trouble to maintain. First of all you could bet a barbecue lunch on the fact that the collar of any shirt or jacket you wore was gonna be messed up by all of the grease – that much was a given. Pillow cases forget about it, they were fucked up by that shit too. Hats throw em out. But mostly forget about washing your hair, that was a challenge. Shampoo made your doo brittle and it would take at least 4 days of moisturizing your stuff to get back into shape.
The first time I experienced culture shock was when I moved from New York to California in the early 80’s. New Yorkers were simple about hair back then: short with a part on the side or a Caesar. Californian’s were on some other shit: finger waves, perms, texturizers, Shirley Temple Curls and a style called the ‘Lord Jesus’ were all over the place. But it was the Jheri Curl and its entire offspring that was the most popular.
Like I say it depended upon where you lived if the Jheri Curl was popular or not. For instance: California and anywhere in the Mid-West and the South, the curl was everywhere. However, DC, NY, NJ, PA Connecticut, Boston and anywhere else in the northeast, if you wore a curl, you stood out - way out. And not in a good way either.
Sometime in the late 80’s the Curl rapidly became un-cool. Northeastern tastes started taking over and the first thing people took aim at was the Jheri Curl. Quickly you saw the transformation happen; Jheri Curls were being replaced by fades and flat tops. It was as if someone said: "...And no more pretty mother fuckers with curly hair."
However, it is hard to separate some brothers from their doo. Eazy E was the perfect example, that dude died in ’96 still wearing a Jheri Curl. And he wasn’t alone.
I just recently found out about a gang of Dominicans called the ‘Jheri Curls’, these idiots had fades with Jheri Curls on top. They were a ruthless gang from what I hear. And oh yeah, what about that baseball player from the Dominican Republic, what kind of time warp is he caught in?Every one of us has a relative or friend somewhere that represents that tiny minority of holdouts, in mine, it’s my brother in-law Michael, I love him to death, but he ain’t lettin’ that curl go!