The hi-top was a trend symbolizing the golden age of hip hop and urban contemporary music during the 1980s and the early 1990s. It was common among young black people between 1986 and 1993 and to a lesser extent in the mid-1990s (1994-1996).
The hi-top fade is commonly called a punk, due to the great likeness of the two styles. In fact, the hi-top fade could qualify as a variation on the flattop.
In the hip hop community throughout the mid-1980s, young African Americans leaned towards Jheri curls or simple haircuts without tapers or fades of any sort. In 1986, rappers like Schoolly D and Doug E. Fresh had the first, somewhat developed, styles of the hi-top fade in hip hop. However, their hairstyles lacked the geometric precision that characterized the more modern hi-top fade styles.
In the hip-hop community, one of the first public appearances of the more modern hi-top fade hairstyles was in the "Tramp" video by Salt-N-Pepa, released early in 1987. In this video, the dancers could be seen with this hairstyle. They can be also seen dancing in a new jack swing style form based on their wardrobe and choreography, which was not seen in other hip hop and R&B videos at the time.
In the mid- to late 1980s the haircut was often credited to Larry Blackmon the lead singer of the band Cameo. Blackmon had a hairstyle in the mid 1980s that was the forerunner to the hi-top Fade, with the tall square flat top but with slightly longer sides and back. There are numerous examples of rappers referring to the hairstyle as a "cameo cut" between 1987 and 1990, the most notable being in the Ultramagnetic MCs song "Give The Drummer Some" from 1988 where Ced Gee, who had a hi-top fade at the time, says "... 'cause I'm a real pro, with a cameo, and not an afro".
By 1986, many young African American people, especially in the New York City, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia areas, began to follow the hi-top fade trend. At this time, hi-top fades became more geometrically defined, becoming more massive and 'higher' along with differences in shape as well as more designs. More music videos released from the fall of 1987 to the spring of 1988, such as "I Don't Care" by Audio Two (1988),"2 Hype" by Kid 'N Play (1988), "Move the Crowd" by Eric B. & Rakim (1987) (a few extras could be seen wearing one), "Paper Thin" by MC Lyte (1988), "Rising to the Top" by Doug E. Fresh (1988), "Do This My Way" by Kid 'N Play (1988), and "Ain't No Half Steppin'" by Big Daddy Kane (1988), shows examples of early trends of the more developed hi-top fade. In EPMD's "You Gots To Chill" several dancers and the DJ can be seen sporting Hi top fades in the music video.
Different substyles emerged around the same time such as the "gumby" (slanted hi-top that had a shape similar to the Gumby cartoon character) or reagan (similar to the gumby but with more 'parts' and designs). Many of the teenage castmembers on the films Lean On Me (1989) with Morgan Freeman and Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing (1989) could be seen wearing these Gumby-shaped hairstyles. Recording artists such as Bobby Brown, TKA and Coro also wore the hi-top fade.
From late 1988 to 1989, the hi-top fade was the symbol of the rap culture at the time. Rappers such as Kid 'N Play, Big Daddy Kane and Kwamé were internationally famous for helping promote this trend worldwide, particularly Kid 'N Play member Christopher "Kid" Reid. In late 1988, hi-top fades even became more developed, more hip-hoppers and people outside the New York area began following this trend. This hairstyle also helped define the new jack swing movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The video "Fight the Power" by Public Enemy, which was shot in April 1989, shows how much the trend set across the world and was highly symbolic of urban style at the time.
The conventional hi-top began to fall out of fashion in the early 1990s and was changed by revolutionary RnB groups like Jodeci, who added slits and unique designs that are still imitated till this day. This style became the staple design set by the group who were the self-imposed "bad boys of RnB". The turning point was between 1995 and 1997 many people who had sported the hi-top fade started to move toward other men's styles.
Still, the hi-top remained common among many groups of young adults and teenagers for a few years longer. As for the braided style of hi-top fades, it characterized an era of 'afrocentricity' of hip hop and embracing the rap culture. Golden age MCs like Def Jef and the hip hop group De La Soul are known for their braided hi-top fade styles in 1989 and 1990. Many back-up dancers in many hip hop, dance, and R&B videos could be seen wearing similar hairstyles from 1990 to 1992. This trend continued until 1994 when urban hair style simplified into low-cut fade hair cuts and cornrow hairstyles. This hairstyle was also a fashion trend of new jack swing era.
The style began to slowly reemerge in popularity in the early to late 2000s, as a new generation of black musicians, athletes, and actors began to embrace this hairstyle. A prominent example is Cleveland Cavaliers guard/forward Iman Shumpert. The hairstyle even surfaced again in 2012 with the late 1980s-early 1990s style returning. NBA players such as Nerlens Noel, and Norris Cole sport hi-top fades.
The hi-top has made an appearance in the UK since the late 1980s. The hairstyle also received some airtime during the second inauguration of Barack Obama, as sported by Barack and Michelle Obama's nephew Avery Robinson.