Jewelry in the hip-hop space isn’t solely about material things or status. People associate it with partying and lavish living, but truthfully, wearing elaborate pieces comes from a humble start. The jewelry symbolized rising from the struggles rap lyrics conveyed. The messages echoed from—and resonated with—low-income individuals and segregated people of color. By adding jewelry to their ensembles, they felt and showed that they could rise above. If you want to learn more about hip-hop culture and the rise of bling through the years, keep reading.
We know jewels are nothing new. But supposedly, grills dated back to 2500 BC—researchers found a man wearing a couple of gold teeth. And when it came to people who loved to flash their jewelry, we saw this as soon as the early 1300s with Mansa Musa, the king of West Africa at the time. He liked gold—in fact, he loved it, and people can now find pictures of him dripping in it. During his reign, the country controlled over half of the world’s gold. When he died in 1337, researchers found he was worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Musa is known as one of the richest figures of all time.
Although people think of disco tracks as the sounds of the decade, hip-hop—a genre predominantly influenced and appreciated by African American and Latin American people—was born around this same time. Hip-hop songs began playing at outdoor block parties in the Bronx, where DJs would sample funky and soulful beats that included lyrical content above the music. Many believe that DJ Kool Herc introduced hip-hop at these events—as well as an admirable sense of style. In addition to the music, the hip-hop movement started to focus on fashion, too. As time went on, jewelry also started to make an appearance in hip-hop culture, and it mainly confirmed career milestones. Kurtis Blow’s certified gold record shows him wearing numerous gold chains and medallions. Soon after, people followed his lead and began experimenting with thin chains.
Hip-hop became more mainstream and jewelry became an integral part of the culture. As the genre grew, the money kept flowing to artists, meaning they could continue to invest in pieces. Biz Markie, LL Cool J, and Run DMC were prime examples of dudes who could rock chunky or “dookie” rope chains, large four-finger rings, and luxurious gold watches. Slick Rick and even The Beastie Boys took part in sporting gold chains at this time. Big Daddy Kane went all out, though—his debut album portrayed pure opulence, as he was covered in gold. As you can probably gather, during the ‘80s, anyone could sense the competitiveness between the artists and the pieces they’d flex. If you didn’t own any ice, you essentially lost the game.
Hip-hop started becoming commercialized in the ‘90s. We saw more rappers joining the genre—2Pac and Snoop Dogg to name just a couple. We also heard more about “bling bling,” coined by Lil Wayne, a rapper and unforgettable figure known for his insane jewelry and grills. He was right, though—we began seeing jewelry play a role in artists marketing themselves and displaying their labels or affiliations. And while many could see male stars stepping out in their bling, female rappers were joining in as well, wearing necklaces, rings, bracelets, and large hoop earrings to symbolize their accomplishments.
You know we can’t talk about the ‘90s without mentioning the Notorious B.I.G.—better known as Biggie. He headed this desire to promote himself and his music with his incredible Jesus piece designed by Tito the Jeweler. It was the last chain he wore around his neck, and after he passed, other celebrities wore what is now known as the most popular pendant of all time.
Even though hip-hop jewelry pieces were mostly made from gold up to this point, platinum pieces started to appear—Jay-Z and P.Diddy were huge proponents of platinum jewelry. And diamonds started trending alongside platinum.
Once we entered the new millennium, hip-hop culture really emphasized crazy pieces. Most people believed that the longer the chain and the bigger the pendant, the better. T-Pain’s Big Ass Chain was a prime example of this fascination with flashy pieces. Similarly, people continued gravitating toward diamond earrings, watches, and other iced-out pieces. Lil Jon rocked a five-pound gold “crunk” pendant that boasted over three thousand white diamonds. And remember when we talked about the first grills sighting that took place centuries ago? Dental jewelry—both removable and permanent—returned in full force in the 2000s. Nelly dropped his classic song dedicated to grills in 2005, and suddenly, more people were showing off mouths full of jewels and metals. Other big bling-wearers during this era included 50 Cent, Kanye West, and T.I.
Now, it’s apparent the public still appreciates hip-hop culture and the rise of bling through the years. Today, jewelry remains a way for individuals to express themselves and display their success. Plus, people still want their frosted-out pieces—in fact, the sentiment is louder than ever before. Current inspirations for jewelry include DaBaby, Lil Yachty, Migos, and Tyga. Everybody is focusing on jewelers and the integrity of their pieces now, too—they want to understand the care and effort that goes into setting stones into the jewelry.
If you want to incorporate durable and quality pieces into your collection, go with Gold Pres. Our online selection of silver and gold hip-hop jewelry features items you simply won’t find anywhere else. The experts at Gold Presidents can also complete customized necklace and ring orders. And yes, our custom work includes grills. We take craftsmanship seriously, meeting all Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Jewelry Vigilance Committee regulations. We take pride in all our products’ shine and strength, so no matter what you choose, we can guarantee you’ll look fly.
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