The Devoted Relationship Between Hip Hop Artists and their Jewellery.
Updated: Nov 19, 2019
“Hit Canal St, vintage gold medallions”; an iconic line in A$AP Rocky’s track ‘Canal St’.
The ‘Goldie’ rapper, known for his influence in NYC’s SoHo, A$AP Rocky is just one singular drop in a sea of rappers who express spending an absorbent amount of money on gold chains adorned with diamonds and expressing their impressive spending habits.
In the very early days of exhibiting wealth, the richest man of all time was the African king Mansa Musa who ruled East Africa between the years 1312-1337, to which even today economic historians agree that his wealth is impossible to pin down to a number. It was said that he wanted to show off his riches by wearing extravagant gold, which is the third most valuable metal, and stoned jewellery. The emphasis that this had was carried on through the ages with other leaders in royalty being adorned with jewels and other precious metals like silver and platinum. The cultural significance of this shows that rappers today have carried on the legacy of being bedazzled in accessories. More recently most rappers would start with a simple diamond encrusted Cuban link.
When thinking about some of the first few times a rapper showed off his chains, a pioneer of hip hop music, Kurtis Blow comes to mind. He was one of the first rappers to be garlanded with seven chains on the cover of his self-titled debut album in 1980, thus creating a foundation for Hip Hop artists today. On the cover of Paid in Full by Eric B. & Rakim, they’re shown wearing very large chains carrying thick gold medallions. According to the famous jeweller Ben Baller, founder of Icee Fresh Jewels, each gold chain worn by them is worth at least $100,000.
In the 2000s we went through the "Bling Bling" era. The term was used in the title of a track by rapper B.G. but then escalated into becoming the name of a crucial time in Hip Hop fashion history. Early Cash Money Records producer Mannie Fresh expressed to The Fader: " Wayne had already used the word “bling” in a song prior to that but the word had already stuck to me. I don’t know exactly which song, but I know his line was, “Tell me what kinda n****/ Got diamonds that’ll bling, bling ya.” That was like, damn, that bling word could be something." On both the track and monumental video alike, we were able to view a vast, outrageous but sanguine level of stunting. The genre's new patrons were eager to spend and show that they lived lavishly, and we as an audience were sucked into the entertainment of seeing who is wearing what and how much it cost. Rappers like Soulja Boy and Lil Jon all contributed to the blatant and loud materialism through parading their million dollar jewellery. Nelly, a pop rap icon at the time contributed with diamond or gold Grillz, an accessory that is still extremely popular with rappers today. It truly rocketed into mainstream fashion and popularity but eventually was ruled out as unstable and started to decline after there was a desire for a more modern type of creativity and innovation. (1997-2003 RIP)
Since the era was cut short, rappers have now decided to go for a more modern approach. These days, they can get their impressive chains from somewhere more local like Popular Jewellery on Canal St, SoHo, NYC. Wu-Tang Clan’s Cappadonna was the first Hip Hop customer to enter Popular Jewellery and since then, it has been the base for many other rappers such as Travis Scott and Playboi Carti to get customised and heavily decorated jewellery. Members of the A$AP Mob: A$AP Illz, A$AP TyY, A$AP Nast, A$AP Ant and, the store’s top-spending customer: A$AP Rocky have all been customers. It was also after this that the store’s owner got her nickname A$AP Eva.
In time with the new century, luxury fashion brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton have collaborated with rapper lifestyle and culture. The trend of Hip Hop jewellery has progressed into producing many more extraordinary accessories such as diamond-embedded chains, earrings and watches. Comparing this to those thick gold chains from the 80s, fashion has transformed into making things that can be timeless but still hold a staggering price tag. Minimalism has followed through into fashion and as much as gold and diamonds will forever be a classic, successful rappers these days seem to be leaning towards the ‘less is more’ philosophy. Kendrick Lamar, Drake or Kanye West to name a few, tend to not display their luxurious jewellery. As fashion adapts, and we see how an artist thrives, ideologies between being wealthy and showing it have become separated.
Big Sean once said in an interview for GQ in 2012: " I never look at it like I’m wasting money when I’m buying gold... There’s definitely a thin line between being tasteful and tacky. I feel like tasteful is very unique...it’s not necessarily wearing a bunch of chains—that could be either tasteful or tacky."
After decades of evolving fashion tendencies, the trend of owning a chain isn’t something that looks as though it’ll be diminished. Instead, alongside the forever growing popularity in jewellery it’ll always remain as an iconic item from the birth of Hip Hop culture. As time goes on and fashion dynamically changes, maybe the 'Bling Bling' era will come back round again, everyone knows that history tends to repeat itself.