Hip Hop Jewelry or Urban Jewelry, How it Started
A genre that is about culture just as much as it is about music, hip hop is renowned for making waves through its powerful political and social commentary. It is a genre that transcends recording studios and performance stages; setting trends in all aspects of life, including, of course, the world of fashion – the essence of which is embodied in the flashy jewelry that remains such an integral part of hip hop culture today.
While the various styles have evolved over the decades, the basis of hip hop jewelry remains the same. The extravagant chains, grills, four-finger rings and oversized hoop earrings made of gold, platinum and diamonds that are typical of hip hop jewelry, serve the purpose of emphasizing a rapper’s wealth, prestige and success.
Hip hop jewelry first emerged after DJ Kool Herc, the “founding father of hip hop” introduced the genre in the 1970s; a time when block parties were gaining popularity in New York, particularly among the African American community. The jewelry that this music genre inspired is closely tied to their long history of slavery and oppression, and the discrimination that still exists against African Americans today. This is because the expensive, flashy jewelry that characterizes hip hop, is a way for rappers to show the world that despite the odds stacked against them, they’ve made it. They are successful.
When hip hop first burst onto the scene, skinny rope chains were the main trend, but this changed by the early 80s. The of arrival of hip hop groups and MCs onto the scene spurred on the popularity of the genre, causing hip hop to shift from an underground music scene to mainstream. When this happened, the groundbreaking hip hop legend, Kurtis Blow, popularized wearing several chains with oversized medallions at the same time, whereas Run DMC introduced the trend of wearing chucky dookie chains over track suits.
As large chains became the norm for successful male rappers, oversized hoop earrings became a trend with women in the rap game, including Roxanne Shanté and Salt-N-Pepa.
Everything was made bigger, flashier and more extreme. Even traditional rings were transformed into the elaborate four-finger ring. The classic gold tooth cap that was made popular earlier on – that was replaced by gold grills for the entire mouth. These hip hop jewelry styles were spread by rap icons Slick Rick and Big Daddy Kane.
But it didn’t stop there. Former fads were replaced by more luxurious stylings, when rap artists like Jay-Z, P. Diddy (Puffy Daddy at the time), Juvenile and The Hot Boys replaced the standard gold color and material of hip hop chains, with platinum and diamonds – and when it came to diamonds, the more, the better. As with chains, diamonds also became all the rage for mouth grills.
It was a sign of their exorbitant wealth – a bank account full of money, a mouth full of jewels. In 1998 the Cash Money Millionaires coined the famous term “bling bling” to describe the showy, over-the-top style of hip hop jewelry, and the term stuck.
Nowadays, flashy, expensive jewelry remains a way for rappers to announce their presence, accomplishments and success. But today’s hip hop jewelry trends have transitioned from the chuncky rope chains of the early years to brighter accessories, iced out in diamonds. The style now includes large pendants and belt buckles, iced-out watches and chains, and diamond stud earrings.
With such an ever-changing genre, it’s difficult keeping track of the latest trends and styles that are adorned by rappers and their fans today. At least for now, you’re up to date.