History Of Hip Hop Jewelry
Hip-hop culture has changed a lot since it started around the 70s: the beats, the lyrics, the message behind the songs, the artists… But one thing has remained iconic throughout all these decades: jewelry. In the beginning, hip-hop was a way for the oppressed segregated people of color and lower income brackets to express themselves. Activism and resistance played a big role. Rap was music for people who wouldn’t even imagine themselves dripping in jewels and diamonds, people from the lowest social status. But then some people had the possibility to climb out of poverty and they had to show it. Such and achievement had to be shown and flaunted for the whole world to see. Jewelry symbolized having escaped that struggle that rap expressed.
In the 70s hip-hop was born and was popularized by DJ Kool Herc at his famous block parties. Jewelry began to appear with the first certified gold hip-hop record, by Kurtis Blow. He flaunted several gold chains on the cover of his albums, and over the following decades other artists would follow in his footsteps. Jewelry became a symbol to mark milestones in their careers. When the mid 80s arrived, hip-hop began to be taken seriously by the mainstream. With the genre being more broadcasted came more money. And more money equaled more jewelry and bling. Rope chains, gold watches, four-finger rings and even Adidas sneakers were some of the most iconic pieces of jewelry of the era. There was a competitive air between the artists.
By the time the 90s started, hip-hop was its own industry. The genre was more commercialized than even and the jewelry played a big role in marketing. Pieces like the iconic Jesus pendant worn by Biggie became advertisements for the different labels that competed during that time. Rappers were dropping hundreds of thousands on chains, watches and other accessories. The $10,000 dollar chains from the 80s were old news. Hip-hop had become such a successful genre that the artists were richer than even. And they wore all their money around their necks.
By the time the new millennium arrived, corporations and hip-hop became best friends. Rappers had all kind of projects outside the music industry: energy drinks, liquor brands, sneaker lines. And with the new status of rappers, jewelry evolved. Diamond chains symbolized allegiance and status, and grillz became popular in the mainstream. The term “bling bling” was naturalized into our vocabulary thanks to Cash Money signees. Now the most basic pieces of jewelry a famous rapper should have were more expensive than ever. For a full set of watch, chains, rings, you have to drop several hundreds of thousands dollars. (unless you shop at VVS Jewelry!)
A lot has changed since the 70s, when hip-hop was originated, but one thing is for sure: jewelry is a staple in the rap industry still to this day and it will continue to evolve as the genre changes and reinvents itself.