The Evolution of Gangsta Jewellery

The Evolution of Gangsta Jewellery

From Mr T’s Chains to Bling Rings: The Evolution of Gangsta Jewellery

From Mr. T's chains to diamond-encrusted pendants, "Gangsta Jewellery" has evolved over the years to reflect the changing face of hip hop culture. This article explores the history of this unique style of jewelry and its significance within the hip hop community.

With the rise and continued growth of the world of hip-hop, jewellery has always been more than just an accessory. It’s a symbol of status, a reflection of cultural identity, and a bold statement of defiance, not to mention a way to flash all that cash you’ve got. Gangsta jewellery, specifically, has undergone a fascinating evolution since its emergence in the 1980s, transforming from chunky gold chains to the icy diamonds of today.

This has been way beyond the hip-hop and rap scene; it’s been a part of the gangsta and many other cultures. For example, billionaires show off through diamonds and jewels, while gangstas tend to love chains, rings and, even more recently, grillz, which have been and are still extremely popular in this scene and have bled into other styles as well, such as modern streetwear.

The Golden Age: 80s Excess and Mr. T’s Influence

The 1980s marked the birth of gangsta rap and, with it, a distinct style of jewellery. Introduced by artists like Run-DMC and Slick Rick. Their look was all about excess and was extremely flashy, especially as the rap scene came about. Budgets were increased and that meant more money to spend on outfits because if you are trying to sell gold, you have to look golden.

Heavy gold chains, often adorned with large medallions or nameplates, became a symbol of wealth and power. Mr. T, with his iconic gold chains and Mohawk hairstyle, became a pop culture symbol, further solidifying the association between gold and the burgeoning gangsta persona.

Gold chains were not the end of it here in the 80s. At the height of Run-DMC’s, Adidas gifted a collection of solid gold classic sneakers. Could you imagine? Although they achieved greater volumes of attention from their dookie rope chains and their occasional additional accessories such as thick gold watches, rings and pendants, it was really the time of thick gold statement pieces paired with men’s full tracksuits and parachute pants; it was very hip-hop and they did it so well.

LL Cool J was one of the first artists to introduce four-finger rings into the mix. It’s like a classy, expensive knuckle duster but you definitely wouldn’t be throwing hands at this expensive piece of jewellery. Album covers seem to be covered in gold. For example, Big Daddy Kane’s debut album cover from 1988 was dripping with a range of royalty pieces, from sceptres to crowns. This was just one of the pillars of wearable gold options that were exposed in the 1980s.

Let’s not forget that this emergence and influx in popularity were all down to the 1970s, when disco inspired the bling and shine of the king of rock himself, Elvis Presley, who was one of the first artists to take full advantage of the light on stage and his boldness in wearing such flashy clothing. You could say the ’70s paved the way for the ’80s fashion and jewellery scenes.

Flash Forward to the 90s:  XXL Chains and Bling Reigns Supreme

The 1990s saw gangsta rap explode in popularity, and the jewellery scene followed suit. XXL chains became the new standard, with rappers like Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur sporting diamond-encrusted chains. The Notorious B.I.G. iconic Jesus chain was the last one he ever wore and has become a highlight and staple amongst other rappers. It is a symbol of luck, if you will and other artists have taken full advantage of that, such as Jay Z and Lil Kim, who both wore this peace when creating and realising their best-performing albums. The rise of bling culture emphasised diamonds and gemstones, with rappers like Lil Wayne popularising multi-carat pendants and iced-out watches.

The genre itself was capitalised on and the bigger or more expensive the jewellery was, the better. It became a marketing tactic and it was very clever because it got people watching and listening to what they had to say. Not before long, hip-hop was all over the place and was the best-performing genre and the jewellery business grew with it. Artists were dropping hundreds of thousands on pieces of bling as they could now afford grand pieces and what better way to show off how well you are doing than putting them on your wrist and around your neck?

The 2000s and Beyond: Customisation and Beyond the Bling

Entering the new millennium, we have seen a huge partnership between hip-hop and corporate America, they are basically best friends at this point. Artists have branched out beyond the music industry and had a go at things such as alcohol or fashion, like Kanye West with Yeezy and Jay-Z even bringing out his own sneaker line. Businessmen saw the hype and thought they needed to get in on the action, so as time has gone on and hip hop and rap have been perceived, investors have capitalised further on it.

The likes of 50 Cent have made staggering amounts of money through investing and shares, and he wasn’t the only one who racked in the rewards through merchandise, investments, sponsorships and, of course, royalties. Hip-hop became a bucket with opportunities and with it, the status of these rappers and musical artists grew, as did the jewellery they bought with their winnings.

Diamonds are still the highlights of the 2000s. Diamond-encrusted chains, watches and rings seem to be a rapper’s best friends. Grillz, first popularised by rappers like Nelly and Paul Wall, became a new frontier, showcasing intricate diamond designs on teeth. The rise of independent jewellers catering specifically to hip-hop artists led to a wider variety of styles, with some rappers opting for cleaner, more minimalist pieces.

From Gangsta to Mainstream: A Lasting Legacy

The influence of gangsta jewellery has transcended hip-hop, impacting mainstream fashion.  Today, celebrities from various walks of life sport chunky chains and diamond-encrusted pieces.  However, the cultural significance of gangsta jewellery remains. It continues to be a way for artists to showcase their success, celebrate their heritage, and defy societal expectations.

The evolution of gangsta jewellery is a story of cultural expression, artistic evolution, and the ever-changing relationship between hip-hop and fashion.

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