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The shining symbol of success: how hip hop has influenced the jewelry industry

From its humble beginnings in New York to its current dominance in global pop culture, hip hop has been a standard-bearer of flamboyance

Hip Hop Jewelry Industry
Missy Elliott during a concert in Las Vegas.

In the world of jewelry, where diamonds and gold symbolize status, power and luxury, hip hop culture has taken the industry to a whole new level. Nicki Minaj, Jay-Z, Pharrell Williams, The Notorious B.I.G., Missy Elliot… these stars of the genre are barely separable from their extravagant, unique, and detailed pieces that form an important part of their personality and their brand image.

The love for jewelry among the most visible faces in hip-hop began in the 1980s, when artists like Public Enemy’s Flava Flav or Run-DMC earned their first dollars outside of their marginalized neighborhoods, dedicating themselves to what they did best. Run-DMC became synonymous with their iconic gold chains, which became an enduring symbol of the group and the hip hop movement in general, as did Flava Flav’s watches.

Run DMC, circa 1985.
Run DMC, circa 1985.Michael Ochs Archives

As the culture progressed, jewelry took on new meaning and became a key element in the conventions of the industry in the 1990s. One of the most obvious reasons is that flashy jewelry is a symbol of success and status. In the marginalized communities from which hip hop emerged, material wealth and financial success were often elusive. In a world where opportunities are often scarce, these pieces represented a monumental achievement, a way to tell the world that, despite all odds, one had succeeded. Expensive, ostentatious jewelry became a visual way of saying, “I have arrived.” This is how The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac and Lil’ Kim’s jewelry created a trend and was widely imitated in the years following their success, giving birth to the bling style and the appearance on the scene of numerous jewelers and jewelry customizers all over the U.S.

US rapper Lil' Kim performs during the Hip Hop 50 Live concert, marking the 50th anniversary of the birth of hip hop, at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City on August 11, 2023.
US rapper Lil' Kim performs during the Hip Hop 50 Live concert, marking the 50th anniversary of the birth of hip hop, at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City on August 11, 2023. ANGELA WEISS (AFP via Getty Images)

In hip hop culture, bling is a currency of exchange. The bigger and shinier the jewelry, the better. This is not just a display of ego; it serves as a constant reminder that, despite the struggles, success is attainable. Bling culture has inspired aspiring artists to push forward, to strive for their dreams and to believe that they can overcome any obstacle. If Lil Uzi Vert can embed a $24 million diamond in his forehead, anything is possible.

Behind every dazzling piece in the hip hop world is a talented jeweler or designer. Jacob & Co, Ben Baller, Eliantte, and Johnny Dang are just a few of the names that have left an indelible mark on the industry. These jewelry artists not only create beautiful pieces but also become creative collaborators, transforming rappers’ visions into glittering masterpieces; something that goes beyond the commercial transaction. It is based on trust, creative collaboration, and mutual respect. Rappers see their jewelers as partners in creating their image and expressing their success, and show their appreciation in a variety of ways, from mentions in song lyrics to personalized gifts. This special relationship is an integral part of hip hop culture and continues to be a source of inspiration and creativity for both sides.

Lil Uzi Vert performs onstage during day 3 of Rolling Loud Los Angeles at Hollywood Park Grounds on March 05, 2023, in Inglewood, California.
Lil Uzi Vert performs onstage during day 3 of Rolling Loud Los Angeles at Hollywood Park Grounds on March 05, 2023, in Inglewood, California. Scott Dudelson (Getty Images)

The hip hop world has never been a place for the timid. From its humble beginnings in the neighborhoods of New York to its current dominance in global pop culture, hip hop has been a beacon of bold expression, boundless creativity and, yes, flashy flamboyance. And nothing epitomizes this extravagance more than jewelry. More than diamonds and gold, jewelry in hip hop is a constant reminder that dreams can come true and that the glow of success will never fade. Whether it’s a rapper wearing a flashy gold chain or a jeweler creating it, all are leaving their indelible mark on hip hop’s rich history, creating a significant artistic heritage.

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