Integral to the birth of Hip Hop music, Hip Hop jewelry was the birth of an entirely new sense of fashion accessorizing. Hip Hop not only created a unique genre of music that combined influences from all over the world with a new sound, but it also created an original way to present success through over the top bling that had never before been seen. As timeless as the musicians and songs that came from the 70’s and 80’s that defined Hip Hop, are the classic staples of the Hip Hop fashion trend that still exist today. Let’s take a walk down Rapper’s Lane and visit some of our favorite classic hip hop jewelry pieces.
Hip Hop had its roots in the Bronx, where block parties featured DJ’s that began to play some of the shorter beats from soul, funk and disco music. This short beat selection was commonly found in Jamaican style music at the time, and was thought to have been brought to the Bronx by Jamaican immigrants. Jamaican music was also known for chanting words over music, an early form of rapping. Early fashion of Hip Hop DJ’s incorporated reverence to its Caribbean origins through beaded chains and bracelets, knit caps, colors of black, red, yellow and green in combination with the prevailing fashion of the 70’s such as velour running suits, fly collars, bell bottoms and large sunglasses. The leader in this movement was a young DJ named DJ Kool Herc, who would also define the burgeoning fashion at the time with hair in dreds and large beaded necklaces.
As the music began to develop with scratching records, rapping vocals, and drum machine beats, so did the fashion. Groups dominated the Hip Hop scene in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and featured youths wearing an urban style unique to the streets. The Funky Four Plus One, the Sugarhill Gang, the Sequence, and very popular Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five showed a fashion sense that included flat-billed baseball caps turned sideways, felt fedoras, leather jackets, Nike® running shoes, large beaded chains, cross pendants, and oversized hoop earrings.
As Hip Hop entered the 80’s, a new rush of groups known as New School Hip Hop began to change the scene. Influential bands such as Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J, and the Beastie Boys began to top the music charts, bringing attention to Hip Hop that hadn’t been seen before. Their style of hip hop was harder, featuring rock guitars, in-your-face lyrics, and slamming base tracks. Their fashion followed suit with elements from rock n’ roll such as black leather pants and jackets, and a shirtless torso combined with multiple chains. They also introduced their own style, such as a love for sports jerseys, brands like Nikes® and Adidas®, Kangol® hats, oversized dookie chains, and large gold and diamond rings; all influences you can still see in today’s hip hop jewelry and fashion.
The Golden age of hip hop emerged in the mid-80’s to early 90’s that saw the rise of some of the most popular groups in Hip Hop with award-winning records, chart topping songs, their own award ceremonies and nominations, and mainstream acceptance. The bands ruling this golden age were Public Enemy, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and saw the appearance of Biz Markie, Tone Loc, and MC Hammer. This period was characterized by intense diversity, experimentation and popularity. Hip Hop style began to influence mainstream fashion sense. This period in hip hop fashion saw the emergence of oversized pants, Timberland® boots, high tops, African-influenced patterns and colors. Hip hop jewelry saw door-knocker earrings, knuckle rings, and huge emblem necklaces. During this time, we saw the emergence of memorable fashion icons like Flavor Flav, Ice-T, and Dr. Dre.
As the 90’s progressed, the rivalry between west and east appeared, and memorable stars such as Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, the Wu Tang Clan, Jay-Z and Notorious B.I.G broke into the scene with a vengeance. West coast style incorporated oversized button-down preppy shirts, bandanas around the head, baggy Dickies® pants, Nike® Jordans, and multiple chains. The east coast ranged from classic gangster wear of zoot suits and fedoras, dripping in gold and diamonds to the urban wear of hoodies, ski caps, oversized parkas, gold nugget rings, and grillz.
Hip Hop jewelry began to slowly move away from the plethora of gold chains, rings and teeth of the 80’s to the iced out platinum, silver and diamonds of the new millennium. The 90’s didn’t disappoint us with variety as mellow earthy acts like Digable Planets and Arrested Development who were seen wearing peace signs and nose rings; to punk-metal hip hop like Rage Against the Machine and Limp Bizkit who sported dog chains and leather wristbands; to angry white boy rapper Eninem with brass knuckles and Jesus-inspired necklaces who firmly brought Hip Hop into the new millennium.
The new millennium changed the look of Hip Hop jewelry. It seemed like artists had to search for even greater heights of the outrageous as Kanye West sported gigantic Egyptian pendants, Lil Wayne had a mouth full diamonds and skin full of tats, and Wiz Khalifa with his giant “P” pendant for Pittsburgh. After two decades of being decked out in precious metals, Hip Hop jewelry has taken a turn towards organic materials again with beads and wood making common appearances on celebrities.
Hip Hop still remains an incredible influence on current fashion trends with its combination of urban style and decadent luxury. It will be quite the ride to see where Hip Hop jewelry and music takes us next.