Since its nascent days in the 1970s, hip hop has been a bellwether for fashion and style. As the music genre eventually transmogrified from counterculture to mainstream, its fashion did as well. From getting new haircuts to tracksuits to sneakers, fans of rap were doing everything to imitate their favorite emcees. Even more, these trends started spreading to non-listeners as well, where they’re now one of the most consistent informants of what we wear and how we look. However, if there’s one aspect of hip-hop culture that’s always felt the most elusive, it’s the jewelry itself.
One of rap’s earliest pioneers, Kurtis Blow, was seen wearing gold chains on his album covers as early as 1980, but these thin necklaces seem like a pittance compared to what would follow. As hip hop grew and the artists became more successful, the jewelry got flashier as well. By the mid-’80s, Run-DMC was seen wearing dookie chains in its music videos and LL Cool J and Biz Markie were showing off their four-fingered rings, diamond-encrusted or otherwise. Yet, with Eric B. and Rakim’s legendary 1987 album Paid in Full, where the duo donned big extravagant pendants, rings, and bracelets, rap music began fully embracing the lavish lifestyle in both its lyrics and persona. Jewelry was no longer just an accessory, but a crucial aspect of the storytelling and the art of rap.
Book publisher Taschen is doing its part to celebrate a major piece of hip-hop culture with its upcoming compendium Ice Cold: A Hip-Hop Jewelry History. Within the 388 pages, author Vikki Tobak explicates the history and significance of jewelry throughout the subculture. A team of photographers helps fill the pages with beautiful images of icons of the game, while legends such as Slick Rick and LL Cool J, among others, give their own takes on the subject matter, telling stories of how jewelry has evolved throughout the genre’s 40-plus-year history.
Ice Cold: A Hip-Hop Jewelry History will be available this October for $100 via Taschen’s online store and other retailers.
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