Bling it On! A Close-up of Hip-Hop’s Hottest Rocks

From the earliest days of hip-hop, star rappers have sported dazzling diamonds and golden ornaments as bold and outsized as their music. Here are some of the standouts
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Accessorizing in the world of hip-hop has always been about spurning convention for sparkly street art you could wear. Never have diamonds been so ice-cold, so plentiful, crusting over rings and watch faces in a fury of flex. The artists and artisans who both inspired these creations and were inspired by them are the subjects of a remarkable retrospective, Ice Cold: A Hip-Hop Jewelry History (Taschen).

With cred-lending text by Slick Rick, A$AP Ferg, LL Cool J, Kevin “Coach K” Lee and Pierre “P” Thomas, the book is an overdue chronicle of hip-hop’s aesthetic relevance beyond its beats and rhymes. As Slick Rick (aka Ricky Walters) points out in the forward: “Every culture celebrates its creative contributions in its own ways. Black culture goes above and beyond. Going big is just how we roll. This is true of our music, our dance, our sense of fashion . . . and our jewelry.”

Eazy-E; Photo by Estevan Oriol, Los Angeles, 2003

From Godfather To Son. Eric Lynn Wright, better known as Eazy-E, put in the work turning West Coast flow into an international cultural phenomenon by founding Ruthless Records and leading N.W.A, which included future stars Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. N.W.A’s 1988 debut album, Straight Outta Compton, was an instant worldwide smash and one of gangsta rap’s defining artifacts. Eazy died at 30, in 1995. His son, Lil Eazy-E, holds a pendant depiction of his father by Benn Baller of IF & Co.

Biz Markie; photo by George Dubose, New York, 1988

Big Biz-Ness. In the late 1980s, a young Biz Markie walked into the New York Diamond District shop of Jacob “Jacob the Jeweler” Arabo of Jacob & Co. and requested a signature piece of jewelry that would become the “Biz” ring. Biz was Jacob’s first client from the hip-hop world, launching a legendary run of design collaborations between Jacob and a long list of other artists in the genre.

Roxanne Shante; photo by David Corio, London, 1989

Who’s That Girl? New York rapper Roxanne Shante name-checks herself with an eponymous hair plate and gold door-knocker statement earrings.

Slick Rick; photo by Janette Beckman, New York, 1988

Solid Gold. A pioneer in hip-hop jewelry, Slick Rick created the draped-in-gold look that became a classic of the 1980s. The New York-based Anglo-American MC popularized the large dookie rope chain while also adorning himself with crowns, scepters, and other motifs that became synonymous with hip-hop jewelry. 

Nigo: Gregory Bojorquez, Shibuya, Tokyo, 2004

Far-Out East. Favored by high-profile rappers from Notorious B.I.G. to Pharrell and A$AP Rocky, Japanese fashion legend Nigo’s jewelry collection includes a nameplate belt, diamond ring, and set of three BAPE (A Bathing Ape) heads by Jacob & Co. Nigo’s love for the 1968 film Planet of the Apes served as the inspiration for the BAPE logo, as well as referencing the Japanese idiom “a bathing ape in lukewarm water.” 

Missy Elliott: Courtesy of Jacob. & Co.

Supa Dupa Fly. Rapper, songwriter, and record producer Missy Elliott’s diamond-encrusted gold pendant sports a metaphorically rich turntable expressed in black diamonds, with a solid gold needle and fully movable parts by Jacob & Co. 

Megan Thee Stallion. Bottom diamond grills and pendant on Cuban link chain. Photo by Zach Boisjoly, New York, 2018

Flex Appeal. Megan Thee Stallion rocks “Stalli,” a 30-carat baguette diamond nameplate on a 30-karat white and rose gold Gucci Cuban link chain by Iceman Nick. 

Oh, Baby. Grammy-winning rapper and songwriter Lil Baby’s assortment of jewelry from Icebox Jewelers includes diamond Cuban link chains with a “Baby” nameplate, a Cartier Santos de Cartier skeleton custom iced-out watch, and an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chrono customized iced-out timepiece.

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