From Rollies to dookie chains to that $1 million diamond-encrusted Ice Age pendant rocked by Mike Jones, the world of hip-hop has always been closely aligned with the world of ridiculously expensive jewelry. (At least since the early days of hip-hop, when Public Enemy started rocking clocks around their necks and Slick Rick rolled 30 chains deep.) We can credit these early hip-hop trailblazers for the blingy styles that endure today—all things streetwear reign, yet again—even if it is more about Patek Philippe than Rolex and more about the iced-out than the solid gold. Here are some of the golden-agers and beyond that we can thank for paving the gilded way.
- Run-DMC – The legendary hip-hop trio from Queens has been acknowledged as one of the most influential in the genre, but it also made a massive impact on fashion, too. Made up of Jason Mizell (Jam Master Jay), Joseph Simmons (Rev. Run), and Darryl McDaniel (DMC), Run-DMC was known for wearing matching outfits, typically featuring streetwear staples like Adidas tracksuits and Kangol hats. The ice of choice for these dudes were their heavy gold rope chains (“dookie chains”), which spurred a style revolution in hip-hop.
- Big Daddy Kane – Another icon from New York, Big Daddy Kane rose to fame during the Golden Age of Hip-Hop as a member of the rap collective the Juice Crew. In 1991, he earned a Grammy for collaborating with Quincy Jones on the track “Back on the Block.” At the same time, Kane was forging a whole new hip-hop style, featuring velour suits and high-top fades alongside flashy accessories. Jewelry-wise, he was famous for his four-finger rings coupled with heavily layered chains and pendants.
- Rakim – You can’t talk about hip-hop jewelry without mentioning hip-hop icon Rakim. One half of Eric B. & Rakim, this musical duo was behind the immeasurably influential album Paid in Full, which is credited as one of the most important albums from the Golden Age of Hip-Hop. Both were massive fans of the dookie chain made famous by the guys from Run-DMC and took it a step further by adding massive gold and diamond medallions featuring the Mercedes Benz emblem and anchors, which reportedly cost $100,000 each. Rakim earns a place on our list because he is credited as one of the first artists to pair the heavy rope chain with a pendant, igniting a massive trend in hip-hop (and, ultimately, mainstream) neckwear.
Rakim earns a place on our list because he is credited as one of the first artists to pair the heavy rope chain with a pendant,
- Slick Rick – Otherwise known as MC Rickey D, the British-born rapper Slick Rick made a big name for himself in the 80s, thanks in part to his unique style of dress, featuring his signature eye patch and heavily (and we mean heavily) layered chain necklaces. Rick was known to wear over 30 dookie chains at a time back in the 80s and continues to rock this signature look today. His influence on rap goes far beyond style, though. His song “La Di Da Di” has been covered and sampled by many of the all-time greats, including Snoop Dogg and the Notorious B.I.G. Rumor has it that Big Daddy Kane loaned Slick Rick a few chains to complete his signature look.
- The Notorious B.I.G. – Christopher Wallace (AKA The Notorious B.I.G) made a major impact on the world of hip-hop fashion if only for one single reason: He gave us the iconic diamond-encrusted Jesus pendant, dubbed “The Jesus Piece.” B.I.G. even rapped about it in “I Love the Dough” from Life After Death: “You seen the Jesus … even got rocks in the beard and mustache.” B.I.G’s set the stage for many Jesus Pieces that came after—including those rocked by Jay-Z and Kanye, who are often wrongly credited for starting this trend—which feature the famed diamond-set crown of thorns and hair. Few pendants are quite as iconic as this one. It even has its own Wikipedia page.
- P. Diddy – You didn’t think we’d leave style mogul slash rap hero Diddy out of the conversation, did you? Known for his extensive jewelry collection, Sean P. Diddy Combs (that’s Puff Daddy for all you non-millennials out there) has indeed left his mark on the world of hip-hop fashion, thanks in part to his super-successful clothing line Sean Jean and his signature white party looks. But Diddy has always been an influencer when it comes to jewelry, too. Paving the way for the relatively understated styles that ushered in the new millennium, Diddy has been known to rock simpler chain-and-pendant combos featuring next-level, custom pieces.
Diddy has always been an influencer when it comes to jewelry
- Jay Z – If we had to pick one jewelry influencer to make his mark on modern-day hip-hop, it has to be Jay. The Brooklyn-born rapper went from iced-out, B.I.G.-inspired Jesus pieces, frosted cross pendants, and the signature “Roc necklaces” Beyoncé sings about to the now-iconic heavy rope chain featured in the video for Holy Grail. Mr. Carter is also well-known in style circles for having a ridiculous watch collection featuring plenty of coveted Rollies (including a super-rare Cosmograph Daytona made with one of the first ceramic bezels) plus timepieces by Audemars Piguet, Hublot, and Patek Philippe, of which he was an early adopter in the hip-hop circle.
The More Things Change …
Like all things in hip-hop fashion, today’s style trends seem to be coming full-circle. Along with the revival of Adidas tracksuits and heavily branded crewneck sweatshirts, statement jewelry is coming back in a massive way.
Like all things in hip-hop fashion, today’s style trends seem to be coming full-circle. Along with the revival of Adidas tracksuits and heavily branded crewneck sweatshirts, statement jewelry is coming back in a massive way. Though the nuances may vary, there is one primary thread that has influenced hip-hop jewelry since the days of the dookie chain—everything these style icons have rocked was meant to send a message, sometimes quite literally, proving that there’s no better way to add personality to your overall style than with something made of glitz and gold.