Why you shouldn’t be so quick to judge rappers for their bling

IIt’s no secret that rappers have a long love affair with jewelry. More than a fashion statement, artists’ bling is a flex, a status symbol, a token of brotherhood and, most importantly, a message of success.

While gold chains and expensive watches have been common accessories for hip-hop artists since they first appeared in the late 1970s, the rappers’ jewelry game has reached new heights with inlaid grids. diamonds, icy, blinding Rolexes and Pateks. rings, and of course, the very important chain.

But beyond the frenzy around tantalizing price tags, or the dog-whistling criticism of rappers blowing wads of cash on diamond-encrusted jewelry, the conversation ends there. (Save Lil Uzi Vert’s decision to have a $ 24 million pink diamond encrusted in his forehead, of course.)

For director Karam Gill, there was a lot more to say about the relationship between rappers and jewelry. “No one has ever taken the time to think of anything deeper beyond the fact that people wear million dollar chains that show up at the grocery store,” Gill told The Daily Beast before the show. premiere of his new YouTube Originals docuseries. Cold ice at the Tribeca Film Festival Sunday.

The four-part film was produced by the Atlanta rap trio Migos and will premiere on YouTube on July 8. It features interviews with some of the biggest names in the rap industry including Migos, A $ AP Ferg, JT and Yung Miami from City Girls, Lil Yachty, French Montana, J Balvin, Lil Baby and the founders of the Quality label. Control, Kevin “Coach K” Lee and Pierre “Pee” Thomas.

“I was really interested in this particular hip-hop and jewelry entry point because there is so much out there and everyone sees it,” Gill explained. “I wanted to explore beyond price, beyond style, and what it means beyond jewelry.”

Gill is making a name for himself by delving into the world of hip-hop and exploring how these stories and themes play out in a cultural context. Earlier this year, Gill’s Showtime docuseries on rainbow-haired rapper 6ix9ine, Supervillain: The making of Tekashi 6ix9ine, made the news when he categorically stated that he thought the 25-year-old rapper was “really a horrible human being.”

Gill said he had no interest in making a movie solely on 6ix9ine, but wanted to expose the rapper for who he is and, at the same time, analyze the public’s fascination with a Joker character and what it says about the society.

He takes the same approach with Cold ice. Instead of drooling over the artists flashy drop, Gill pulls the curtain back to reveal what lies at the heart of the relationship.

It all stems from the concept of the American dream, the idea that with hard work and determination anything is achievable in the United States. However, the American dream is elusive for those who have a whole system against them.

For black communities who have suffered through centuries of oppression, unfair housing, and banking and hiring practices, it was a ridiculous idea that working just a little harder, black people could achieve the same success as their white peers.

The birth of rap coincided with a Wall Street boom that emphasized wealth and luxury, juxtaposed with the early 1980s crack epidemic that crippled black communities.

At the time, there were few examples of successful black businessmen; on the contrary, the men who were feared and respected in black communities were drug traffickers and pimps, who wore gaudy gold chains, watches and rings.

So, rappers began to emulate those signs of wealth and power that they had seen in men they saw as successes. “Rappers wanted to be drug dealers, drug dealers wanted to be rappers,” Brooklyn-born rapper Talib Kweli recalled in the film.

Yet while it is perfectly acceptable for Elizabeth Taylor to amass a dazzling collection of gems, it is somehow looked down upon when a black person does the same.

“I am fascinated by the concept of the American Dream,” said Gill. “You know, as a person of color, this concept is so fascinating to me. I think the American dream is not one size fits all. I think the same way people spend six figures each year on a country club membership, or can have a wine collection that is in the millions, what’s the difference between that and buying a chain? It’s just a different take on what your American dream is.

I think the same way people spend six figures each year on a country club membership, or can have a wine collection that is in the millions, what’s the difference between that and buying a chain?

“In Indian cultures, people save their entire lives to spend a million dollars overnight on a wedding,” he explained. “If you look at country club culture in the South, people will spend millions over the course of a decade, wasting money. But when rappers buy jewelry, it’s frowned upon. I do not understand why. I think that speaks to a lot of prejudices that we have as a society. “

The rappers are fantasizing about the design of their next channel. In Cold ice, J Balvin spoke of how fascinating he found the process of selecting gemstones and working with a jeweler on the design of his piece. Throughout the docuseries, rappers are showing off their drip, jacking up the prices, and remembering when they got each scintillating item.

The chains also represent a kind of brotherhood, with record companies offering bespoke pendants to new artists, like a king knighting a loyal servant. They’re sometimes offered to strangers, like when Jay Z signed on giving Naomi Campbell, Robert De Niro, Victoria Beckham and model Karolina Kurkova the coveted Roc-A-Fella channel.

There are, of course, obvious downsides to rappers’ obsession with the chicest bling: it makes them prime targets for armed robberies.

It has also become an expectation that artists will shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for the appearance. City Girls duo Yung Miami and JT admitted they wouldn’t bother telling the time to a man who wasn’t wearing serious gear. “If you don’t wear jewelry you look broke,” they laughed in the movie.

Gucci Mane performs onstage at the 2018 BET Hip Hop Awards at Fillmore Miami Beach on October 6, 2018, in Miami Beach, Florida.

Paras Griffin / Getty

Plus, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on flashy, bespoke parts isn’t exactly a smart investment. Celebrity-favorite jeweler Johnny Dang has explained that he can’t resell anything unless it’s melted down, gold and diamonds turned into something new.

A year after Lil Yachty happily displayed his revealing collection, complete with an iced-out “Yachty Simpson” pendant, he barely wanted to touch his jewelry. “I don’t buy jewelry anymore,” he says. “It’s crap that doesn’t matter in the real world.”

“This is crap, technically. Soil, rocks, a mineral. I don’t really care anymore, ”he added, saying he was starting to move away from“ materialistic stuff ”.

Lil Yachty confessed that when he wore all his chains he started to feel like he was a caricature of himself. “I have two lives,” he says. “My personal life and my rap life. I’m not a rapper right now, I’m Miles. So I can’t pretend and put this shit on because I really don’t want to. I only put it on when I’m in rapper mode, it’s like a costume. I really don’t care now. It’s cool to watch, I guess. I don’t like to put it on, it’s too much.

But overall, Gill said he didn’t think there was anything wrong with fixing hip-hop jewelry. “I think it takes context to understand,” he concluded. “It should be treated, at the end of the day, like any extravagant hardware purchase that our company has agreed to.”

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