Virgil Abloh

Kenneth Cappello, Chicago, 2021

Cam’ron Phil Knott, New York, 2006

Nicki Minaj Angela Boatwright, New York, 2009

Sean Combs also known as Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Diddy, or Love, Albert Watson, 1999

Slick Rick Clay Patrick McBride, New York, 1999

In his Diaries, Andy Warhol tells the story of driving on the Westside highway, in Manhattan, in the early 1980’s, and seeing young black men with peace symbols on heavy chains around the neck and he was very impressed by their advertising for a more peaceful world. But as his car got near them, Warhol discovered these were not peace symbols, but the Mercedes logo - in gold.   

Jewelry and hip hop have been intimately linked since the birth of this music. “Jewelry is a cornerstone of hip-hop culture. Glittering, blinged-out jewels are the shining statement of a collective identity: unapologetic, charismatic, and street savvy,” claims Vikki Tobak in Ice Cold, A hip hop history of Jewelry (Taschen). In hip hop, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, over the top is never enough.  

This is the story that Vikki Tobak tells in this fascinating and definitive volume. Hip-Hop is about style, about proclamation of identity and self-expression. It’s about rebelliousness and at the same time embracing the most visible aspect of consumer culture. Jewelry is also about the object as talisman and the re-invention of self. Rappers wear jewelry to commemorate, to celebrate, to honor, to show their financial success. But these mega pieces also give a sense of  boundless power and energy, the same as the one we hear through loudspeakers. 

The love affair of hip-hop with bling starts with Run DMC and his gold Adidas pendants, all the way to Pharrell Williams wearing diamond dotted glasses from Tiffany’s. And it’s not surprising for the very WASP brand to have chosen Beyoncé and Jay Z as ambassadors. The taste for over the top jewelry and style has always been a marker of street culture, going back to early 20th Century pimps. 

Vikki Tobak’s books explains how hip-hop has turbocharged that culture and has revealed to a larger audience the talented and extravagant designers creating these pieces - Jacob the Jeweler, Tito Caicedo, for example - as well as lesser-known, but no less talented jewelers like Avianne & Co., Johnny Dang or Eliantte. Ice Cold should have a new name: Ice Hot.  Jean-Sébastien Stehli.

Ice Cold, A Hip-Hop History of Jewelry. Taschen

MoMA is also celebrating hip hop’s  50th anniversary: 

August 22, 2023 — Jean Sebastien Stehli