Did you know that humans have been rocking gold chains for more than 75,000 years? That’s right!
Rappers and pimps from the 70s aren’t the originators of gold bling; the early Egyptians were. These ancient ‘ballers’ brazenly displayed gold chains and bracelets not to show off their wealth but to keep evil spirits at bay.
So, if Egyptian pimps wore gold to ward off evil, one can’t help but wonder: why do rappers wear gold chains in our time and age?
The reason modern rappers like to flash their gold chains may actually surprise you. Read on for interesting facts on the history of gold chains and why gold jewelry is so popular among rappers.
A brief history of gold chains in hip hop
So, what is the story behind the popularity of gold chains among rappers?
From Egypt to West Africa, wearing gold jewelry was quite ubiquitous. King Mansa Musa who ruled a world swathe of West Africa between 1312 and 1337 and was the richest person during his time, wore his jewelry proudly to show off his wealth.
While rocking gold jewelry is an ancient practice, the 1970s were responsible for popularizing gold bling in hip-pop culture.
DJ Kool Herc with his popular block parties was responsible for popularizing hip-hop culture. Soon after, Kurtis Blow wore several gold chains on the cover of his debut album. Blow was the emcee attributed to the first certified gold hip-hop cover.
Future emcees followed in Blow’s footsteps, buying and wearing gold chains to mark their various career achievements.
By the mid to late ’80s, hip-hop had become a mainstream genre, producing superstars such as LL Cool J, Biz Markie, Run-DMC, and Slick Rick among others. The massive popularity and payoff, rap came with bigger and shinier jewelry. Rappers would rock slick dookie rope chains, pendants, bracelets, and watches.
LL Cool J popularized the four-finger ring while Eric B and Rakim’s album, Paid in Full, featured the duo donning gold chains valued at $100,000. The more hip-hop and rap culture became commercialized, the more expensive jewelry was used to market the genre to the masses.
Remember the gigantic Jesus pendant Notorious B.I.G wore? This is arguably the most popular pendant in history with super-stars such as Lil Kim and Jay-Z donning it and attributing their wild success to this iconic gold pendant.
Speaking of Jay-Z, the super famous rapper can be credited with popularizing platinum jewelry pieces, famously dropping $10,000 on a chain. Biggs Burke and Dame Dash, both members of Jayz’s Roc-A-Fella reportedly spent $200,000 each on their wearable gold ropes.
By the start of the new millennium, corporate America and hip-hop were singing the same tune. Popular rappers and singers became super-wealthy overnight through their brand partnerships with everything from vitamin water to Cheerios, to sneakers and more. As the money flowed in so did the jewelry.
Within hip-hop circles and particularly within Black Culture, gold chains are a demonstration of wealth and success. It has become a right of passage for every entertainer who wants to prove they are doing well in their careers.
The Truth Behind Why Rappers Wear Gold Chains
The rap culture is all about the glitz and glamor. Appearing rich is more important than being rich (though this helps) and gold jewelry is the best way to let the world know your worth.
Flashing gold, diamond, and platinum is intentional. For rappers, it is in their best interest to flaunt their jewelry; they are trying to sell a dream and keep their audiences mesmerized and entertained. The gold chains and other accessories are a deliberate part of a rapper’s presentation.
Here’s a breakdown of why rappers wear gold chains:
To show off their wealth
If you ever wondered about the cost of the gold chains your favorite rapper wears, you can rest assured that it is likely a lot. It is no secret that hip-hop superstars spend a fortune on their bling.
The sparkling jewelry is a way to show their hard work and resulting wealth. They are literally wearing their pride and joy after all the work they have put in to entertain their fans.
It is a sign of status
Flashiness and showing off are a big part of hip-hop culture. How else will the world know about well a rapper is doing unless they display it with slick chains, grills, rings, bracelets, and watches?
Ironically, rumor has it that the flashiest rappers actually arent as wealthy as they appear. According to those that are privy to the industry, lots of rappers don’t own their jewelry or have spent a huge chunk of their small fortune on bling just to keep up with the Joneses of the industry.
Modern rappers might have real wealth. But rappers from older times are more likely to show off their non-existent status using borrowed jewelry. So, not all that glitters is gold!
It is a way to hold their wealth
Now this explanation for why rappers wear jewelry is interesting and dates back to the origins of hip-hop culture.
Rap music has its roots in gangster culture among historically marginalized and underrepresented groups including blacks, Latinx, and Native Americans.
In addition to their endemic economic struggles, these groups also collided with the law and legal structures of the land quite frequently, leading to their mass incarceration. High-flying rappers were not exempt from the legal risk and brushes with the police.
Underrepresented communities also harbor (and still do) significant mistrust of banks, which are seen as part of the oppressive system. So for individuals in these communities, the safest way to hold their wealth was in high-end jewelry, including chains, watches, rings and bracelets.
It is a symbol of manhood
Iced-out jewelry is so important in the hip-hop culture that these gold chains are akin to a rapper’s manhood. In fact snatching a chain from a rapper’s neck is a big no-no and is regarded as snatching his manhood.
Each layer of chains worn on a rapper’s neck embodies their entertainment persona. The more layers, the more powerful the channeled persona is thought to be.
If you want to bring down a hip-hop rapper’s self-esteem, try snatching their chain or claiming that their jewelry is fake.
Talking of fake jewelry and tearing each other down, Gucci Mane once took a stab at rap group, Migos, claiming that their chains were fake. Let’s just say, Migos didn’t take Gucci’s caption well, and beef sure was brewing!
The Icy rapper shared a throwback of the Migos’ Holmes music video (2013) featuring himself, the Migos, and Young Scooter. Gucci’s caption was inflammatory: “When I first met the @migos and @quavohuncho @yrntakeoff, they threw away their fake chains coz I gave them the two chains off my neck.”
Fake gold chains is a hot yet taboo topic in the hip-hop industry, showing how much rappers treasure their jewelry as a symbol of status and power.
It is a form of asset protection
Did you know that when the police arrest you, they will eventually return any possession you had on your body? But, they may confiscate your other possessions, including your car, items in the car, and money, some of which they may never return.
Most people aren’t aware of this, but underrepresented communities that frequently interact with law enforcement are privy to this fact.
Rappers invest some of their cash in gold jewelry just in case they are caught up in some legal issues, and their money or other assets are frozen. If a rapper is arrested wearing their gold chains, the jewelry will not be confiscated and can even be used to get a loan from a pawn shop for bail money.