“With hip-hop, the history of jewelry is woven into the fabric of music,” says author Vikki Tobak, who explored the relationship between the two creative realms in her new Taschen-published book, Ice cold. A history of hip-hop jewelry. Traveling back four decades and featuring essays from Slick Rick, A$AP Ferg and LL COOL J, among others, the tome touches on everything from street style to hip-hop’s biggest names and iconic jewellers. Here she tells us what drew her to the subject, what surprised her in her research and her wonder at the power of a good watch collection.

Eric B and Rakim. Rakim wears a Mary pendant on layered gold rope chains, while Eric B. wears an anchor pendant and an eagle pendant on a gold rope chain, a gold nugget watch and several rings gold nuggets, including a pinky ring with a Mercedes-Benz design and a four-name ring spelling out his full name—Louis Eric Barrier—in classic script. David Corio, 1987

Wallpaper*: The role of jewelry in hip hop has helped define a strong visual identity over the decades. Where do you start to explore this relationship?

Vikki Tobak: Hip-hop jewelry is so much more than conspicuous consumption and I really wanted this book to celebrate something bigger than just bling. Style is a visual dialogue. Hip-hop took that dialogue and, with a clear vision and history of the black diaspora, rose to world domination – unapologetic, charismatic and dripping with street savvy. Artists use jewelry to express their individuality, identity, allegiance to neighborhoods, teams, brotherhoods, label affiliations, and more.

With hip-hop jewelry, it’s nearly impossible to separate the gemstones from the larger narrative of politics, identity and race, and historical complexity. This is where I wanted to start as the basis for this story. Setting the tone for street culture, African aesthetics and historical connotations were really important.

From there, we celebrate the artists who express themselves so beautifully through jewelry and the jewelry subculture that emerged as hip-hop soared. And with hip-hop’s intersection with luxury goods, there’s an even deeper story to tell about how the culture came into its own.

Jacob “The Jeweler” Arabo of Jacob & Co. Jacob “The Jeweler”, seen here in his Diamond District boutique, became the premier jeweler when hip-hop came into full force in the 1990s. Name verified in dozens of hip-hop lyrics, he helped usher in the era of platinum and diamonds for culture. Jamel Shabazz, New York, 1990s

W*: Are there any defining moments in jewelry that stand out as turning points for you?

VERMONT: Hip-hop’s love of jewelry is grounded in a history of visual cues as status. There are so many defining moments in the jewelry game: you start with the street culture that rappers were after in the beginning, then when hip-hop artists started to rise, you had artists like Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, Biz, Roxanne Shante. wearing all the big gold truck style jewelry. Then in the early 90s Biggie asked jeweler Tito to create his trend-setting Jesus piece, then Jay-Z and Diddy took hip-hop to platinum and diamonds alongside the rise of the culture. grills with pioneers like Eddie Plein.

When people like Pharrell started using colored gemstones and collaborating with Jacob the jeweler, we saw an open door to more experimentation with materials like enamel and nods to the culture of anime and cartoon. Then you start to see Gucci Mane come in and elevate the jewelry game and the rise of the South/Atlanta jewelry movement. The culture is truly amazing and a continuum of sorts. Lately I’ve been so happy to see the rise of female rappers collecting jewelry and especially watches – Kash Doll, Megan thee Stallion, Latto and Cardi B’s watch collection is amazing and women really take their power with jewelry .

Roxanne Shante. Gold door knocker earrings and hair adornment with “Shante” nameplate. David Corio, London, 1989

W*: What surprised you the most in your research?

VERMONT: What I found really interesting and surprising was the common mentality of hip-hop and jewelers working with hip-hop artists. Most jewelers are either immigrants or children of immigrants, so they understand the language of restlessness, transcendence, and aspiration. Notions of creating wealth, creating legacy, and building community are all things that hip-hop and immigrant culture have in common. The people behind the jewelry, even to this day – Ben Baller, Johnny Dang, Jacob the jeweler, Tito, Eliantte, Greg Yuna, all household names in the culture – are also largely immigrants or children of immigrants. I love this part of the story because it raises questions about the American Dream and who it is for.

Eddie’s Gold Teeth/Famous Eddie’s. Gold caps, fronts, slugs, grilles… Call them what you will, Eddie Plein, a Surinamese immigrant to Brooklyn, has taken gold teeth to new levels. Settling in the 1980s at the Colosseum Mall on 165th Street in Jamaica, Queens, Plein eventually moved to Atlanta, influencing the southern embrace of grilling culture. ‘Casual in a rental / Shining mouth, Eddie’s gold caps in the dental…’ —Nas, “A Queens Story”. Bryce Duffy, Atlanta, 2002

W*: What were your criteria for inclusion in this book? How did you do your curation?

VERMONT: The art of adornment is part of our shared human history and taps into our deep need to show off and show off. I left there thinking about curating this book. Hip-hop is a culture of remixing and customization and I really wanted to celebrate that in this book. And because Taschen has such a high bar for photography, we had to make sure the photography captured the story and the artists in a really beautiful way.

There were certain rappers and certain jewelers who changed the world of hip-hop jewelry, so they had to be included. Jewelers like Tito Caicedo, Jacob the jeweler, Eddie Plein, Avianne, Eliantte, Ben Baller and Greg Yuna. Then of course hip-hop artists known for certain pieces, like LL Cool J with his name ring, Biz Markie’s dookie ropes, Cam’ron with his spinning globe, The Roc’s chain, etc.

I also wanted to make sure to show the evolution of jewelry styles from plain gold to bigger gold, dookie strings to cuban links, to specific pendants like Kanye’s Murakami Jesus piece and so right now. §