Jewelry is iced out and blingin’

Shauna Stottsberry

Speaker explains history of hip-hop’s popular diamond-laced accessories

Lyneise Williams presented her speech “What About Bling? Considering Hip-Hop Jewelry” at the Art Building yesterday afternoon. Williams spoke about the change and impact of hip-hop jewelry in American culture from the 1980s to the present. ARIANE R. CAVI

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Gold dollar sign medallions, Pumas and tight-fitting jeans sent students back to the ’70s last night when Lyneise Williams presented “What About Bling? Considering Hip-Hop Jewelry” to students and faculty in the Art Building.

“I can remember the exact moment I felt rap music,” Williams said. “It was the Sugar Hill Gang. I stood frozen on the corner near that car.”

She said she held on to that feeling because she didn’t know whether the dominant mainstream culture would allow it to last. But 30 years later, hip-hop lives on.

“Rap and hip-hop is a global phenomenon,” Williams said, “and the jewelry has to match the music.”

Rap icons such as Huggy Bear and Mr. T were the jumping-off points for early rap culture, Williams said. They established gold jewelry as the ’80s metal of choice for the hip-hop community.

Flamboyance and excess became the theme of ’80s bling.

“Small gold chains evolved into rope, and large chains with oversized medallions became popular,” Williams said. “Jewelry continued to swell.”

Williams said women wore as much gold jewelry, but in different forms. Door-knocker earrings that extended to the shoulders were made popular by female hip-hop artists, such as Salt-N-Pepa.

By the mid ’90s, platinum and diamonds took precedence over gold. In recent years, artists such as 50 Cent and Lil’ Jon took the trend to a new level, blinging out rims, belt buckles and mouth pieces.

“Chopper City in the Ghetto coined the phrase bling,'” Williams said. “And the Oxford Dictionary added its definition in 2003. It made it mainstream – cool to use the term.”

The popularity of bling is at an all-time high, Williams said, and referring to several popular blinged-out trends including fingernails, shoes and braces.

Though she’s studied bling for years, Williams said she doesn’t have a definition for the term.

“For me, it’s just flashy jewelry – over-the-top, exaggerated,” she said. “It’s trying to get yourself noticed.”

Williams is a Carolina Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She will be joining the art history faculty in the art department at the University of North Carolina in Fall 2006. Juan Logan, Williams’ teammate in building the structure, closed the presentation by presenting the plans for how a vacant North Carolina site will be converted into the public monument.

“The monument acknowledges the struggle for freedom as an ongoing struggle,” Logan said.

Contact College of Architecture and Environmental Design and School of Art reporter Shauna Stottsberry at [email protected].