Beauty & Fashion

What’s Cooler Than Being Cool? Inside “Ice Cold: An Exploration of Hip-Hop Jewelry” at the AMNH

Designed for Bad Bunny by ALLIGATOR JESUS (David Tamargo) in 2023, this grill set features 14-karat white gold with sparkling diamonds and rhodium plating.Photographed by Alvaro Keding/© AMNH

A new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History has brought together 68 outstanding pieces of hip-hop jewelry that seem a world away from the dinosaur fossils, space matter, and other wondrous specimens that attract school groups and science buffs alike. Yet in a darkened gallery within the Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals, the humongous chains, diamond pendants, and gleaming grills shine forth with both artistic bravado and a kind of anthropological, cultural significance.

“Ice Cold: An Exploration of Hip-Hop Jewelry” is the first major show to celebrate and contextualize the custom bling that artists like Bad Bunny, Cardi B, Slick Rick, A$AP Rocky, Tyler The Creator, Pharrell, and Ghostface Killah have worn as part of their image-making. From the gold pendant version of the Adidas Superstars worn by Run-DMC to Drake’s “Crown Jewel of Toronto,” a diamond-encrusted CN-Tower dotted with the city’s sports mascots, this is an all-star lineup of rapper’s delights. 

While the 50-year evolution of the genre is but a blink compared to the evolutionary timescales elsewhere in the museum, the curatorial team note how ancient civilizations adopted similar signifiers to flaunt wealth. The Etruscans, for instance, would wear gold dental bands like ur-grills. More recently, with the rising popularity of hip-hop, artists who enjoyed success couldn’t just write bars about their VVS diamonds and jewels, they needed to be seen wearing them. 

For those of a certain generation, the show’s title will conjure Outkast’s “Hey Ya” (“Now, what’s cooler than being cool? Ice cold!”). But ice, like rocks, can also mean expensive jewelry. Between the extravagant pavé settings, exaggerated size, and outrageous messaging, the pieces here transcend mere trinkets; they serve as status symbols that are at once ridiculous and awesome. Anyone who doubts their significance can refer to the gospel of Travis Scott: “Diamonds are the wife of life…”

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