The Significance of the Gold Chain in Men's Fashion
The gold chain is an iconic part of men’s fashion, particularly in the hip hop industry. It can symbolize a number of things, including a person’s social or class status, religious affiliations, sports teams, and so much more. But, when it comes to hip hop, bling is all about the status. Historically, flashy jewelry and expensive gems have always represented the wealth of monarchs to celebrities, with pieces that say, “Hell, yeah. I’m a big deal.” With such a culture around hip hop jewelry, there is nearly an endless number of styles you can rock to match your own personal swag and let people know who’s boss.
History of the Gold Chain
Gold chains were created tens of thousands of years ago when people first began to experiment by designing wearable pieces of jewelry out of precious metals like gold, silver, and even platinum. Many historians cite ancient Egyptian societies when discussing the history of gold jewelry because these cultures viewed gems and metals as connections to and ways of honoring spirits.
Though jewelry has come to represent status in modern society, many of these humble origins still exist. The Jesus piece is a prime example of how hip hop stars continue to sport jewelry as a way to celebrate their faith.
Hip Hop Is Born in the 1970s
Though this musical style really became the genre that we know and love in the 80s, it’s typically credited with making its first appearance in the 1970s when an artist known as DJ Kool Herc, born Clive Campbell, experimented with mixing songs over his own voice. The idea came from a Jamaican tradition known as toasting, where an artist or a group of people would chant or speak to the sound of music—most often drum beats.
As DJ Kool Herc began noticing people’s positive reactions to his mixes, his dance parties in the Bronx grew larger and more popular. More people were interested in coming to his events and testing out this new style of music for themselves.
While DJ Kool Herc has an important place in the history of hip hop’s development, there are plenty of other figures doing similar things within their own music, including Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Again originating out of the Bronx, these MCs used their own Caribbean heritage to expand on the creation of DJ Kool Herc, progressing the genre and opening up an entirely new platform for musicians that would become major influences in the next decade.
As hip hop grew and new elements were added, some groups and artists used this uncharted territory to make a name for themselves and solidify the elements of this new genre. The 1980s became an era in which a culture of hip hop icons was cultivated, many of these artists still idolized and looked to for inspiration today. Grandmaster Flash continued to develop hip hop, becoming one of the first rap groups to gain radio attention.
As more people entered the hip hop sphere, the Sugarhill Gang recorded “Rapper’s Delight,” which is credited as one of the first major song hits of the genre, exposing more people to this kind of music. Throughout the decade, new rappers made a name for themselves, including Run DMC, Salt-N-Pepa, and A Tribe Called Quest—all names hip hop artists today still recognize and love.
As the decade comes to an end, perhaps one of the most well-known rap groups, N.W.A., makes an appearance on the scene and radically alters the genre by incorporating messages against police brutality and racial profiling. The N.W.A.’s music represented not only a new style of music but a way for minorities to speak out against injustice through hip hop.
Though gold chains have existed since ancient times, it was this time period of hip hop music that popularized the gold chains we think of today. Run DMC is credited with being the first group of rappers to wear large flashy gold chains. Because hip hop was becoming more mainstream and the general public wanted stars to make more of this kind of music, the money started to flow in, allowing groups like Run DMC to get their swag on.
Dookie chains, which are a type of gold chain featuring thick chains roped together like a braid, were a staple of the group’s look, along with a series of gold Adidas sneakers, perpetuating the importance of jewelry in hip hop.
Hip Hop of the 90s
By this time, hip hop had rocked the music world and there were tons of opportunities for new artists to create music that spoke to them and their fans. Enter one of the most recognized names in hip hop history: the Notorious B.I.G., also known as Biggie Smalls. Biggie fully embraced both the musical genre and the fashion trends that went along with it, soon starting his own jewelry trend with the ever-popular Jesus piece.
While Biggie may be one of the most famous rappers in history, he pays tribute to all those who came before him in one of his top hits “Juicy,” demonstrating how the genre needed those influential founders to rocket to the top of the charts. Not only is Biggie recognized as introducing the rap world to the Jesus piece, but he’s also touted as one of the first hip hop stars to rap about “blunts and broads, tits and bras, ménage à trois, sex in expensive cars.”
Basically, his style of music brought out the flashy, fun lifestyle of these new rapping stars, moving away from some of the more serious elements of earlier artists. Of course, some of his music also dealt with darker and deeper emotions, as heard on his track “Suicidal Thoughts,” but, overall, his image came to encompass an extravagant lifestyle of partying and indulging in the finer things in life.
By this point, hip hop was a full-fledged musical industry with recognizable figures like Biggie, Tupac, Jay-Z, and an original member of N.W.A, Dr. Dre. Unfortunately, two of these stars’ lives would ultimately be cut short as a result of gun violence, but the other two, Jay-Z and Dr. Dre, would continue on to transform the industry and introduce new voices, trends, and ideas to the scene.
For some, it’s difficult to imagine that the hip hop music we know and love today was really only born less than 50 years ago. But, in those few decades, much has changed as hip hop has become one of the most popular genres in music.
Many of the major players of the 90s, like Jay-Z and Dr. Dre, have continued to grow with the genre and even move away from creating music and into producing it, cultivating an entirely new group of hip hop stars. Nas is one of the hip hop stars of the early 2000s to be credited with adding to the genre, along with other artists like the Wu-Tang Clan, Gang Starr, and even Flava Flav. While the rap styles have changed, many of the fashion elements haven’t, with today’s rappers still sporting new and flashier versions of Run DMC’s dookie chains and Biggie’s famous Jesus piece.
Hip hop has become so mainstream and influential, at this point, that dozens of different spinoff genres exist, from gangster rap to hip hop/R&B blends. Though new artists like Drake and Migos are exploring what it means to be a rapper in the 21st century, all of our favorite stars of today still use elements from the founders of the genre. And, some of the most popular artists perpetuate the importance of hip hop and fashion—like Kanye and Drake, who have branched out into creating their own clothing labels.
As the genre progresses, an increasing number of female rappers are entering the scene—like Nicki Minaj and Cardi B—further altering the role of styles and trends in hip hop.
What Does the Gold Chain Symbolize in Men’s Fashion?
The gold chain ultimately represents a hip hop artist’s fame, wealth, and overall success. Though some styles of fashion and jewelry steer clear of large gemstones and flashy gold chains, hip hop fashion embraces these elements as a visual (and monetary) symbol of ultimate prosperity.
Over the decades, hip hop culture has expanded so much that artists are no longer the only ones sporting these flashy pieces. Anyone who lives and breathes the hip hop lifestyle seeks out new unique pieces to add to their collection of gold chains and rings.
Different Types of Gold Chains
Dookie or Rope Chain
Similar to the style that Run DMC first rocked, the rope chain is a type of gold chain that braids together different rope-like segments. While some people prefer to wear a chain without anything on it, the rope chain is the perfect option to add a pendant, as it’s thick and durable while still looking shiny and eye-catching, thanks to the gold it’s made from.
Cuban Link Chain
Gold chains are available in a variety of styles with different link patterns, but the Cuban link look is by far one of the most popular in the hip hop world. This chain is linked together by thick circular or oval-shaped gold pieces that interlock to create a unique finished look. This type of chain is typically not worn with a pendant and can be purchased in a number of different thicknesses. For the flashy, most baller look, opt for a Cuban link chain with extra thick links.
The ever-popular Jesus piece is a gold chain worn as both a symbol of success and a testament to faith. Perhap Biggie Small’s most influential contribution to fashion, the Jesus piece is a type of jewelry typically on a rope chain that features a large pendant with Jesus. Although all Jesus pieces have the same few elements, there are tons of ways to personalize your own, from the style of the pendant and chain to the sparkling gemstones embedded in the piece itself.
Another variation of the link chain, the Figaro chain combines different shaped links into the same piece. An alternating pattern of smaller, circular links connected to flatter, more oval-like links creates a unique look for a chain that can be worn with or without a pendant. For the ultimate swagged-out look, combine this style necklace with a Figaro chain bracelet.
You have to have a certain kind of style to truly pull off the herringbone chain because it differs so much from more traditional gold chain styles. The herringbone chain features many very small links woven tightly together to create a seamless appearance. From a distance, this style looks like it’s one large link of gold, but the tiny flexible links give it a unique texture and a flat style that falls directly against the skin.
While classic gold chains do not incorporate gemstones of any kind, iced-out chains are viewed as the most extravagant type of chains as they are covered in diamonds. If you’re looking to take your gold chain game to the next level, iced-out chains are the way to go, demonstrating both your style and status in one piece.
Modern Gold Chain Styles for Everyone to Rock
Flex on your friends with a collection of the dopest high-quality gold chains available from Frost NYC jewelers. Whether you’re looking for a new Jesus piece to rival Biggie’s or throwing it back to the 80s with a large dookie-style rope chain, Frost NYC’s got what you need. Made from real gold, our chains can be iced-out or plain, and we’ve got a huge selection of pendants, from gemstone pieces to money rolls, so you can switch up your look every day of the week.