A Hip-Hop Jewelry Show Is Headed to New York’s Museum of Natural History

The exhibition includes jewelry from the likes of Notorious B.I.G., Nicki Minaj, Erykah Badu, A$AP Rocky, and Tyler, the Creator.

Slick Rick with crown and chains. Photo: Janette Beckman, Courtesy of Fahey/Klein Gallery.

Last year, New York celebrated the 50th birthday of its proudest musical offspring, hip-hop, with a string of exhibitions and concerts across the city. On May 9, the American Museum of Natural History continues the festivities by spotlighting an aspect of hip-hop culture with a slightly longer timeline: its minerals and gemstones.

From the gold rope chains of early pioneers Run DMC to the diamonds of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Tiffany campaign, hip-hop artists have forever used jewelry as a means of creative expression. “Ice Cold” will speak to this fact by bringing together a dazzling collection in which items of jewelry blur the lines between status symbol and work of art.

Housed in the moody atmospherics of the museum’s recently revamped Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems, the exhibition offers pieces from each decade of hip-hop, from items sported by the 1980s Bronx trailblazers through to those worn by contemporary artists who continue to innovate the genre today.

There’s Notorious B.I.G.’s gold Jesus piece (seen on his posthumous 1999 record Born Again), which boasts a lineage of wearers including Ghostface Killah from Wu-Tang Clan and Jay-Z. Slick Rick has called jewels a “super hero suit” and his gem-studded crown is included here, a nod to having being raised in the U.K. There’s the diamond-studded medallion of Roc-A-Fella, the record label that has platformed the likes of Kanye West and Cam’ron. There’s Nicki Minaj’s “Barbie” necklaces and further jewelry from the likes of Erykah Badu, A$AP Rocky, and Tyler, the Creator.

“Hip-hop jewelry has had a huge impact on our wider modern culture,” said Sean M. Decatur, the museum’s president, in a statement. “These jewelry pieces are not just magnificent in and of themselves, they’re an important part of hip-hop history and hip-hop culture as artists claimed and transformed traditional symbols of luxury and success.”

The show is in essence part three of a trilogy on the subject of hip-hop and its eye-catching jewelry. All parts are named Ice Cold. First came a documentary series by Karam Gill that sought to answer the question of how and when jewelry became incorporated in hip-hop culture.

The follow-up was a glossy Taschen tome that told hip-hop’s “transformative story” of “loud and proud” with photography by Wolfgang Tillmans and David LaChapelle, and guest essays from A$AP Ferg and LL Cool J. It was compiled and edited by Vikki Tobak, who, alongside Gill and a star-studded advisory board, acts as guest curator at the American Museum of Natural History.

“Jewelry is a cornerstone of hip-hop culture and you can see the evolution of jewelry alongside the rise of hip-hop itself,” Tobak said. “This exhibition explores that world of hip-hop’s culture of adornment and celebrates the pioneering artists and jewelers who made it all come together.”

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