Rob the jewelry store and tell ‘em make me a grill
If you’re a fan of the hip hop genre, chances are you’ve seen your favorite artists like Nelly, Chamillionaire, Flava Flav, and more wearing grillz. They may be shiny and flashy but in the next few blogs, we’re going to talk about what exactly grillz are, how they rose to popularity if they’re healthy, and who is still sporting them today. Just for fun, all section headers in these articles will be famous rap lyrics about grillz, slugs, and fronts.
Open up ya mouth, ya grill gleamin’
Grillz, grills, slugs, and fronts are all ways to describe a piece of jewelry that covers the entire set of teeth. Some people may consider them bedazzled retainers, and while some qualities are similar, that description would be a gross overgeneralization of a cultural, musical, and aesthetic phenomena of the late 1900s and early 2000s.
The basics to know about what a grill is:
- Considered a piece of jewelry
- Usually removable
- Covers the top or bottom row of teeth
- Typically made out of gold, silver, or platinum
- Encrusted with precious jewels that make designs or patterns
- Start at a baseline of $100 but often cost thousands of dollars
Why do people wear grills in the first place? For the same reason that people wear earrings, or necklaces, or get tattoos — they like the look of it. In some cases, celebrities are flaunting their new status of wealth (which we’ll cover later) but for the most part, adorning your teeth is the same as painting your nails, it’s something that makes people feel more beautiful and attractive.
Without going into the minutiae of how the genre of hip hop is categorized, it’s important to know there are several subgenres of hip hop music in the United States called: East Coast, West Coast, Southern or Dirty South, and Midwest. Hip hop and Rap are not the same; “rap” is a vocal styling while hip hop is a musical category composed of five elements, one of which includes vocal stylings. This brief overview of the genre is important, because the different regions play a large part in culture, especially when it comes to grillz.
East Coast hip hop created this entire genre of music and started in the Bronx of New York in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At first only artists like Raheem the Dream and Kilo Ali were wearing grillz but both their style and talent was flying under the radar. However, everything changed when a jeweler named Eddie Plein visited his home in Surinam sometime around the 80s. He broke his tooth in South America and got a gold replacement, feeling inspired he returned to the states, went to dental school and began making removable gold caps for hip hop artists in New York.
Smiling she see my gold teeth, now I think that she thinks that I’m ghetto
That’s right! Eddie Plein brought grills into the mainstream with his first big customer: Flava Flav! Flava Flav, in case you don’t know, is a pop culture icon who is most known for wearing a large clock around his neck on a giant chain. The trend continued on throughout the 80s with the majority of wearers being men ages 18–35, African-American, and hip hop fans.
Here’s a small list of the East Coast hip hop artists that were early pioneers in flaunting grillz as an accessory: Flava Flav, Big Daddy Kane, and Slick Rick. Eventually, the fashion statement plummeted. It died down because young African-American hip hop artists found they weren’t being taken seriously in the music industry. The genre wasn’t popular or mainstream at the time, and the grillz had become poorly stereotyped as an indication of “ghetto” and “hood” behavior. They were being automatically labeled as criminals and it had become impossible to promote themselves and their music.
It wouldn’t be until the early 2000s that grillz would become trendy again, and they would actually rise to mainstream fame through a surprising medium. In our next blog, we’re going to talk about famous celebrities and how grillz actually became a staple accessory (aka dental implants!) for some in their artistic persona. In the meantime, if reading this reminded you that you’ve been neglecting your own teeth or you’re looking for some cosmetic dentistry of your own, schedule an appointment today with Joshua Colkmire DDS and teach us some more fun hip hop facts when you come in!