Hip-Hop Jewels Take Center Stage In Ice Cold Exhibition @ American Museum of Natural History

Discover the fascinating appeal of hip-hop’s most legendary jewellery at the American Museum of Natural History’s newest exhibition, “Ice Cold: A Showcase of Hip-Hop Jewelry.” Opening on May 9, this exhibit celebrates the iconic accessories worn by the genre’s megastars, providing insight into the lavish world of hip-hop culture. The Ice Cold exhibition builds on New York City’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop as a global phenomenon.

On 9th May 2024, the American Museum of Natural History, New York, opened Ice Cold: An Exhibition of Hip-Hop Jewelry, a special presentation that celebrates hip-hop’s cultural influence through custom-made jewellery from its biggest stars, including Slick Rick, A$AP Rocky, Nicki Minaj, The Notorious B.I.G., Bad Bunny, Erykah Badu, and more.

Their jewels are statements of individuality, empowerment, and resilience in the hip-hop community, influencing the worlds of fashion, style, and culture at large.

The exhibition will be on view in the Melissa and Keith Meister Gallery within the Museum’s Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals.

“Throughout the Museum, you’ll see objects that open a window onto our shared past or our current world, whether that’s nature, science, or culture. In Ice Cold, the objects are magnificent jewellery pieces, and the window opens into one of the most powerful social and cultural forces of the past 50 years, Hip Hop,” said Sean M. Decatur, President of the American Museum of Natural History. “We’re pleased to showcase these iconic pieces and the cultural phenomenon of Hip Hop, thereby reminding our visitors that culture is not just long ago or far away, but a part of all of our lives that we can reflect on and celebrate.”

Ice Cold: An Exhibition of Hip-Hop Jewelry running currently at the American Museum of Natural History. (Photo credit: Alvaro Keding/© AMNH)


“Bringing the Ice Cold exhibit to the American Museum of Natural History is a testament to the cultural significance of this art form and culture,” said Ice Cold guest curator Vikki Tobak. “It’s time to celebrate the artists, jewellers, craftsmen, and everyday people who contributed to the storied history of hip-hop jewellery. This exhibit not only pays homage to hip-hop’s roots with pieces from Biz Markie and Jam Master Jay, for example, but also highlights its enduring impact on style and society with pieces from contemporary artists like Tyler, the Creator, A$AP Rocky, and FERG.”

Ice Cold chronicles the evolution of jewellery in hip-hop over the past five decades, starting with the oversized gold chains that were embraced by rap’s pioneers in the late-1970s and moving through the 1990s, when hip-hop’s popularity exploded, and artists sported record-label pendants sparkling with diamonds and platinum. With hip-hop’s exponential growth in the new millennium, the genre’s most influential artists turned to multi-coloured jewellery with inventive designs that reference high fashion, pop culture, rap history, and more.

The World of Hip-Hop Jewellery

The introductory case in Ice Cold features emblematic jewellery from some of hip-hop’s most legendary artists, including a glittering crown, an eye-patch, and a 5-foot-long chain of Slick Rick, a senior advisor for the exhibition, who pioneered the royal motif in hip-hop.

Other pieces include an Adidas necklace from Jam Master Jay of Run D.M.C., made in honour of the hit 1986 song “My Adidas,” which led to an historic endorsement deal between the group and the athletic company; Nas’ diamond-encrusted ‘QB’ pendant, which pays homage to the Queensbridge Houses in Queens, New York, where he grew up; and a multi-coloured, fully-articulated LEGO minifigure pendant commissioned by A$AP Rocky, one of the younger generation of artists moving hip-hop jewellery in new directions.

Jam Master Jay, Adidas Pendant. Following Run-DMC’s 1986 song “My Adidas,” Adidas struck a first-of-its-kind endorsement deal with the group, giving each member one of these 14-karat gold sneaker-shaped pendants. (Photo credit: Alvaro Keding/© AMNH)


“Ice Cold will truly spark a sense of excitement and curiosity into our world of jewellery and baubles as an extended form of hip-hop culture, which has inspired the global stage as an extension of our art,” said hip-hop icon and Ice Cold senior advisor Ricky “Slick Rick” Waters. “This collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History is a harmonious blend of creativity and cultural significance. I’m honoured to be a part of creating a unique and immersive experience for the Museum’s visitors in such a renowned space in the mecca of New York City.”

The Rise of Hip-Hop

Ice Cold presents a number of pieces from the 1980s, a time when rappers worked with local jewellers to create one-of-a kind accessories that proclaimed their individuality and announced themselves to the world. Featured jewellery includes rapper and beatboxer Biz Markie’s brushed gold nameplate, made by K & I jewellers in Brooklyn’s Albee Square Mall, a crown-shaped ‘Drama King’ pendant crafted in Harlem for DJ Kay Slay, and more.

This pendant designed by Alex Moss in 2023, to celebrate Drake’s hometown of Toronto, is set with multicolored diamonds and rubies on 18-karat gold and features the mascots for the Toronto Raptors and the Toronto Blue Jays wrapped around Toronto’s CN Tower. (Photo credit: Alvaro Keding/© AMNH)


Moving into the 1990s, hip-hop expanded as an industry, empowering artists and entrepreneurs to become moguls of business empires. Jewellery trends kept apace, with larger pieces created for artists by a generation of jewellers like Tito Caciedo of Manny’s New York and Jacob Arabo of Jacob & Co., who came to be superstars in their own right. Ice Cold features jewellery from the biggest names of 1990s rap, including the artist’s proof for The Notorious B.I.G.’s legendary gold “Jesus piece,” an iconic symbol that came to represent faith, struggle, and success, as well as Ghostface Killah’s massive, 5-pound Eagle arm band, which remains one of hip-hop’s most recognizable accessories.

The Notorious B.I.G. commissioned this Jesus pendant in the mid-1990s from Tito Caicedo of Manny’s New York, and Tito made three copies for Biggie, all cast from the same mould as this gold artist’s proof. (Photo credit: Alvaro Keding/© AMNH)


Pushing Creative Boundaries

Today, the art of jewellery in hip-hop is entering a bold new phase of expression. Artists are remixing styles, playing with new materials, and commissioning extravagant works inspired by their own personal experiences and interests. On display are T-Pain’s “Big Ass Chain”— an ostentatious piece that weighs in at over 10 pounds and is flooded with nearly 200 carats of diamonds—and one of Nicki Minaj’s “Barbie” pendants, which features gold, diamonds, and Barbie-pink enamel.

Tyler, the Creator, Bellhop Necklace designed by Alex Moss in 2021. The dazzling Bellhop necklace features an operable briefcase and incorporates 186 carats of diamonds and 60 carats of sapphires as well as over 23,000 hand-set stones. (Photo credit: Alvaro Keding/© AMNH)


An 18-foot-long display showcases jewellery from today’s most creative and influential artists, including pieces designed by Ice Cold advisory committee member and jeweller Alex Moss: Drake’s “Crown Jewel of Toronto” pendant, a nod to the rapper’s hometown that features multi-coloured diamonds and a pair of ruby-studded sports mascots—a raptor and a blue jay—climbing the Toronto CN Tower; and a dazzling necklace designed for Tyler, the Creator, to mark his “Call Me If You Get Lost” album that incorporates over 23,000 hand-set stones and a bell-hop-shaped pendant.

Nicki Minaj’s iconic Barbie pendant boasts 54.47 carats of diamonds on 18-karat gold and bright Barbie-pink enamel. It was made by Ashna Mehta in 2022 and is the most recent commissioned by Minaj, whose first Barbie pendant dates to 2009. (Photo credit: Alvaro Keding/© AMNH)


Ice Cold was developed by a curatorial team and advisory board that includes artists, industry professionals, jewellers, and academics. The exhibition is curated by guest curator Vikki Tobak, journalist and author of Ice Cold: A Hip-Hop Jewelry History, published by Taschen, and guest co-curators Kevin “Coach K” Lee, founder and COO of Quality Control Music, and Karam Gill, creative director and filmmaker behind the 2021 documentary series ICE COLD.

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