Designers / Fashion / Industry

Hip-Hop Jewelry Museum Exhibition an Honor and a First


Organizers of “Ice Cold: An Exhibition of Hip-Hop Jewelry” say the upcoming show at the American Museum of Natural History marks a “groundbreaking moment” that recognizes the jewelry style as culturally relevant and artistically game-changing for the industry.

“This is the first time something like this is happening in a museum, and this acknowledgment is a first as well,” says jewelry designer Alex Moss, the only jeweler on the exhibition’s advisory board. Moss will have nearly a dozen jewelry pieces in the exhibit, which opens May 9 at the Manhattan museum’s Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals.

“In today’s day and age, we represent the face of jewelry, what the superstars are wearing. They are the culture shifters. Who’s to say that Drake or A$AP Rocky aren’t the Elizabeth Taylors of their age?” Moss says. “This is forward-thinking jewelry, not just hip-hop jewelry.”

The show, which joins New York City’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, will feature jewelry worn by hip-hop stars, including the Notorious B.I.G.’s gold “Jesus piece” ; a diamond-studded medallion for Roc-A-Fella, the record label cofounded by Jay-Z; Nicki Minaj’s sparkling Barbie pendant; Slick Rick’s gem-encrusted crown; and pieces associated with other stars including A$AP Rocky, Erykah Badu, and Tyler, the Creator.

vikki tobak
Journalist Vikki Tobak is a guest curator for the exhibition. 

“Ice Cold” is guest-curated by Vikki Tobak, journalist and author of Ice Cold: A Hip-Hop Jewelry History (which she talked about on a 2022 JCK podcast). Her guest co-curators are Kevin “Coach K” Lee, founder of hip-hop label Quality Control Music, and Karam Gill, director of the 2020 documentary Ice Cold.

Tobak says she hopes people, especially jewelers, will go see the exhibit to appreciate the craftsmanship. “You can immerse yourself in the jewelry and its history.

“You will never be this close to these pieces in real life because they’re either worn on stage or they’re tucked away in the artists’ vaults,” she says. “Just to be able to see them up close is like being up close with the artists themselves and why they had these pieces made.”

She compared Slick Rick (pictured at top) to movie star Elizabeth Taylor in terms of his devotion to jewelry and describes Biggie’s “Jesus piece” as “the Hope Diamond” of hip-hop jewelry.

“Looking at the details of it is fascinating,” Tobak says. “I knew pieces like that and others, like Eve’s Ruff Ryders pendant, would be beautiful, but they’re also so well made.”

Tobak, who grew up going to the Detroit Institute of Arts, says it’s important to the artists and hip-hop culture that this jewelry is showcased beyond her book and Gill’s film.

“It hit me in the beginning, but it’s also hitting me now that we’re getting closer to the show that this jewelry is going to take its place in a museum dedicated to the history of mankind,” she says. “To have the artists themselves even understand and see themselves within the greater context of humanity and as part of this continuum is big. It’s something I keep pinching myself about.”

Some significant hip-hop-related jewels have been lost, stolen, or melted down, but they will still be featured in the exhibit through photographs, Tobak says.

Moss, founder and designer for Alex Moss New York, says he is “honored and humbled” to be a part of the exhibit and to help present it to the world.

“This is artwork. It is literally art at the highest level in terms of materials—they are the most precious materials on the planet,” Moss says. “You have to see it in person to appreciate the beauty and quality.… It’s not just hip-hop jewelry. This is jewelry.”

(Slick Rick photo by Janette Beckman, courtesy of Fahey/Klein Gallery; Tobak photo courtesy of Vikki Tobak)

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Karen Dybis

By: Karen Dybis

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