Sultans of Bling: Hip-Hop Status Symbols From Gold Chains to the G6

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We might still be clawing our way out of a recession, but Far East Movement's No. 1 song "Like a G6," referencing a Gulfstream 650 jet, has raised the bar of conspicuous consumption to pre-2007 levels. How did the hip-hop status symbol evolve from the $40 sneaker to the $58 million private plane? THR examines the history of excess in song.

Item: Boombox
Year: 1985
Price: $89-$200
Artist/Song: LL Cool J's "I Can't Live Without My Radio" 

The first track off LL Cool J's debut album defined a sound heard on countless street corners during rap's formative years, but it required one key accessory: the boombox. Back then, a top-of-the-line ghetto blaster featuring add-ons like multiple speakers, dual cassette decks and microphone inputs could run as much as $200 (the equivalent of $400 today when adjusted for inflation). LL's brand of choice: JVC, which he name-checked in "I Can't Live Without My Radio" -- "Walkin' down the street, to the hardcore beat / While my JVC vibrates the concrete."  

Item: Adidas Sneakers
Year: 1986
Price: $40-$60
Artist/Song: Run DMC's "My Adidas" 

Pioneers in the realm of music and branding, rappers Run DMC put the spotlight on sneakers for the first single off their breakthrough album Raising Hell. "My Adidas" was an instant hit and helped forge a career-long relationship between the group and the apparel company, resulting in a $1.6 million endorsement deal. And it's no wonder, with lyrics like these: "I wear my Adidas when I rock the beat / On stage front page every show I go / It's Adidas on my feet high top or low."  
 
Item: Gold Chain
Year: 1988
Price: $2,000 and up
Artist/Song: Slick Rick's "Teenage Love," Big Daddy Kane's "Smooth Operator" 
 
As hip-hop grew into a formidable force in music, so did the weight of gold chains. From Run DMC's Jam Master Jay to Slick Rick to Big Daddy Kane, rappers in the late 1980s draped themselves in 14-karat ropes -- oftentimes, like in Slick's case, subscribing to the adage the more, the merrier. In recent years, the massive gold necklaces have experienced somewhat of a renaissance thanks to artists like Kanye West and Nelly.  
 
 
Item: Pager
Year: 1991 
Price: $80-$125
Artist/Song: A Tribe Called Quest's "Skypager"
 
Back when mobile phones were the size of your average shoe, rappers and ordinary citizens alike sported pagers (often more than one) which would alert the owner with a beep (or buzz, if set to vibrate) and a number, nothing more, nothing less -- then it was off to the pay phone! A Tribe Called Quest paid homage to this essential early 1990s communication device with the song “Skypager,” in which Phife raps “Beepers goin’ off like Don Trump gets checks.”
 
Item: 1964 Chevy Impala
Year: 1992
Price: $8,000-$80,000
Artist/Song: Dr. Dre's "Let Me Ride" 
 
The West Coast chariot for much of the early 1990s was undoubtedly the pimped-out 1964 Chevy Impala convertible, a favorite of rappers in music videos and the hood. But it was Dr. Dre who helped make the classic car a star thanks to his 1992 video “Let Me Ride,” which featured a host of hip-hop luminaries, including Ice Cube and a young Snoop Dogg, on the corner of South L.A.’s Crenshaw and Slauson. 
 
 
Item: Gold Tank
Year: 1998
Price: Millions
Artist/Song: Master P's “Make Em Say Uhh!”
 
It doesn’t get more ostentatious than the Master himself, who not only had a gold basketball floor serve as the stage to his forgettable 1998 single “Make Em Say Uhh!” but rolled up to center court in a gold-plated tank. The production upped the ante on hip-hop videos and busted budgets for years to come.
 
 
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Item: Diamonds
Year: 1999 
Price: $900-$30,000
Artist/Song: B.G.'s “Bling Bling,” Puff Daddy's “It’s All About the Benjamins” 
 
Puff Daddy declared it was all about the Benjamins at the turn of the millennium. How else could one afford luxury items like Benzes, ski trips to Aspen and “five carats with the cut"? Not the first hip-hop artist to mention the wallet-busting rock – that honor is bestowed on Cash Money’s B.G., whose single “Bling Bling” was a hit in 1999 – and certainly far from the last, the diamond is still very much in vogue even more than a decade later. 
 
 
Item: Cristal champagne
Year: 2003
Price: $200-$3,000
Artist/Song: Jay-Z feat. Pharrell Williams' “Excuse Me Miss”
 
Hennessey, Courvoisier, Bacardi – hip-hop never went light on its alcohol, but few brands have achieved critical mass quite like the pricey French champagne Cristal, which was the seventh-most-referenced brand in the year 2003, right behind Prada. Perhaps Jay-Z said it best in his club hit “Excuse Me Miss”: “You can't even drink Crist-OWL on this one, You gotta drink Crist-ALL.”  
 
 
Item: Maybach 
Year: 2007
Price: $340,000-$680,000
Artist/Song: G Unit's “Poppin’ Them Thangs” 
 
The Mercedes model can trace its roots back to World War I, when Daimler first developed the vehicle. Close to 100 years later, it’s one of the most desired luxury cars in the world, with only several hundred on the road in the United States. And it’s no wonder: With a price tag of $300,000 for the most bare-bones model, few can afford one. G-Unit’s 50 Cent, however, is not one of them. As he raps on his group’s 2007 hit “Poppin’ Them Thangs”: “On the front of the Maybach, it say payback for those who hated on me.” 
 
 
Item: BMW, Mercedes Benz, Bentley 
Year:
2010 
Price: $40,000-$340,000
Artist/Song: Lloyd Banks' “Beamer Benz or Bentley” 
 
Lloyd Banks’ latest hit is a love song to the automobile. Now if he could only decide which wheels look best with his bevy of leather-clad ladies: the BMW, Mercedes Benz or the Bentley, which goes for $175,000 on the low end. 
 
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