Specific forms of artistic self-expression stand out for their extravagance and uniqueness in hip-hop and rap. Among these is the noteworthy trend of dental bling – ‘grillz.’ Customized metal accessories often crafted from gold, silver, or encrusted with precious stones, grillz have become a form of self-expression and a symbol of wealth and status in the music industry. Yet, their references in music also offer insights into broader socio-cultural dynamics.
Grillz has been a long part of hip-hop culture
Grillz emerged in the hip-hop culture during the 1980s. Still, their roots trace back to ancient civilizations like the Mayans and Etruscans, who also used dental adornments as status symbols. The term ‘grillz’ (or ‘grills’) was popularized in the music world, notably with the rise of Southern rap in the late 90s and early 2000s. The trend came into the limelight when Southern hip-hop artists like Paul Wall, Lil Jon, and Nelly began donning them, referencing them in their music, and marketing them.
Perhaps the most iconic track that placed Grillz firmly in the global consciousness is Nelly’s 2005 hit single “Grillz.” Featuring Paul Wall, Ali, and Gipp, the song celebrates the shiny mouth accessory in all its opulent glory. The lyrics, “Rob the jewelry store and tell ’em make me a grill,” suggest the lavishness associated with these oral accessories.
Another prominent mention of grillz in music is in Paul Wall’s track “Sittin’ Sidewayz.” Known for his diamond-laden smile, Wall raps, “Showing off my diamonds when I’m talkin’, spit saliva / got the buttons on my white tee looking like a pearl,” reflecting the association of grillz with status, wealth, and fashion within the industry.
The popularity exploded in the 2000s
Since the 2000s, the trend of grillz has exploded. Artists across genres, from rap to pop and even country, have embraced the bling, each in their unique ways, reinforcing the significance of grillz in music culture.
Katy Perry, the pop sensation, sported Grillz at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2013 in a tracksuit, sneakers, and Grillz, marking a notable cross-genre adoption of the trend. The diamond-encrusted grill she wore was a direct nod to the hip-hop culture and the extent of its influence.
Grillz is not just limited to American music artists. Korean pop stars such as G-Dragon and Taeyang from BIGBANG have also donned the dental accessory, indicating the global reach of the grillz trend. In country music, rapper Lil Nas X broke barriers with his unique style and aesthetic, often showcasing diamond-studded grillz in his performances and music videos.
References to grillz in music have been literal and metaphorical, speaking to themes of wealth, power, and individual identity. As a form of self-expression, they symbolize the artist’s individuality and their cultural roots. As music has evolved and permeated across genres and cultures, so too have grillz, marking their impact on global popular culture.