Beyond Hip-Hop —

Creating Identity Through Grills


The idea of “grills” or adorning teeth with precious metals and jewels dates back several millennia. The last few years have seen its new-found resurgence under a particular cultural association with hip-hop. We connect with several individuals both inside and outside this realm for their insights on the meaning of grills.

When people think of dental jewelry or “grills” these days, they see it as a gaudy modern showcase of conspicuous consumption, a literal “in-your-face” sign that you’ve made it. But the practice of adorning teeth with precious materials started as far back as 800 BC with the elite Etruscan women of what is now Tuscany, Italy. While most of modern civilization has left the practice behind, hip-hop artists, specifically those from the South, have kept ornamental teeth an integral part of their culture.


Hip-hop legend Big Gipp has had a long history with dental jewelry, having been one of the first to sport platinum grills. His original inspiration? The late Richard Kiel and his iconic role as the James Bond supervillain, Jaws. He’s traced the rise of grills and their evolution beyond something originally associated with black hip-hop culture.

“By 17, I had gold teeth. It was a status symbol. It just let people know that you can go around looking at me and tell that I’m not about to finish school, that I’m not going to go to find a job, that I’m going to make it on my own some way somehow, whether it be with drugs, music or art.”

The adoption of grills by the mainstream has never been more diverse. From singers Lana Del Rey and Katy Perry to American swimmer Ryan Lochte and model Cara Delevingne, the demographic for grills is changing, along with the reason for getting them in the first place.


Enter visual engineer Dr. Dax and “Ghetto” Josh, two proponents of the grill who are heavily steeped in Atlanta’s art culture, and notable deviations from the traditional hip-hop sphere. Together with Big Gipp, they share the stories behind their gold teeth and their power to transform identities.

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