The Black History Of Wearing Grillz

man smiling with a grill on
Briona Lamback
January 21, 2024

Although the origins of gold-teeth-wearing vary, it's no secret that Hip Hop made grillz the lavish cultural staple we know them as. In 2005, Nelly's chart-topping hit "Grillz" undoubtedly pushed  the accessories into mainstream consciousness. 

However, gold teeth have been popular in our neighborhoods since at least the 1970s, primarily as tooth coverings rather than for style. In the 80s, Slick Rick rocked gold fronts, and in the 90s, Flavor Flav continued carrying grillz culture.

According to iconic anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, our people have a 'will to adorn.' She identified this will as a characteristic of our expression through adornment, from language to jewelry, as a way of meaning-making. 

We're leaning into a centuries-old Black custom when we ice our mouths out.

When Kayne said, "It's in a Black person's soul to rock that gold,” he might've been speaking to our ancestral history. In 1800s Ghana, colonially once known as the Gold Coast, accounts say local chiefs were encrusted with glittering gold jewelry.

The Akan people of southern Ghana have been known for their gold regalia for centuries, from amulets to rings and even gilded muskets, usually on public display during parades and celebrations.

Grillz are a beautiful part of our Black joy. They remind us that shinin' is just a part of who we are.

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