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Bling-bling jewelry.

Bling-bling (or simply bling) is a slang term popularized in hip hop culture, referring to flashy or elaborate jewelry and ornamented accessories that are carried, worn, or installed, such as cell phones or tooth caps. The concept is often associated with either the working and lower middle classes or the newly wealthy.

Origins and popularization of the term

In linguistic terms, bling is an ideophone intended to evoke the "sound" of light hitting silver, platinum, or diamonds. It is not onomatopoeia, because the act of jewelry shining does not make a sound. The form bling-bling is a case of reduplication. The origins of the term are disputed and claimed by various artists. Physicist Richard Feynman used the term in his collection of short stories "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" when describing the relation of a poem to physics: "...the theoretical bling-bling with the so-and-so".

Though Lil Wayne is often given credit for creating the term (Lil Wayne was given credit for the term on VH1's Behind The Music) television commercials for dental products and chewing gum as early as the 1970s accentuated the cleanliness of teeth with a "bling" or "pling" sound, accompanied by an imaginary starburst or ray of light emanating from an actor's mouth. During the early 1980s, toothpaste maker Ultra Brite ran a series of commercials stating, "Ultrabrite gives your mouth...[pling] appeal!" Before the words "sex appeal", a bell sound was heard as a young man smiled while kisses were blown at him.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, comedians such as Martin Lawrence parodied the "Ultrabrite smile" by vocalizing the sound effect as "bling". The term was used in this way to describe a gaudy piece of jewelry, for example the otherwise rotten gold-toothed smile and stereotypical pimp jewelry of the character "Jerome" on the television series Martin.

While the specific term bling was first popularized in the hip hop community, it has spread beyond hip hop culture and into mass culture. It was added to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary in 2002 and to the Merriam Webster dictionary in 2006. Companies such as Sprint and Cadillac have used the word bling in their advertisements. During a 2008 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade in Jacksonville, Floridamarker, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney admired a baby decked in dress attire with gold jewelry and said, "Oh, you've got some bling-bling here." In 2004, MTV released a satirical cartoon showing the term being used first by a rapper and then by several progressively less "streetwise" characters, concluding with a middle-aged white woman describing her earrings to her elderly mother. It ended with the statement, "RIP bling-bling 1997-2003." In 2005, the rapper B.G. remarked that he "just wished that he'd trademarked it" so that he could have profited from its use.

Like many cases of once-exclusive vernacular that becomes mainstream, the views of the originators towards the term have changed significantly over the years. On VH1's Why You Love Hip-Hop, rapper Fat Joe stated, "rappers don't call jewelry 'bling' anymore, we just call em 'diamonds'."

In other languages

The term has also spread to Spanish: rappers use the term in Latin hip-hop and in reggaeton from Puerto Rico and Panamamarker, although it is usually written and pronounced "blink-blink". The Spanish word blinblineo is also used to refer to bling-bling style. The term is used in French traditionally to describe nouveau riche attitudes; such as "wearing expensive suits, stylish sunglasses and conspicuously large wristwatches" or anything that is ostensible and can be considered of "poor taste".


The short film Bling: Consequences and Repercussions, shot by Kareem Adouard and narrated by Public Enemy frontman Chuck D, explains how diamonds (a staple of bling fashion) occasionally originate as conflict diamonds, fueling wars, poverty, slavery and killings in Africa.

Bling: A Planet Rock (2007) documents the flashy world of commercial hip-hop jewelry against the significant role diamonds play in the ten-year civil war in Sierra Leonemarker, West Africa. The movie follows three hip-hop celebrities: Raekwon (Wu-Tang Clan), Paul Wall (maker of diamond grills), and Reggaetón king Tego Calderón as they visit the capital of Freetownmarker to meet the community and survey the devastation caused by the diamond mines.

Several hip hop insiders, such as the members of Public Enemy and the Puerto Rican reggaeton star Tego Calderon, have made the deliberate choice not to don expensive jewelry as a statement against bling culture. Missy Elliott stated in the aforementioned interview that hip hop artists should act as role models in this respect and encourage young people to invest responsibly and sensibly in stable, long-term assets.

Even more controversial is the value of bling bling in South African hip hop (kwaito) aesthetics. Pre-, during, and post-apartheid, black South Africans have long been exploited for their land's precious gems ("blood diamonds") and metals. Gavin Steingo has stated, "It truly is tragic that many young South Africans have embraced the Western gold fetish: a fetish which prizes gold as nothing more than a label of ostentatious wealth." Kwaito continues to show the conspicuous consumption that originated in Black American Hip Hop, despite its relations to blood diamonds.

See also



  1. Jewel-smile
  2. A Brush With History, Goldie Blumenstyk, The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 6, 2004. [Google cached retrieved on July 12, 2007]
  3. Romney Waxes Lyrical at a Holiday Parade in Florida, Michael Powell, The New York Times, January 22, 2008.
  4. Heldman, Breanne L. "More Bite for the Buck." New York Daily News (October 6, 2005).
  5. Bling: Consequences and Repercussions, short film narrated by Public Enemy Chuck D on Conflict Diamonds and Bling fashion
  6. Conflict diamonds

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