Gill, as a visual construct, built what looks like a museum for hip-hop jewelry, a way to simulate how it would be celebrated if it were part of white culture.
“Hip-hop is aspirational,” he said. “If you look at the lyrics, it’s about perseverance that turns into success. Jewelry commemorates that success. They represent trophies for artists.”
The early hip-hop pioneers grew up with blaxploitation films and wanted to emulate the characters from “Superfly” and “Shaft,” as well as the drug dealers of the 1980s. The 1980s was also the Reagan “Wall Street” era of ostentatious wealth and “greed is good.” Jewelry, for some in the Black culture, symbolized conspicuous consumption.
Slick Rick is featured, with his gold ropes, gold teeth and layers of jewelry. “Jewelry is an enhancer,” he said during the program. “We started taking the best of white society and enhancing it.”
Imani Perry, a professor of African-American studies at Princeton University, in “Ice Cold” noted how many in mainstream white America criticized this type of flashy hip-hop jewelry as a sign of moral decay when they had no issue with Elizabeth Taylor and Liberace adorning themselves with comparably excessive amounts of sparkly gems.
“We have these unfortunate double standards,” Gill said. “There’s no one-size-fits-all for the American Dream.”
Gill said he enjoyed working with Migos on this project. (Quavo, during one of the interviews shows off a watch worth $300,000 and admitted to spending millions on jewelry.)
“They are such major icons when it comes to style and jewelry,” Gill said. “They’re rock stars in their own right. They’ve used jewelry in such a unique and flamboyantly excessive and creative way. They were just natural partners. They give the series authenticity.”
He said YouTube is the perfect home for this series given its a primary place people go for music. “YouTube provides global accessibility,” Gill said.
After ten days on YouTube, the series has collected about 2 million views.
Gill is thrilled that the documentary art form is so much more accessible than it was a few years ago thanks to streaming services.
“I love pushing the medium stylistically, pushing the boundaries” he said.
WHERE TO WATCH
“Ice Cold,” available for free on YouTube