According to Quavo, we can thank Atlanta’s lack of snow for encouraging the Migos to bring out the ice.
“I think we lead the game, other than Houston, when it comes to diamonds and jewelry,” Quavo tells Complex over the phone. “We love bright colors because we always get a lot of sun out here and not much snow. So we need the snow to be on our neck and we need to put the ice on it.”
There are few rappers out today whose jewelry game could hold a candle to any member of Migos. Since the Y.R.N. mixtape days, the trio has been known for wearing excessive amounts of jewelry and ice. Quavo’s colorful Crash Bandicoot chain, Takeoff’s iced out spaceship, and Offset’s bedazzled bando medallion are just some of the most iconic chains that have defined rap jewelry culture today. From iced out Cartiers to busted down Rolexes, the Migos are known to do it all. So it was only natural for them to come together to produce a full-length, four-part documentary titled Ice Cold, which has launched on YouTube Originals this week and tracks the history of rap jewelry from the ‘80s to the present day.
“It’s just so important for culture right now. A lot of people spend a lot of money on it and we want to give knowledge on what you’re spending your money on. It’s a big part of hip-hop so we’re just breaking it down,” says Offset. “We’re the kings of the ice so we’re just putting you on game.”
Directed by the rising documentary filmmaker Karam Gill, who recently directed the Tekashi 6ix9ine documentary Supervillain, the film features interviews about jewelry from hip-hop pioneers like Slick Rick and Rakim, jewelers like Ben Baller and Elliot Eliantte, and rappers like Lil Yachty, ASAP Ferg, Lil Baby, French Montana, and more. But the film also looks past the glitz and glamour of VVS diamonds to examine the larger significance and social impact behind hip-hop jewelry. Ice Cold zeroes in on misconceptions white America has traditionally held about wealthy Black stars, while also highlighting the opportunity that jewelry creates for Black artists when it comes to building generational wealth
To speak more about Ice Cold and the significance of rap jewelry today, Complex hopped on the phone to speak to Gill and all three members of the Migos about their love for jewelry, how they come up with ideas for pieces, what it means to wear jewelry beyond just flexing it for the cameras, and much more.
So this film was made closely with the Quality Control team. Rap jewelry has been around forever. Who pitched the idea of producing this documentary and why did you feel it was important to make right now?
Quavo: I mean, we’re at the forefront when it comes to jewelry. We got too much jewelry and we got to let them know how important this jewelry is to rap culture. And I feel like we’re the culture boys and we are the only ones that can go back in time, come down that timeline, collect all these pieces, and get these beautiful shots to let everyone know the significance and the meaning. Let them know, really know, where our jewelry comes from, because everybody thinks we’re just boasting and bragging. But really, we’re putting these trophies on our neck to show where we came from.
Offset: It’s just so important for culture right now. A lot of people spend a lot of money on it and we want to give knowledge on what you’re spending your money on. It’s a big part of hip-hop so we’re just breaking it down. We’re the kings of the ice so we’re just putting you on game.
Karam Gill: From a filmmaking standpoint, like these guys said, it’s trophies. It’s the same way that people spend money in the South on country clubs, wine collections, or whatever those celebrations are for success. I think jewelry is just another version of that. I think conceptually, and from a thematic standpoint, that’s the approach we were trying to achieve. These are trophies worth celebrating.
One quote I love from the film is from one of the pioneers, Rakim, who says it’s the fifth element of hip-hop. And I feel like the Migos have really defined that element today. There’s this great picture floating on the internet of Quavo and Takeoff wearing jewelry pieces as kids. Growing up, who did you three look up to when it came to jewelry and how were you first exposed to it?
Quavo: Shit, growing up, I used to look at all of Cash Money’s jewelry. My favorite song that got me really into jewelry has to be “Number One Stunna.” Where they shot this music video where Birdman goes into a truck to get his grill done. Ever since then, I feel like I’ve been loving grills and jewelry. That video alone set the tone for me.
What was the first real piece of jewelry that you all picked up to celebrate your success in the game and how much did you spend on it? Why was that investment in your image at the time worth it?
Offset: When I came home and just got out of jail, my brothers gave me a bust down rose-gold Rolex. I didn’t buy it, but that was my first real piece to touch my arms and I was blessed with that.
Quavo: I think our first significant piece for all of us, would be the three-headed Migos piece and then the QC pendant. Both of them were all gold and had diamonds around them. I felt like those were the stems and let people know that we were really here to stay. That was how you identified us as a group, as a gang, as a label. We came from nothing and QC was an independent label at the time. It let people know that we were out of the norm and beat the standards. We represent this label and we’re a three-head monster. We were all pharaohs on the piece and they all wore gold. We felt like young pharaohs and we represented that image by putting on the gold. That’s why we wore 20K gold rings across our hands. Because back in the day, we all loved gold.
Takeoff: I got a Jesus head. That was the first piece of jewelry I ever got.
In general, Atlanta has such a rich history when it comes to rap jewelry. Going back you think of Young Jeezy’s USDA chain and all those insane pieces Gucci Mane rocked. And you got pioneers like Famous Eddie’s who made grills for like, CeeLo. What do you all think is Atlanta’s biggest contribution to rap jewelry? What lane did Atlanta rappers pave in that realm?
Quavo: I think we lead the game, other than Houston, when it comes to diamonds and jewelry. I feel like the Southern rappers got that because we’re so detailed with our pieces. We love bright colors because we always get a lot of sun out here and not much snow. So we need the snow to be on our neck and we need to put the ice on it. I feel like that’s what Atlanta started and we just have to let them know because we always get overlooked by being flamboyant. But I feel like there is some seriousness when it comes to jewelry and we had to change the game.
Obviously Icebox is the big jeweler out there. But you also got Eliantte and Avianne in New York, Johnny Dang in Houston, Ben Baller in Los Angeles, and many other big names across the United States. The documentary shows how all the jewelers are in competition with one another. How do you all go about picking which ones to work with?
Offset: It’s about the knowledge that they have for the pieces. The details that they put into it which make it stand out from everyone else. Like if I get a plain watch, I go [shop] around because the price for all that is generally the same. But as far as getting a piece made, I got to go to Elliot Eliantte because he makes standout pieces. The details he puts into it, even the mechanisms he puts into your locks, the ability to take off and attach pieces, it’s just crazy.
Quavo: Elliot most definitely got great craftsmanship. Johnny Dang most definitely got great craftsmanship as well when it comes to jewelry, especially the grills. I go to Johnny Dang for all my work in the mouth. You’ve definitely noticed that because he did a grill for me that was very, very, crazy. Sometimes I feel like we’ll go to all those jewelers that you named because we bring the design. We bring how we want to make it look and all the details. And they come through with the settings and the stones. But when you’re talking about who does it the best, freestyle or off the dome, you have to give it up for Elliot right now.
Takeoff: Yeah man, shoutouts to Elliot man. We got a real relationship with him, too. It just ain’t about the money. He’ll put you on game.
How do you three come up with your own jewelry pieces that stand out from everyone else?
Quavo: It’s just in the lyrics. It’s what we rap about.
Takeoff: It’s in the membrane.
Quavo: We’ll say a bar, use the title of a song, an ad-lib, and just ice it out. If we got a hard ass bar, we can live with it forever by just icing it out. Like Set iced out the 530 house on the Northside where this music came from. It’s all connected to the music, the bars, and the lyrics.
Takeoff: Yep, and I iced out the rocket, because that’s how we left the bando. By shooting out the roof, you know what I mean?
Do you currently have anything crazy being made right now that you could share with us or any ideas that you have coming up?
Takeoff: We so up on the jewelry game that we ain’t even think of it much because the game hasn’t even caught up with the pieces we got right now.
Quavo: My brother just gave me a three-headed beast. Respect what I just got made. The reincarnation of the three-head monster.
Offset: What’s crazy is that Elliot is calling me right now which is why my screen is going out. I can’t tell you about the piece he’s making. But my daughter’s birthday is on the 10th.
Aside from yourselves, what other rappers impress you with their jewelry?
Offset: Guwop always had some crazy pieces when I was coming up for sure. No cap, Lil Wayne and Birdman were always flooded in the magazines. They had like 20-30 chains on, red and white diamonds, big white bracelets. Pimp C was having real water too, nice diamond pieces.
Quavo: I like what Travis [Scott] does with his jewelry, he looks good. As far as young niggas, I like what Trippie Redd does with the jewels. He has a crazy and wicked style.
One of my favorite things to watch within the fashion space are these crazy pieces you give each other, like that Migos chain Takeoff gave Quavo earlier this year. Who has blessed you with the nicest jewelry pieces? Is it just amongst yourselves or are there others you want to shout out in that regard?
Quavo: Yeah, it’s really just amongst us. We always look out for each other because we all know where we came from. We always got that vision for one another. I always see something that can go on them while Takeoff and Set see something that can go on me, and vice versa. We all know what each of us likes.
The film talks a lot about the historic lack of generational wealth in Black communities and how jewelry for successful Black artists today is leaving something for their families in the future. Do you plan on passing this jewelry on to your kids and what do you say to folks who don’t think jewelry is a good investment?
Offset: I’m definitely planning to pass down these watches because the value only goes up. For the people saying that about jewelry, you got to really do your research like anything else. If you do that, you’ll see how this appreciates faster than a lot of other things. For instance, right now, watches are going up higher than most homes. Last month, [Audemars Piguet] dropped a black skeleton watch that cost $80,000 in the store. But if you want it right now, a month later, it’s $400,000.
Quavo: Personally, I don’t think I’m going to pass mine down to nobody, you know what I mean? Because if the value is going to keep going up, and a little kid of mine breaks my shit? Boy, that’s an $800,000 watch. By the time my kids grow old, my watch is going to be worth $1.5 or $2 million. Dad said don’t touch it. That’s how you know how much jewelry means to us, you know what I’m saying? You’re gonna give it to your kids or you’re going to keep it. We value it because we worked so hard to get these pieces. And we worked so hard to put it on. And that’s one thing we’re always going to do.
Also speaking to that topic, did you learn throughout the making of this documentary why there are so few Black-owned jewelry businesses?
Offset: It’s like anything else. As Black people, there’re a lot of spaces we aren’t in. But to be honest in the jewelry world, from what I see, it’s a super family oriented business. Their dad owns the store and their sons work there. I ain’t never went to a jeweler, besides Elliot, that isn’t run by an entire family. Everybody working there from cleaner to the setter, to the person that melts the gold and the person that sells you the piece, is apart of the jeweler’s family. So I don’t know exactly “why,” but there’s a lot of “whys” to why Black folk ain’t doing that.
Quavo: Jewelry costs money, and like Set said, it’s a family business. When we come from nothing, we can’t reach that or get there. So that’s another reason why we put on these chains and jewelry. Because there’s a lot of things that we couldn’t reach. But once we get our hands on it, we put it on. We want to share that. We want to share that with our members. We want to share with the people that we’re winning. That’s why you see crews wearing the same chain and logos. We’re [always] trying to build our own family businesses, but it’s tough when we can’t even get a [head]start.
Karam Gill: And to add to that. Patek Philippe and a lot of these traditional luxury brands, all their advertisements have only been white fathers and white sons for decades. These brands have even stopped making pieces in rose gold because they see these hip-hop artists wearing them. So I think there’s a lot of underlying racial context to the jewelry world. And that’s important because it’s incredibly powerful to see artists now reclaiming that and wearing these watches.
Offset: Black folks have been rocking jewelry, going back to our ancestors who’ve been rocking gold. This always represented something in the Black community. My grandma always had a gold tooth in the front. Even though we ain’t have a lot, we always dressed up and made ourselves look good. I got another auntie that got a ring on every finger, all-gold. And she ain’t ever taken them off because I ain’t ever seen her face without them.
You all know a lot about jewelry clearly from being some of the biggest consumers of it. Do you ever want to get into the business yourself?
Quavo: I haven’t tried, but I’m definitely interested. Anything that we love buying, we want to dig into all the details and know what we are buying, because that’s what you do with your money. You want to get all this information on what you purchased. So that’s another reason why our jewelry is clearly different. They’re different stones and different settings. Because once we started buying it for many years, we started learning a lot about it.
We know what to look for in a diamond. We know about different GIA grades and colors, shapes, how clear it is, how rare it is, how people laser them and trick them out to make them look crazy. Once you get all that information, you feel like you want to get into that business.
But at the same time I don’t think it’s really in me, because it looks like you need to make it into a family business. So I think it will still take time to just jump into something like that. But once you start buying it, you’re going to want to get into it.
Takeoff: Yeah, you want to dig into it, but I don’t know if you want to get into it.
Honestly, this documentary was great and I’m really impressed by the work that QC did with Karam Gill. Do you all have any interest in doing more documentaries together or movies? What other stories do you all want to tell?
Quavo: I most definitely want to tell the stories of independent labels, independent artists, independent groups, that have always gotten overshadowed, and talk about their success. The stories of these labels and artists that started from nothing. I feel like putting all of us into one bowl, to cherish them and show how much impact we had on the game. Because there were a lot of independent labels, like Cash Money, Death Row, and No Limit Records, who came in with no majors and shaped the culture. Now that’s QC, so making stuff like that would be cool.
Yachty mentioned he doesn’t buy jewelry anymore. And the film also spotlights De La Soul and the Native Tongues movement about their anti-jewelry stance. Do you think you’ll ever grow out of jewelry or just get sick of it? Do you see yourself like Slick Rick? Still rocking it nearly 30 years later?
Offset: Slick Rick! You hear me.
Quavo: Shouts out to Slick Rick, man. He is also in the documentary telling his story about his crazy jewelry. The OG with all the jewelry. So I’m coming through like Slick Rick with all the jewelry. Shoutout my boy Slicky.
Takeoff: We are coming like Slick, man. He inspired a lot of us and that’s how we want to look. Dead or alive, but with a lot more ice. The only difference now is that there was a lot more gold back in the day. Nowadays it’s ice and gold, so it’s just your preference.
Offset: Or we’re going to go out like Hov 30 years from now. Just talking about having $3Ms and having $2 million on the wrist. Nothing else to talk about, even though jewelry will still be in the rotation.
Quavo: On some days we’ll be going out like Hov, rocking a plain Richard Mille that cost a ticket. Then on other days we’ll be like, fuck it, and flood the neck, you hear me?