Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: My Fascination with Grillz

A reference to the funds spent for his grill, “Got 30 down at the bottom, 30 more on the top...”, is the familiar opening line Nelly –-and any listener within close proximity -- recites upon auditory recognition of the hit “Grillz”, featuring Paul Wall, Ali and Gipp. Currently #1 on the Billboard charts for the digital/mobile category, Grillz has become the hip-hop ode to that dental phenomenon which has seemingly resurrected itself from early 90’s obscurity. While I consider myself a fairly socially conscious individual, generally unphased by those pop culture trends that overtake the American public with increasing ease, the sad admission I must make is that I too yearn to own a grill…

My self-indulgent attempt to decipher the root of this vain desire goes back much further than the recent hip-hop release of “Grillz”, but might perhaps be attributed to those older black men I admired at an impressionable age during the early 90’s who were hip to the urban dental craze of the time. I seem to remember countless friends of my uncle whose teeth were luminated by those affordable gold moldings. At first confused that these molds were no more than wholesale replacement teeth, I soon learned and developed an appreciation for that individual style that no one talking to any owner could ignore. Why, what better way, I remember thinking, to flaunt any semblance of wealth than by placing it in your mouth, one of the most prominent physical features of your entire body. Surely, no one could deny the affluence of one who was bold enough to place their wealth in their mouth.

Over a decade removed from that adolescent rationale for sporting such splendid mouth work, I was reminded of my feelings upon the emergence of none other than Houston based rapper Mike Jones. “Back than [they] didn’t want me, now I’m hot [they] all on me” became the cry of every jaded young man once rejected by young women. But it was more than Jones simple hook that appealed to me. It was the style with which he delivered. Jones was proud of the wealth that he acquired, opening his mouth as wide as he could on any occasion that permitted throughout the shooting of his video. In unabashedly flaunting his wealth for the world to see, Mike Jones was telling the world that indeed, he had arrived. And if you didn’t believe it his dental work vouched for it. Indeed, as the familiar aphorism goes, Jones’ was putting his money where his mouth was.

In considering these two points of reference I appear to be no more than a contemporary child of capitalism bred by a hip-hop culture fairly characterized as materialistic. But I graduated from a prestigious undergraduate institution, have a corporate job, and drive a Volvo, so why can’t I shake my obsession and desire for something as trivial as a grill?


mab said...

Are you: what you do? what you eat? what you say? what you write? what you drive? what you wear?

To me Grillz are not a trivial issue. To me they seem to be a boisterous display of an individual’s newborn material wealth. If not, what exactly do they boast? What honorable virtues does one exude by displaying such precious metals and gems? Or doesn’t it matter?

The attitude of “if you got it flaunt it” is in all of us. Although there are different codes of conduct, flaunting it is an ever-present force in every social class of this lovely “meritocracy”. But do you think this attitude of flaunting the material respectable? While we spend and spend more to associate with pop culture through our image and our teeth?!?! To whom are we really trying to measure up?

Somehow, I cannot get past the irony of our generation’s disregard of basic wealth like social security, education and healthcare and its obsession and bizarre sense of entitlement to luxury—hard working or not, prestigiously educated or not, socially conscious or not, corporate machinery or not.

To me, in my most idealistic mindset, Grillz as a symbol of wealth translates as empty and false. Will Grillz endure with time? I don’t know. Will the world be a better case because of Grillz? I do not think so.
Just imagine what the funds “30 down at the bottom, 30 more on the top…” could have done.

Brother Tallness said...
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Brother Tallness said...

I feel what you are saying, the materialism that you recognize as pervasive is indicative of larger problems we have as a society. At the same time, no one can escape it and as much as I want to knock the mike jones's and the Nelly's of the world, we are all guilty to a degree. If you're buying designer name clothes, shoes, cars, etc, you're paying for that name more than an upgrade in quality. As you said, our culture as a whole tells us that if you got it, flaunt it.

The main problem with the expensive grill is that its a complete affronts the idea of assimilation while still consuming the most poisonous aspects of hyper-consumerism. On the one hand, it is an embracement all the stuff that we are most uncomfortable about black culture, the stuff that we as black Williams graduates abhor (but secretly want to emulate) as professional code switchers. At the point that you can walk around with a grill all day, hiding behind the veil and double consciousness are probably not keeping you up at night.

At the same time, you're spending money just to show that you are rich. Not only are you putting your disposable income toward an item that has no chance of appreciating in value, but you'll probably kill a half dozen kids in Sierra Leone as well.

Funny story: I remember Professor Darrow telling us in one class that in Uzbekistan, I sign of wealth for most people his age was a mouth full of gold teeth.