Tuesday, January 17, 2006
So this is what they mean by "flossin'."
Paul Wall has mastered the art of conspicuous consumption, and his favored medium is his mouth. Thus, if the Houston rapper has pearly whites, we wouldn't know: Wall never appears in public without wearing a grill -- a removable cosmetic mouthpiece made of gold or platinum with diamond inlays.
Wall is flashing one such designer dental piece, also known as a front, on the cover of his 2005 album, "The Peoples Champ," which is loaded with references to bejeweled bicuspids. ("Say cheese and show my fronts/It's more carats than Bugs Bunny's lunch," etc.)
His jewelry box of a mouth is also open for public viewing in the video for Nelly's smash hit "Grillz," an ode to oral ostentation in which Wall notes in a cameo: "I got my mouth lookin' something like a disco ball/. . . I got the diamonds and the ice all hand-set/I might cause a cold front if I take a deep breath."
He adds: "I put my money where my mouth is."
Whereas recording stars used to celebrate their hits by putting gold and platinum albums on their walls, they're now putting the precious materials directly over their teeth in the form of custom-fitted jewelry that can be taken on and off like dentures.
Very expensive dentures: Though grills can be had for as little as $40 for a single gold tooth, the more elaborate, diamond-encrusted pieces favored by the likes of Lil Jon, Snoop Dogg, Slim Thug, David Banner and the Ying Yang Twins tend to cost $10,000 or more.
Despite the prices, the hoi polloi are following the lead of the hip-hop elite, purchasing fronts in increasing numbers from dentists, shopping-mall jewelers, even Web sites.
"It's a fad gone wild," says Eddie Plein, owner of Eddie's Gold Teeth in Atlanta. "It's the big thing now in the rap community."
If the eyes are the window to the soul, then in hip-hop culture -- and particularly in rap's dominant southern division -- the mouth is the display case to the vault. (It's also occasionally a message board: Some of the fanciest grills include tiny lettering that spells out album titles, neighborhoods, nicknames.) "It's just like wearing a big gold chain around your neck; it's a celebration of success and excess," says Elliott Wilson, editor in chief of XXL, a rap magazine whose pages feature countless photos of artists showing off their fronts. XXL also carries a healthy dose of advertising for companies selling custom grills. (And there are plenty of them scattered across the country, with names like Gold Teeth America, GoldTeeth.com, Gold Tooth Masters and, of course, Mr Bling.)
"Having gold and diamonds in your mouth is the most audacious statement you could make," Wilson says. "It's an in-your-face way of saying: We're hip-hop."
And nobody says it quite like Paul Wall, who has a vested interest in perpetuating the fashion trend.