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 'It was always in an African's blood to rock gold,' Kanye West says. 'It's not ostentatious; it's an African thing.'

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 'I wanted something shocking,' Lil Jon says. ...

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— by Shaheem Reid

Has the time come for MCs to put their platinum chains on ice? Not ice as in diamonds — they've been doing that for years. This time we're talking about rappers setting their platinum down on the shelf for a returning favorite that's old school to the heart.

If you look at some recent hip-hop videos, or even pictures from parties and concerts, you'll notice artists such as Lil Jon, Nick Cannon, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Nelly and Nas bringing back the world-famous gold rope chains — or as they were christened in the '80s, "dookie ropes" (also known to some as "dookie rolls"). It's a trend that's making MCs think about the true-school innovators who first wore them and what gold ropes symbolized back in the day, as well as what these classic chains mean today.

"It's my way to pay homage," says Cannon, whose new publicity shots show him wearing no shirt and a gold rope à la LL Cool J circa '87. "Back in the day, most gold chains were hollow. I had to go [with] the official one. Everybody been rocking platinum; you can't tell platinum from stainless steel right now."

"Platinum chains are wack, unless it's a rope," asserts Kanye West, who debuted his new gold rope in the video for "Drive Slow." "I'm not trying to dis nobody's chain, it's just wack to me. Maybe you can get away with it if you have it tucked, with it just peeking up out the top of your T-shirt."

Like Cannon, Kanye says gold ropes are appealing because they're a nod to the past. "History repeats itself," Ye says. "It was throwbacks [jerseys], my album had the Tribe [Called Quest] sound. Now it's gold ropes. And it's dope for black people to wear a lot of jewelry — it was always in an African's blood to rock gold. So we rock gaudy chains. It's not ostentatious; it's an African thing."

Nick Cannon arrives at 102.7 KIIS-FM's Wango Tango 2006 concert on May 6, 2006 in Irvine, California.
Lil Jon agrees with Ye's theory about throwing it back. "We love the old school," he says. "Everybody got pleasant memories of the '80s. That's when hip-hop was fresh and new, it was like a baby. All those pleasant memories, we trying to bring back. I grew up seeing the Slick Ricks and Big Daddy Kanes, but I was a kid — I couldn't get no big-ass rope chain. I'm grown, I can do that now.

"Even on my iPod, I only listen to old-school sh--, whether it's hip-hop, dancehall, reggae, rock. For me, I want to bring little things from the old school back," Jon continues, referring to 1980s fashion fads. "Gazelles [eyeglasses], I was looking for them for awhile. Members Only jackets are coming back. Shell-toe Adidas never went out of style. Everybody wants to accessorize themselves with stuff they grew up with, whether it be sh-- they wanted and couldn't have, or sh-- they used to rock."

"Things that are really authentic always return," says original dookie-rope-rocker DMC, one of hip-hop's earliest innovators on the mic and in the jewelry department. "It ain't a mere thing of just bringing the gold rope back. It means something."

"My sh-- is authentic because it rocked stages all across the world," smiles Too Short, who still has his first rope chain from the '80s — the same rope he used to wear on album covers and at shows. "That rope is power. I felt I could take it off and whip you with it. I feel it's [representing] elements of hip-hop that are always gonna resurface."

"That's hip-hop to its fullest," Rakim says of dookie ropes. "I'm glad that's coming back. It don't get more hip-hop than a phat gold rope."

"I just ordered mine," says perennial platinum king Lil Wayne of his rope. "I'mma be purely honest: what sparked me to do it was Nick Cannonís new video. He's killing it. I saw plenty people do it, but I saw Nick and I was like, 'Heís young — yeah. I like the whole look, no piece or nothing: just the rope."

So, who exactly are the ones responsible for bringing back this classic hip-hop style?

Busta Rhymes, who wears a bulging platinum rope these days, says he and Pharrell Williams share some responsibility for their return. "Me and Pharrell are bringing back the golden era, like Slick Rick, [whose style] epitomized the '80s era," Busta says. Want proof? Just ask Slick Rick, himself.

"The best I see right now is Busta," Rick proclaims. "Pharrell is a definite second, but Busta was destroying it on Summer Jam. That sh-- I seen was insanity. All Bus has to do is lengthen his sh--. Just make the chains longer so it hangs down to you b---s. That's how it was back in the days, 'insane so they can't compete' type sh--."

The Ruler's Ropes

Slick Rick knows a thing or two about competing with the gold ropes. Back in the day, he had more of them than anybody, and he's often heralded as one of the gold-rope gods. In fact, when MCs think back to the '80s, only a handful of artists stand out for wearing them best: Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane, Jam Master Jay and Rakim.

Cannon says Run-DMC were the first rappers he saw rocking gold ropes. "Then Big Daddy Kane did it. He had the fattest rope," Cannon recalls. "But the cat who took it over the top for me and made me say, 'I gotta get that,' was Slick Rick. He was gaudy with it. He had six, seven chains on. He was the first person with the gold grills. He was gold out."

The legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff says one-upmanship was a big part of "hip-hop's wonder years." "[The Fresh Prince and I] were on the road with Eric B. and Rakim, they both had ropes. Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie ... When somebody would come out with a rope this big, you felt you had to get one even bigger. Then Slick Rick came out with a chest full of gold. That was hip-hop."

For Kanye, there's no competition over who had the best gold rope back in the day. "What type of stupid question is that?" he laughs. "Slick Rick, 'the Ruler' — what the f---!"

"Slick Rick would come with, like, 32 chains on," Rakim says. "[Gold ropes] was a phenomenon that was poppin' off. I remember Jam Master Jay — Allah bless the dead — he was the first one to come with a gold rope and no link on it. It was a gold rope all the way around! We was trying to see who could get the biggest chain and come through the 'hood with it swinging from side to side."

"I think Slick Rick was the jewelry master," Big Daddy Kane chimes in. "He had that gigantic Libra plate. I don't think anybody got anything that big until maybe Ghostface."

NEXT: 'When Kanye [got] his Roc-A-Fella medallion, getting my gold chain from [Jam Master] Jay was like that,' DMC says. ...
Photo: Interscope/ MTV News

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