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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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Chain of Respect

Slick Rick himself will tell you that he appreciates the accolades, but his stiffest comp in the '80s came from Rakim.

"I'd have to say on the rap scene, Eric B. and Rakim, they was doing it heavy," Slick Rick remembers. "All you had to do was check their album cover: They had all that gangsterism culture."

DJ Jazzy Jeff agrees. "Slick Rick had the most [ropes], but I think Rakim did it better than everybody else," he said. "The Fila suit with one gold chain — it was fly!"

"Rakim!" Lil Jon yells when asked whose rope was the tightest. "The one he had in the 'Microphone Fiend' video. He had the Benz medallion. That's like the ultimate rope; the most classic. I remember when cats would steal the Mercedes-Benz emblem [off of cars] and put them on their chain."

While today thick gold chains often represent respect for the true essence of hip-hop, back in the day a massive gold rope signified juice in the streets. In fact, Rick says on the street level, a lot of the hustlers who were getting major dough at the time had way more jewels than any MCs.

"Once you see something that doesn't make sense, you always try to escalate to that," Rick says. "When I was growing up, I used to see n---as with chains that were dripping-to-their-knees-type sh--. It would be enormous and crazy expensive. They would be by themselves sometimes [wearing all that jewelry] — a n---a wearing some sh-- like that, you knew he was dangerous. You would see a dude with, like, $100,000 in jewels on. Today that would be like somebody wearing $5 million in jewels."

DMC says his first rope was a Christmas gift from Jam Master Jay. "That was in 1984, I think. We wore them because of Jay. Me and Run weren't that gangster. We could rap our asses off, we were b-boys, but we weren't thugged out. Jay wore that gold chain everywhere. Jay was an elder statesman in Hollis with the Hollis Crew."

The rope wasn't just a fashion accessory, however. "Put it like this," DMC explains, "when Kanye said that Dame [Dash] and them gave him his Roc-A-Fella medallion, getting my gold chain from Jay was like that. That chain was me being accepted as part of the crew, part of the legacy. And we got the chains from Jay, so me and Run knew we could wear these chains everywhere because mutha----as ain't gonna try to rob us for them. Jay was wearing them ropes before Run-DMC became a group. His chain was bigger than mine and Run's combined.

"Before Jay, I had a little bullsh-- chain with a Cadillac piece hanging from it," he adds. "Jay was like, 'OK, you was in hip-hop puberty, you're into maturity now. You're official.' "

Price of Glory

Obviously the MCs of today have more than enough money to pay for a rope that proves they're well into hip-hop maturity, but back in the day it wasn't as easy to shell out between five and 10 G's (at the least) for a real good one.

"I bought [my rope] right before [I went] on tour with N.W.A and Eazy-E," Short remembers. "I said, 'I'm gonna need a big rope.' The cold part is I borrowed one from the jewelry store. They gave me a big-ass one. They said, 'This one cost 10 thousand, but you can borrow it as long as you bring it back.' Everybody on tour had a big rope. You wasn't nothing if you ain't had your big rope. The bigger rope determines your status."

Slick Rick poses backstage at the 2004 Black Entertainment Awards on June 29, 2004 in Hollywood, California.
"My first rope, I borrowed it from Big Daddy Kane," Slick Rick admits about the humungous gold rope he wore in the video for "Teenage Love." "Big Daddy Kane had an enormous amount of money. I had money before Kane, because I came out before Kane, then sh-- had died down. But Kane was getting money because rap was escalating that fast. Kane's rope was like, I couldn't even buy that sh-- yet. So I was like, 'Let me hold it for this video.' He let me wear it."

"I think it's a beautiful thing for hip-hop because young cats don't have to break themselves for diamonds and platinum," Big Daddy Kane says, pointing out that gold's return does create a financial advantage. "They don't have to live out of their means just to look fly. It ain't that serious. It's more important things to do with your money."

Still, MCs who are going all-out today are doing it just as hard as their forefathers did back in the day. Right now, Busta and Pharrell are in a tight competition for who's got the most elaborate pieces: Pharrell has a pendant made of diamonds that are caricatures of his N.E.R.D. group on his Gucci links, and Busta Rhymes has a diamond Mets cap pendant, a diamond Rangers jersey pendant and a diamond New York Knicks medallion, among others.

Lil Jon wants to make history with his gigantic pendant that reads "Crunk Ain't Dead" in diamonds. "This chain is kinda for the haters and fits into the concept of my album [Crunk Rock]," he says. "You know how they said 'Punk ain't dead' or 'Rock and roll ain't dead'? [It's also] a message to the haters. They trying to write me off. So I got this seven-inch pendant with 150 karats with diamonds. Then the rope is three inches thick.

Lil Jon sports his "Crunk Ain't Dead" chain.
"I wanted something shocking," he adds. "And I wanted an old-school rope. That's the perfect chain to rock with a pendant that big. I think a lot more cats are gonna be doing [the rope and pendant] now."

So does the resurgence of ropes mean the end of platinum chains? It looks like there may be room for both, because some MCs say there's no way they're getting rid of their chains for the returning trend.

"[When gold ropes were first out,] that's when I was sitting on the porch watching the older dudes do what they do," Young Jeezy says. "That's a little bit before my time. I respect it, though. It's a good thing. Jam Master Jay would be proud to see them bring it back."

"On some dudes it looks cool," Fabolous says. "[The rope] is a good alternative chain, but I don't like big gaudy chains. If I have to do an event or something, I might throw on a rope, but I can't wear something big every day. I can't do the two, three chains, Rakim thing everyday. It just ain't part of my swag. I don't think it would replace the platinum chain. I think it's time for a new chain, though. 'Cause you got the diamond chain thing, but now it's a lot of fakes of that. The jewelers need to put their thinking caps on."

And despite the return of appreciation for the old school, some MCs take a harsher look.

"Nah," G-Unit's Lloyd Banks says when asked if he'll start wearing one. "If you notice, a lot of them look uncomfortable. It looks like the chain is choking they ass.

"I wasn't a part of that era," he continues. "I seen it, but I didn't have money for ropes when I was that young. I'm a part of the new school."

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Photo: MTV News

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