It’s become evident that the new pop culture phenomenon of “grills” may be here to stay. Wearing a grill, also called “golds” or “fronts,” have been a way of life in the South decades before wearing them became popular through hip-hop culture with songs like Nelly’s “Grillz.”
But it’s not just hip-hop stars who wear grills anymore. Since he was young, sophomore Phillip Simpson had always planned on buying his own grill. The social work major and football player got his first grill at 16 when he was a high school sophomore living in Miami.
“Miami is known for football and people getting into the NFL were wearing them so it didn’t seem bad,” Simpson said.
Grills are available at most specialty jewelry stores. To get a molding of your teeth for the grill, you experience a process similar to a fitting for braces. Depending on the person, you pay half of your total charges and after five, seven or 10 business days you pay the remaining balance and pick up your new grill.
Simpson recently purchased his “six to the bottom” grill, meaning it covers six teeth, from a Market Street jewelry store.
Simpson’s diamond-cut gold teeth cost $325.
Jabari Ferguson, also a Temple sophomore and Miami native, paid $270 for a “five to the bottom,” 18-karat gold grill. Prices for grills vary from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the style, number of teeth and karat value of the gold. Silver plated grills are the least expensive, but getting a cheaper deal usually “depends on where you go and, basically, who you know,” Simpson said.
“Grills are like a fresh pair of Jordans or a new Louis Vuitton bag,” he added.
Years ago people could buy gold caps for their teeth for only $5 each at local flea markets instead of purchasing pricier grills. Now the recent surge in grills’ popularity has increased the gold cap prices. In the South, Simpson said, wearing gold caps on your teeth or wearing a grill has been perceived as a normal, almost everyday accessory for decades.
“It’s like a training bra until you grow up and get the real ones in your mouth,” Simpson said.
“It has been consistent in the South. I grew up seeing pictures of people in my family wearing grills as a child. It’s just too normal,” he said. “I came up here and didn’t see people wearing them. I thought that was weird.”
Some trace the origins of grills to Caribbean-influenced and old-school rappers from the 1980s and early 1990s. While people in the South have worn grills for years, the accessory has been the choice of personal style for East Coast hip-hop artists Slick Rick, Flavor Flav, Mary J. Blige and members of the Wu Tang Clan. As for Mary J. Blige’s one gold tooth, “she has a ‘Disco Rick,'” Ferguson said.
Hip-hop artist Paul Wall recently launched a new Web site to showcase his newly expanded grills collection, “Grills by Paul Wall,” which he plans to market and sell worldwide. Wearing a grill is a way of life that many have capitalized on. “He doesn’t have to rap another day in his life,” Simpson said of Paul Wall’s success.
There’s a difference between the grills seen on artists like Lil’ Wayne, Trick Daddy, Juvenile and Master P. in comparison to those on Paul Wall, Nelly and Bow Wow. It’s a type of old school mentality of “permanents” versus the new school mentality of “pullouts.”
Getting “permanents” is the same process as capping your teeth, a procedure performed by certified dentists who shave your natural teeth to create a perfectly-sized, white smile. On the other hand, “pullouts” are removable from the mouth.
“Permanents” dull over the years because of everyday activities like eating or smoking. “Pullouts” may be brushed and also cleaned with a gold rag cleaner purchased from the jewelry store or shopping stores like Kmart.
In the South, “Everyone 26 years and older have ‘permanents,'” Ferguson said. “[But] it doesn’t look as good as the ‘pullouts.'” Ferguson and Simpson wear pullouts, representing the new school attitude.
“You can’t have them forever,” Ferguson said. “You have to get a job in the real world.”
The grill phenomenon began in the South and has gained prominence thanks to the hip-hop culture. Pop culture has picked up on the trend and unlike other fads, many argue that grills are here to stay.
“People go with the style that’s on TV,” Simpson said. “That’s what they see and what they get.”
Sherice Brammer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.