The Evolution of the Jesus Piece

21 Apr

Hip hop and religion have a strongly intertwined history. From the hardest gangsta rappers to hip hop pop artists, blinged out Christian symbols appear in music videos, on the red carpet and at the music award ceremonies. Second only to the crucifix, the Jesus head pendant has appeared around the necks of this generation’s most celebrated artists, including Kanye West, Jay-Z and Biggie, as well as hero-worthy athletes like Lebron James.

The current trend was ignited by Kanye, who joined forces with famed hip hop jeweler Jacob Arabo in 2004 to create a line of religious-themed jewelry. The striking Jesus image features a crown of thorns encircling a flowing mane of hair. Jesus is also depicted with a thick beard and compassionate eyes. The piece is often mentioned in Kanye’s lyrics, including “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” and “Selfish.”

Soon after Kanye began wearing his piece everywhere he went, other celebrities began adopting the oversized likeness of Jesus as a symbol of their faith. But, in true hip hop style, the piece was iced out with precious metals and gemstones, from diamonds in the hair to ruby tears running down the face.

Although Kanye and Jacob are commonly credited with inventing the Jesus piece, long-time hip hop fans may recall seeing a similar piece around the neck of the Notorious B.I.G. in the mid-1990s. He even rapped about it in “I Love the Dough” on his posthumous “Life After Death” album in 1999 with the lyrics ““You seen the Jesus…Even got rocks in the beard and mustache.” The pendant is believed to have been created by the original OG designer, Tito.

Other early rap artists who have been discovered wearing the iconic image made by the New York City jeweler include Ghostface, Lil Cease, D-Roc and Prodigy. In fact, a baby face Jay-Z appears on the cover of the hip hop magazine, XXL, in December 1999 sporting a gold Jesus piece. It is rumored to be the same pendant owned by Biggie, who is said to have passed it down to his son after his death.

Despite this, most molds on the market today are based on the Kanye/Jacob-created image. From Ja Rule and Chamillionaire to legions of hip hop fans, the Jesus piece has been embraced as a subtle, cool way to share their beliefs with the world. The original Jesus pendants were made of platinum, gold or silver and featured dozens of diamonds accenting the facial features. Until recently, the pieces were difficult to find. Today, brass and wooden versions, as well as genuine cubic zirconia stones, have made this popular pendant more affordable. As a result, the Jesus pendant is quickly becoming one of the most important pieces of jewelry in the hip hop fashion industry.

Jesus pieces now come in a variety of materials, styles and colors, including electric pink, caramel brown, sophisticated silver and eye-catching gold. The black wooden or plated-metal piece is the most highly requested as it allows the wearer to not only proclaim their religious heritage, but also their cultural pride. The iced out pendant, which is available in both small and large sizes, is often paired with a heavy Franco link chain or a beaded necklace and features a caged finish on the backside

Still as fresh as when he debuted it, Kanye was recently photographed wearing a Takashi Murakami designed Jesus piece at a Louis Vuitton fashion show and a surprise BET performance. Always fearless in his fashion choices, Kanye will layer several Jesus pieces with other blinged out gold necklaces in various styles and colors.

This popular piece has encouraged the creations of other Jesus jewelry and accessory pieces, including a rosary-inspired necklace that features the Jesus head and a dramatically dangling, iced or beaded rosary that ends with either a crucifix or a second Jesus head. Like the original necklace, the rosary necklace can be crafted from wood or metal.

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