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Bling-bling, often shortened to just bling, is a slang term popularized in hip hop culture, referring to flashy, ostentatious, or elaborate jewelry and ornamented accessories that are carried, worn, or installed, such as cell phones or tooth caps. The term was first used in a rap by Dana Dane in "Nightmares" on Dana Dane with Fame in 1987 referring to the sound effect of tinkling bells that was used on cartoon shows to demonstrate the shininess and desirability of gold coins, money, jewelry or gems when they were displayed on-screen. It was later popularized by Cash Money Millionaires in the song "Bling Bling" in 1999.
Origins and popularization of the term
In linguistics terms, bling is either an ideophone or an onomatopoeia, depending on the definition adhered to. The term is intended to evoke the "sound" of light hitting something shiny, especially valuables like silver, platinum, or diamonds. The form bling-bling is a case of reduplication.
During the mid- to late 1960s, toothpaste maker Ultra Brite ran a series of commercials stating, "Ultra Brite gives your mouth...[blown kiss]...[bell ting]...sex appeal!" suggesting fresh breath and a brilliant smile. Before the words "sex appeal", a bell sound was heard as a young man or woman smiled. Comedians such as Martin Lawrence parodied the "Ultrabrite smile" sequence [blow] + [ting] "bling" as both "bling-bling," and "bling-blauw."
Within the film and television incidental soundtrack industry, the use of a glockenspiel playing a single note in broken octaves had long been used as a literal musical translation of the visual effect of the glint of light on, say, a diamond ring. It came to be used as a hackneyed shorthand by TV composers, and especially within low budget TV cartoons, the iconography and sound worlds of which heavily informed early hip-hop culture. The 'B-' of the 'Bling' mimics the lower octave chime, while the '-ling’ similarly vocalizes the lighter, less percussive sound of the same note played an octave (or two) higher, as beaten just a millisecond later.
The term was used in this way to describe a gaudy piece of jewelry, for example, the otherwise rotten gold-toothed smile and stereotypical pimp jewelry of the character "Jerome" on the television series Martin. Jesse West (known as rapper 3rd Eye) is cited as perhaps the first rapper to use the complete term "bling bling" on Super Cat's 1993 hit "Dolly My Baby (Remix)" – a song that West produced, and also featured Puff Daddy and a young Biggie Smalls in his record debut.
The term 'bling' reached mainstream popularity in 1999 when the song "Bling Bling" by rap artist B.G. featuring the Cash Money Millionaires cracked the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100; the chorus of the song featured a young Lil' Wayne rapping "Every time I come around your city bling bling; Pinky ring worth about 50 bling bling; Everytime I buy a new ride bling bling; Lorenzos on Yokahama tires bling bling." Late rapper Tupac mentioned bling in his 1996 song "Fuck Friendz" off his posthumous album Until the End of Time. He goes by saying "Check out my – diamonds bitch everyone gonna blink (bling bling bling)".
While the specific term bling was first popularized in the hip hop community, it has spread beyond hip hop culture and into mass culture after the original Hot Boyz chart-topper, "Bling-bling" became popular. This is similar to the meteoric rise of hip hop music itself, which has led to its most popular artists becoming mainstream pop music icons. "Bling" was added to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary in 2002 and to the Merriam Webster dictionary in 2006. Companies such as Sprint and Cadillac have used the word bling in their advertisements.
In 2004, MTV released a satirical cartoon showing the term being used first by a rapper and then by several progressively less "streetwise" characters, concluding with a middle-aged white woman describing her earrings to her elderly mother. It ended with the statement, "RIP bling-bling 1997-2003." In 2005, the rapper B.G. remarked that he "just wished that he'd trademarked it" so that he could have profited. Like many cases of once-exclusive vernacular that becomes mainstream, the views of the originators towards the term have changed significantly over the years. On VH1's Why You Love Hip-Hop, rapper Fat Joe stated, "rappers don't call jewelry bling anymore, we just call 'em diamonds."
In other languages
The term has also spread to Spanish: rappers use the term in Latin hip-hop and in reggaeton from Puerto Rico and Panama, although it is usually written and pronounced "blin-blin". The Spanish word blinblineo is also used to refer to bling-bling style. The term is used in French traditionally to describe nouveau riche attitudes; such as "wearing expensive suits, stylish sunglasses and conspicuously large wristwatches" or anything that is ostentatious and can be considered of "poor taste". In German, it is usually used as "Bling".
The short film Bling: Consequences and Repercussions, shot by Kareem Adouard and narrated by Public Enemy frontman Chuck D, explains how diamonds (a staple of bling fashion) occasionally originate as blood diamonds, fueling wars, poverty, slavery, and killings in Africa. Bling: A Planet Rock (2007) documents the flashy world of commercial hip-hop jewelry against the significant role diamonds play in the ten-year civil war in Sierra Leone, West Africa. The movie follows three hip-hop personalities: Raekwon (Wu-Tang Clan), Paul Wall (maker of diamond grills), and Reggaetón artist Tego Calderón as they visit the capital of Freetown to meet the community and survey the devastation caused by the diamond mines.
- Ultra Brite TV commercial (1969).
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