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Bling (or bling-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 rap by Jay Z and Jermaine Dupri on "Money Ain't a Thing" in 1998, but made popular 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. 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, "Ultrabrite gives your mouth...[ping]...sex appeal!" 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" by vocalizing the sound effect 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 vocalises 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. In 1994, the Netscape Navigator browser was released and supported the <blink>blink tag</blink>. This feature became very widely used, which many users considered to be irritating, and the term blink soon became synonymous with gaudy, tacky and overly flashy. That meaning of the word 'blink' remained in popular culture (although modern browsers stopped supporting the 'blink' tag).
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 "Everytime 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 the song called "Fuck Friendz" of his posthumous album Until the End of Time. He goes by saying "Check out my – diamonds bitch everyone gonna blink (bling bling bling)". The song was recorded in 1996.
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. During a 2008 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade in Jacksonville, Florida, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney admired a baby decked in dress attire with gold jewelry and said, "Oh, you've got some bling-bling here."
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".
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 celebrities: Raekwon (Wu-Tang Clan), Paul Wall (maker of diamond grills), and Reggaetón king Tego Calderón as they visit the capital of Freetown to meet the community and survey the devastation caused by the diamond mines.
- Goldie Blumenstyk (February 6, 2004). A Brush With History. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Vol. L, No. 22.
- "Bling Etymology". Hiphopmusic.com. 2003-04-26. Retrieved 2011-08-15.
- Romney Waxes Lyrical at a Holiday Parade in Florida, Michael Powell, The New York Times, January 22, 2008.
- "MTV: Bling Bling - Video". Creativity Online. 2004-07-13. Retrieved 2011-08-15.
- Hauser, Thomas (2005-01-09). "How bling-bling took over the ring". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-03-27.
- "Blin blin". Diccionario Libre. Retrieved 2011-08-15.
- Crumley, Bruce (2007-12-20). "Sarkozy's 'Bling-Bling' Presidency". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2008-01-21.
- "Bling: Consequences and Repercussions, short film narrated by Public Enemy Chuck D on Conflict Diamonds and Bling fashion". WGHfilms.com. 2009-03-02. Archived from the original on 2009-03-02. Retrieved 2012-06-14.