The Jesus Piece: A Symbol of Hip-Hop's Rise to Fame
The One Block Down editorial archive is an ever-evolving resource detailing the cultures, movements and ideas that defined contemporary stylistic discourse. From unique takes on today’s leading pop-culture topics, to off-kilter stories that might have slipped through the net, our editorial archive is as fundamental as it is abstract.
Religious notions, such as Christianity, have been part of Hip-Hop since the early beginnings. While conservative society may picture Hip-Hop artists' expressions as unreligious as they often promote violence, drug use, and sexual promiscuity in overly explicit language, many rappers claim to be faithful Christians.
People expect Christian music to be safe and family-friendly, conveying expectations not coherent with the lives of the unlucky. As personalities in Hip-Hop Culture often face a harsh reality of violence, racism, and political subjugation, it makes sense that their artistic creations are not fulfilling the desired imagery of "white Christendom." But looking at the Bible, one won't recognize solely positive stories dealing with love in a peaceful world.
On the contrary, its writings often contain narratives of people in pain and suffering, trying to find a way to salvation. Consequently, Christian tales correspond with the lives of young black Americans, trying to find a way out of miserable circumstances.
The Jesus Piece can arguably be denoted as the most iconic and remarkable piece of jewelry in Hip-Hop Culture. Made from precious metals, the Jesus Piece is a depiction of Jesus Christ wearing the crown of thorns. The jewel is usually adorned with scarce stones. As examined in the introduction, members of the Hip-Hop Community often had to go through hardships, just like protagonists in the Bible.
Therefore, Jesus is not only perceived as a savior but also as a "brother," a relative teaching people how to find a way out of the miserable. Accordingly, wearing a Jesus Piece is a way of expressing one's Christian belief, amplifying the meaning of the Messiahs as a steady companion in life.
The origin of the Jesus Piece in Hip-Hop dates back to the mid-'90s when Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah was wearing a pendant of Jesus' head in the music video of Raekwon's "Incarcerated Scarfaces."
However, the term "Jesus Piece" was first mentioned by The Notorious B.I.G. on his posthumous album "Life After Death" in 1997. In "Hypnotize," he raps:
"So I just speak my piece, keep my peace/ Cubans with the Jesus piece, with my peeps."
The Notorious B.I.G., "Hypnotize"
On the same Album, a verse in "I Love The Dough" also refers to the precious jewelry: "You seen the Jesus, dipped to H classes/ Ice project off lights, chick flashes/ Blind your broke asses, even got rocks in the beards and mustaches."
Biggie bought three Jesus Pieces, 30.000$ each, from Tito the Jeweler, also familiar to Jay-Z as he rapped about him in "Politics as Usual" on Reasonable Doubt (1996). B.I.G. acquired one for himself, one for Lil' Cease, and one for his best friend Damion "D-Roc" Butler. After his tragic passing in 1997, one of the pieces was set aside for his son, CJ Wallace. However, Jay-Z acquired one of the Jesus Pieces (Unknown whose one).
In his book "Decoded," he explained how the pendant became part of his ritual when he started to record an album: "(...) I wear the Jesus piece and let my hair grow till I'm done." Furthermore, he was spotted with the historical piece on the "XXL Magazine" cover in 1999.
In 2004, Kanye West received his first Jesus Piece from Jacob Arabo, better known as "Jack the Jeweler." The pendant was part of their partnership, aiming to rework the classic Jesus Piece. For a Rolling Stones interview, journalist Touré spent a day with Kanye West, who has just gained much popularity because of his debut album "College Dropout." Besides that, he just received his Jesus Piece.
After showing his latest fresh-acquired gem, a blond, blue-eyed depiction of Jesus Christ, Touré asked why his piece was not picturing a black Jesus. Because Kanye understood his point, as he had been acclaimed as a politically woke personality, he and Touré went to Jack the Jeweler to replace the diamonds, intending to make it a black Jesus. However, he didn't like the appearance of his renewed pendant, so West stuck to the old one, justifying the charm by saying it was "Grandma's Jesus."
In 2007, Kanye West joined forces with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, putting a new twist on the popular theme. The result was a Jesus Piece perfectly representing Murakami's playful aesthetic that later could be spotted on the cover of Kanye's "Graduation" album. Even though Kanye was not the first rapper spotted with a Jesus Piece, he can be held responsible for popularizing it as Hip-Hop's symbol for success, as it's usually the first piece of expensive jewelry many newcomers buy.
Since then, one can recognize the piece on album covers, such as on Rick Ross' "God Forgives, I Don't" or on The Game's "Jesus Piece," which additionally dedicates the title to the iconic pendant. Furthermore, the new generation of rappers, like Big Sean, A$AP Rocky, Travis Scott, and Kid Cudi, amongst others, continue to embrace the cult around the Jesus Piece, ensuring that this relict of culture, symbolizing Hip-Hop's rise to fame, won't fall into oblivion.
To receive updates on our latest editorials and documentaries, be sure to follow @oneblockdown on Instagram and subscribe to our newsletter below for more.