Run-D.M.C.'s Adidas, LL Cool J's Kangol, 2Pac's Thug Life tattoo. There's some symbols in hip-hop that live forever. Rap's most iconic jewelry—and there's a lot of bling in the timeline— is the Roc-A-Fella chain. Originating in the mid '90s (nobody really remembers the exact date), the chain is the signature of Roc-A-Fella Records, one of rap's most illustrious labels. In 2002, Kanye West was a just a kid from Chicago—a producer trying to pivot into rapping— hoping to be accepted and to find a home among Jay-Z, Cam'ron and State Property.
The new documentary Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy follows Kanye’s journey from outsider to hip-hop icon. If you're a Kanye fan (or hater), I highly encourage it. The first episode (available on Netflix) captures this moment: “Kanye. Got some big news. You want to tell them?” asks Jay-Z, bringing a largely unknown Kanye on stage in his hometown. Label co-founder Dame Dash takes his chain off and puts it on him. “I’m the newest member of the Roc-A-Fella team,” Kanye raps giddily. The torch has been passed
Like many of you, I've known about the Roc-A-Fella chain since the beginning. Who can forget all the name-checks in lyrics, music video cameos and artists rocking their Roc necklaces? The chain is still the hottest cosign in hip-hop outlasting the popular Cash Money tank and Death Row Records chains. The real insider's access? Forget the Black AMEX or Grammy, you want the Roc-A-Fella chain.
But I've always had questions. I came out of sabbatical and dusted my freelance pen off and interviewed the long lineage of Roc chain owners; from the label's founders Dame Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke to the most recent recipient. It's a long, impressive history, spanning over 25 years.
Get your rap nerd fix and learn about how Kanye got his Roc-A-Fella chain (Hint: Dame's still looking for it), the starting price (About one year of tuition at an elite university) and how you can get one (Note: If you gotta ask, it ain't for you).