The Impact Of HipHop Culture On How We Accessorise – Bamboo Earrings (Door-Knockers)
Hip-hop culture has undergone some subtle and drastic changes since it emerged as an underground urban movement in New York during the ‘70s—led by pioneering figures like Jamaican-born DJ Kool Herc (Clive Campbell) and Afrika Bambaataa. Artists come and go; lyrics change; sub-genres pop out; beats and flows evolve with the generations.
But in all the inevitable changes that Hip Hop has undergone over the decades; two things remain unmoved – the cultural/historical significance of the music genre and jewelry/accessories that characterize it. In particular, the iconic fake gold bamboo earrings – also known as door-knocker earrings.
Tight-Knit Connection of Hip Hop and Jewelry – The Iconic Bamboo Hoop Earrings
Since the early days of Hip Hop, the movement has been fascinated (bordering obsessed) with flashy accessories that served both as a social and fashion statement.
Fun Fact: The term “Bling,” which was coined by Cash Money Millionaires rapper B.G. was officially added in the Oxford and Merriam Webster dictionaries. It’s defined as, “Flashy jewelry worn especially as an indication of wealth or status broadly: expensive and ostentatious possessions.”
While there are several accessories that are associated with Hip Hop culture, bamboo earrings are arguably one of the most recognizable accessories from the ‘90s era. They epitomize Hip Hop’s cultural ties with jewelry—and it’s easy to see why.
Door knockers are dashing! They make a statement! They’re an accessory that keeps popping up in the fashion industry! And they have deep-rooted ties to the culture of people of colour—often representing a rags-to-riches narrative.
History of Hoop Earrings
What exactly are gold bamboo hoops/door knockers? And what is their origin?
The term ‘Bamboo hoops’ is derived from their shape and hollow design that typically features plant-like joints. They’re also categorized under a style of huge earrings known as “door knockers,” which includes other shapes such as hearts, trapezoids, triangles, or even animal-inspired designs (e.g., two dolphins kissing or shrimps).
Contrary to common assumptions, the accessory has been around long before it became a fashion trend. The oldest pair of hoop earring discovered by archeologists was worn by Sumerian women between 2600-2500 B.C.—and they’re on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
According to Yekaterina Barbash, associate curator of Egyptian art at the Brooklyn Museum (via an article published in the New York Times), “Hoop earrings originated in Africa, dating back to Nubia, a civilization that existed in the fourth century in what is now present day Sudan…In ancient Egypt, both men and women wore hoop earrings. Egyptian royalty including queens and pharaohs like Nefertiti, Hatshepsut, Tutankhamen, and Cleopatra wore gold hoops but it was more for style than for any other purpose.”
Ms Barbash goes on to mention that ancient Egyptians accessorized with hoop earrings as a means to enhance their sexuality and beauty—even in the afterlife. In the same article, André Leon Talley, a contributing editor for Vogue, is quoted saying, “In the 1960s and 1970s the hoop earring became associated with African beauty, when Nina Simone and Angela Davis started wearing the hoops.” The iconic bamboo style of hoop earrings went mainstream in tandem with the rise of Hip Hop culture in the ‘80s and ‘90s. At the time, low-cost fake gold bamboo earrings were widely distributed in beauty stores around the Black and Brown communities.
PS: In Caribbean, Latina, and some Asian cultures, gold hoops are traditionally passed down onto future generations.
The Cultural Significance of Bamboo Earrings
Sure: Hoop earrings were a fashion staple in the 90s’ HipHop scene. But they were more than consummate fashion items! They held meaning and cultural significance for people of colour. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, every woman/girl of colour wanted a pair of bamboo hoops in order to connect and belong—while looking chic in the process.
In a 2018 Ted Talk, Dr Ariana Curtis, says that “Representation matters. Authentic representations of women matter.” The Museum Curator of Latina Studies at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution went to assert that “As an Afro-Latina, I’m one of millions. As an Afro-Latina curator, I’m one of very few. And bringing my whole self into the professional realm can feel like an act of bravery.”
Looking back at the roots of Hip Hop, the music and cultural movement rose and grew as a way for low-income and oppressed communities to express their challenges, ambitions, and dreams. It was a form of resistance or activism against a system that was rigged against them.
To quote Kelli Shami, “Bamboo hoop earrings, various “door-knocker” styles, and other thick gold hoops will always be remembered for their rich history with roots from culture and music…For many, they are a symbol of resistance, and for many others, they are a celebration of ethnicity.”
Speaking to Refinery29, Callia A. Hargrove, a Teen Vogue alum reiterates Shami‘s statement by noting that “Communities of colour have always embraced [hoop earrings], but with an understanding that outside of the comforts of our communities and families, they are seen differently, in a negative light…Knowing that, wearing hoops in those settings almost feels like a form of activism.”
Getting an opportunity to climb out of poverty despite the hurdles deserved to be celebrated—and in part, that is where the whole issue of Hip Hop and jewelry took root. Successful artists and public figures in the Hip Hop industry flaunted their achievement through jewelry—inspiring young people of colour and other oppressed people in the communities in the process.
90s Hip Hop Artists Rocking Bamboo Hoops
The popularity of the iconic bamboo hoop earring was at its peak in the ‘90s thanks to popularization by Hip Hop artists who brandished their accessories with a renewed sense of pride.
For example, LL Cool J opens with a series of bars that captured the sense of pride that was taking root in the Hip Hop and R&B communities of the ‘90s in his song “ Around the Way Girl” from the album, Mama Said Knock You Out.
“I want a girl with extensions in her hair. Bamboo earrings, at least two pair. A Fendi bag and a bad attitude. That's all I need to get me in a good mood. She can walk with a switch and talk with street slang. I love it when a woman ain't scared to do her thing.”
– LL Cool J
Similarly, Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious” video features a series of shots whereby the trio proudly flaunts their bamboo hoops. Over the years, Beyoncé has repeatedly appeared in music videos and in public wearing different designs of bamboo hoops.
Salt-N-Pepa is another Hip-Hop trio that made bamboo earring a thing—and a ‘90s’ girl most-sought-after accessory. They had a reputation for their shiny yet minimal accessorizing.
Other notable Hip Hop figures that helped popularize hoop earrings in the ‘90s include Lauryn Hill—who is widely celebrated as one of the greatest and most influential artists of her generation.
Door Knocker Earrings Today – The Timeless Accessory
Nowadays, the bamboo hoops still maintain the same cultural significance they held in the ‘90s—albeit claims of cultural appropriation. As a fashion trend, the accessory has resurged several times, even appearing on Fashion Week runways across the globe.
Artists such as Rihanna and Queen Bey, to name a few can still be seen wearing eye-catching gold bamboo earrings.
Bamboo hoops and door knockers may characterize the ‘90’s Hip Hop culture, but their meaning as a fashion accessory is timeless. They symbolize strength against adversities and cultural pride for people of colour.
Sporting Bamboo hoops is a sure way to bring out the flair in your outfit while connecting to your roots. I still proudly rock Bamboo earrings today!