Back in the 1980s, rappers in the Northeast began wearing grillz. Some of the Wu-Tang Clan’s members even had specially designed fang-like grillz crafted so that they could properly represent their legendary rap group’s infamous logo. Sometime in the 90s, the style seemed to fade, but it returned more noticeably than ever the form of gold and diamonds in the Southern rap circuit.
After Nelly’s smash hit “Grillz” they seem to grow even more popular. Other than the obvious contributors, Nelly, Paul Wall, Ali & Gipp, one man claims to have influenced the Grammy nominated collaboration: Johnny Dang. There may be some truth to this claim, though, as aside from the group of artists rapping and the girls dancing, TV Johnny is one of the few cameos in the video. He also appeared alongside Paul Wall on stage for the performance of the hit song on several occasions.
Johnny Dang is a name that some may have never heard, even at the height of the grillz phenomenon, or even now during its return. Most likely, it’s due to the fact that Johnny has always worked behind the scenes. Since his arrival to America from Vietnam, he immediately began work as a simple jeweler and watch repairer, working out of his car and at local flea markets. It was after he and Paul Wall began working together around the year 2000 that his business really took off. When “Grillz” was released, Johnny was selling over 400 grillz a day- each, with just one costing thousands of dollars.
In recent years, though, Johnny Dang’s name has become significantly more recognizable in the hip hop community. When he’s not fitting celebrities for their very first multi-thousand dollar grill, he’s up to some new kind of publicity stunt that will undoubtedly attract media from all sides of the spectrum. For example, during the 2014 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans, Johnny Dang and Paul Wall may have been watching their televisions screens a little more closely than the average viewer. In fact, they were probably paying closer attention to every detail of the game than the average gambler. The grill-creating duo promised anyone who bought a watch a week before the game a full refund on said watch should their team (consisting partly of James Harden and Dwight Howard) lose. In the end, the pair would have to refund around $200,000. That’s the price of only 37 high-priced and flashy watches. In the end, Johnny Dang said the publicity and amount of watches sold after the stunt would result in a net-gain for their business.
Refunding 200k over the course of a weekend could shut down many businesses, but Johnny’s business has come a long way over the years. He arrived in America in 1996, originally a native of Vietnam. Before collaborating with Paul Wall, he was selling jewelry at local flea markets. Afterwards, he began creating grills and designing custom jewelry for some of rap’s biggest stars. “They loved the work I did,” explains Johnny TV. “They gave me shout outs on their songs, which made me popular.” He’s also appeared in several music videos and on stage with some of his clients.
In 2012, Paul Wall and Johnny Dang Grillz had yet another publicity attempt make the news. After their success with Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte sporting their stars and stripes design in front of a global audience, they decided to go after another famous athlete: Kobe Bryant. The offer was for some free, customizable mouth bling, but it was conditional. To get the free Johnny Dang grill, Kobe Bryant had to lead Team USA’s men basketball team on to victory throughout the Olympics to eventually achieve the Gold. If Kobe was able to win the prize but wasn’t sure what sort of grill he wanted, Paul Wall already had some ideas in mind, “a gold one with purple stones in it,” he explained. “Purple and gold for the Lakers.”
Johnny Dang is not new to the spotlight, though. He and Paul Wall may have begun by creating grills out of the side of Paul’s car back in the late 90s, but now they service the most recognizable celebrities around. Whether you’re in the hip hop, athletic, or general high-life community, Johnny says he can get you what you need- and at a better price than most. Currently, they’ve sold the King James (Lebron) four grills. Kanye West has two sets, and T.I. spent $35,000 on his set. Lil Wayne is a rarity- he has a permanent set crafted specially to work around his previous teeth alignment procedures.
Even though TV Johnny grillz are generally produced for an all-star consumer base, he makes sure not to treat them any differently. Due to his own manufactory, knowledge of his products, and finding high quality materials at a low cost, he’s able to charge fair prices which keep his customers coming back. He says that while he knows some jewelers will charge twice the rate for a $30,000 piece of jewelry (only because they know that their customer is a star) he continually charges the 30k, no matter how big of a name the customer may be. “I treat them like they’re regular customers,” TV Johnny shares. “You shouldn’t charge someone more just because they’re famous.”
Johnny TV has the look and personality that stands out wherever he appears. Whether he’s on the red carpet next to some of America’s most well-known stars, or he’s acting as a hype-man in a dirty South rap video, his aesthetic is bold enough to stand out; yet, at the same time, he fits right in. He doesn’t restrain himself to only urban circles though, his jewelry and grillz are now in the hands (and mouths) of stars ranging from Nelly, Ryan Locthte, and even Paris Hilton. At the end of the day, it’s possibly his fair prices and dedication to the craft that keeps Johnny’s customers returning. Although, the jeweler to the stars has become such a popular figure in the flashiest of jewelry wearing circles, it may just be simply wrong for stars to get their grillz from anyone else.