As early as the 1980s, rappers in New York and other parts of the Northeast started bringing grillz to the forefront of the aesthetic culture that came with hip hop. Their popularity would rise and fall, but they eventually came back in full force with the emergence of Southern hip hop influence on American rap. Although artists like Kool G Rap and Method Man had worn grillz in the past, new Southern acts brought them to the forefront of hip hop like never before. Now they’re for everyone. Tyga, La Flame, even Kanye West has been spotted wearing a grill once or twice. The man attributed to the most recent, long-lasting, and culture-impacting rise of this phenomenon is the legendary Southern rap icon, multi-platinum musician, and entrepreneur- Paul Wall.
Though he began as a mass communications major (with a concentration in music) at the University of Houston, he eventually branched out into a new realm, and it wasn’t long after that Paul Slayton (aka “Paul Wall”) would become something akin to a household name. Though he obviously achieved his fame and critical acclaim though his music, he is now arguably better known as a celebrity personality and entrepreneur. Even years before he went into business with Johnny Dang, he was personally invested through his company Grillz by Paul Wall.
In 2007, he was featured on Nelly’s certified Platinum Grammy nominated hit “Grillz.” The song is about grillz (obviously) and about just how lively they’ll cause your social life, persona, and mouth to become. The entire song encapsulates what rappers and their fans believe to be the pinnacle of success, but in this context Paul sums it up best in one line. “I got the wrist wear and neck wear that’s captivating, but it’s what smile that’s got these onlookers spectating” Although everything about Wall’s persona is noticeable, it’s his diamond grillz that are unforgettable.
Although Paul came up through the rap game, he began considering it more of a promotional tool once he broke into other industries. When asked about his grillz business and how it pertained to the hit song he replied “’Grillz’ was a straight commercial for us [laughs]. That’s why I love Nelly, man. That’s how it was; it was a commercial for us. And that’s how it is now too…” He continued explaining how his music is his method of getting the word out for his various investments. “[My music] gives me an opportunity to be here talking to you. Otherwise, I might not be in New York. But I’m here and I’m talking to you, and we’re talking about grillz. It’s a way to put a spotlight on all the products I’m down with, that I endorse or that I own. The music is definitely a big part of that.”
More recently, Paul Wall has broken into the grillz industry in a new, major way thanks to his friend and business partner—Johnny Dang. Johnny Dang is a long-time jeweler who not only credits himself for popularizing grillz altogether, but also for influencing Nelly’s hit song on the diamond-encrusted mouth pieces. Together, they supply these gold fronts to an audience composed of individuals from many walks of life- with a special emphasis, of course, on the hip hop community. On October 22nd, 2016, Johnny Dang & Co. Opened their fine custom jewelry store located in the heart of Southern hip hop: Houston, Texas. Johnny Dang & Co. say they are focused on providing fine custom jewelry designs and services with the highest levels of customer satisfaction.
Paul Wall recently took on the construction of P. Diddy’s personalized grill as a project, which ended up being a much larger endeavor than he bargained for. It was his first grill, so he had next to no idea of what he actually wanted. When he finally found a type of style that he liked, Wall says that he asked him to create 15 different versions of what was essentially the exact same grill. He figured if he was able to look at all of them side by side he could pick out his favorite easily enough. After they had created 15 different kinds of the same grill, P. Diddy purchased them all. Later Paul said, “I really had to ask him twice if he really wanted them all and he told me straight up, ‘like Burger King – gotta have it my way, baby.’”
The outreach in which Paul Wall finds himself extends far beyond the average makeup of hip hop circles, though. Ryan Lochte (whose name has been in the news often recently) is the American Olympic swimmer who also uses the Paul Wall and Johnny Dang team as his grill provider. After the 400-meter Individual Medley in London, Lochte made a public appearance sporting a custom red, white, and blue diamond-encrusted American Flag mouthpiece—one of the Paul Wall grillz he designed himself. “For those who don’t know what a grill is, it’s basically retainer filled with diamonds,” explained Lochte. “I wear it when I go on the podium. It’s just a unique way of showing personality out to everyone.” Paul says that the design cost $25,000, and that Lochte’s most recently requested grill was over $1,000 for per tooth.
Perhaps at first Paul Wall was simply a cultural figure in the world of grillz, a face and name to go with a returning fad. As more and more celebrities adopt the grill craze, it becomes more difficult to see it leaving. Paul Wall has provided grillz to Meek Mill, Chris Brown, 2 Chainz, B.o.B. and even Ludacris. Perhaps most of what you hear in the hit song “Grillz” is meant to be taken in a fun or joking manner; for example, when Paul Wall refers to his diamond grillz and says he has so much “ice” in his mouth that one deep breath could cause a cold front. Over the years, though, perhaps listeners have learned to take his lyrics more seriously. One of the last lines in this song has become almost prophetic with its literalness, as the self-proclaimed king of the parking lot raps “my teeth are mind blowing giving everybody chills. Call me George Foreman cause I’m selling everybody grillz.”