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Grillz for your mouth, not for your food

by Lee Adams

Grills. They’re the all-new way to get crunk in the hip-hop culture.

No, rappers aren’t barbecuing more. This grill is in the mouth; a new way to flash a smile.

Rapper Mike Jones has got one. Nelly has got one, Denver Broncos running back Tatum Bell has one. Perhaps it’s rapper Paul Wall who’s known best for it ‘— his ‘ice,’ his ‘bling,’ his ‘fronts.’ The glaring rows of platinum encrusted with diamonds that run along his top and bottom teeth. He sings about it in Nelly’s new song ‘“Grillz’”:

What it do baby

It’s the iceman Paul Wall

I got my mouth lookin’ somethin’ like a disco ball

I got the diamonds and the ice all hand set

I might cause a cold front if I take a deep breath

My teeth gleaming like I’m chewin’ on aluminum foil

Smilin’ showin’ off my diamonds sippin’ on some poten’ oil

I put my money where my mouth is and bought a grill.

Custom-made jewelry for the mouth in yellow gold, white gold, rose gold and platinum. Etched with letters, symbols, pictures; set with diamonds, rubies, emeralds or other gems.

Nelly sings:

Got 30 down at the bottom, 30 mo’ at the top

All invisible set in little ice cube blocks

If I could call it a drink, call it a smile on the rocks

If I could call out a price, let’s say I call out a lot

I got like platinum and white gold, traditional gold

I’m changin’ grills e’ry day, like Jay change clothes

I might be grilled out nicely (oh) In my white tee (oh)

Or on South Beach (oh) in my wife B

V V and studded you can tell when they cut it

Ya see my grandmama hate it, but my li’l mama love it.

They’re becoming popular in Greensboro, too, and 26-year-old Armand Swain is helping make that happen.

The December graduate of NC A&T University came to Greensboro from Jacksonville to study economics and decided to stay here to open up his business. He grew up listening to hip hop and was immersed in the culture back in his hometown.

While studying at A&T he and a fellow student entered the Ford National Historical Black Colleges and Universities Business Writing Plan Competition and won a scholarship totaling more than $20,000 for themselves and their school. Swain had to present his plan in Washington, DC before a panel that included names like Magic Johnson, Earl Graves Jr. and George Frazier.

Since getting some financial backing Swain has decided to make his home in Greensboro, has found office space and has put his business plan into action. He calls himself Mr. Grillz, and in his first two weeks of business he’s already fitted four customers.

One of those customers is Rodney McLaughlin.

‘“More [or] less [it] is a classic look for me,’” he says, sporting a10-karat gold grill that set him back about $300. He’s gotten lots of compliments, he says and is now considering a platinum set with pink diamonds.

‘“I’m goin’ all out,’” he says. ‘“It’s tax time.’”

McLaughlin is also planning to reward his kids with grills of their own. They’re down to earth and knowledgeable, he says, and have worked hard to make good grades.

‘“Me, I finished school, but’….’” He doesn’t finish the sentence.

A set of fronts can run you anywhere from $180 up to $3,000, and can be as simple as a set of gold overlays or as sexy as you like.

Swain starts by taking a mold of the customer’s teeth, much like a dentist would. Then he sends the mold to his jeweler who makes the finished product just as Swain describes. If a customer doesn’t see anything they like in Swain’s catalogue, then he can design any style you can come up with. The finished product is usually ready in about a week.

Swain says that though he’s not the only one to offer fronts in the area he is the only one that does the mold himself, a process that is tedious and precise. Many jewelers and online companies supply a mold kit for customers to use themselves, but that can be a risky undertaking, Swain says, especially when there’s so much money involved.

Swain says he hopes to become a nationally recognized brand, selling to celebrities in entertainment and athletics. But the money isn’t the only reason Swain decided to go into this market and in this area.

‘“As an African American it’s important to stay in the community and give back,’” Swain says. He hopes youngsters will see they, too, can become successful in business doing something they love.

To comment on this story, e-mail Lee Adams at lee@yesweekly.com.

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