Going back to the early days of KRS-One, Rakim and Slick Rick, when an artist wanted to make a fashion statement, the most common way of doing so was through his or her jewelry selection. To this day, we’re continuing to witness artists make their presence felt by what jewelry they choose to wear at concerts, parties and red carpet events. Someone who is very familiar with both jewelry and hip-hop is the co-founder of King Ice, Derek Belay. The Los Angeles-based jewelry company is making a name for itself based on its collaborations with top artists like Game, Wiz Khalifa, Tyler, the Creator and more, creating affordable pieces based on the designs of some of hip-hop's biggest names and providing all the ice needed for video shoots like Katy Perry and Juicy J's "Dark Horse."

XXL spoke with Bwlay about the origins of King Ice, meeting Snoop Dogg at a mansion party in Beverly Hills and King Ice becoming a top-selling brand on Karmaloop.—Jeffrey Whaley


XXL: When did King Ice get its start?
Derek Bwlay: It started back in 2007. My business partner and I both saw an opportunity in the market to sell jewelry related to hip-hop culture because we both had a connection with the genre. We then came up with the name King Ice. The name became something organic for us. King represents being a leader in this industry.

What separates King Ice from other jewelry brands?
The thing about our brand is we’re very creative and experimental. We believe in trying different things. In the past, we’ve thrown skateboard and rap contest as well as sponsored different skaters and rappers. We’ve given out $10,000 dollars over the last three years at these contests. I think we’re just an authentic brand. There’s no major brand like ours selling these type of products. You got guys like Ben Baller out there but you don’t really have a company like ours doing it like this.

How many people are involved in the company?
It’s two of us that founded King Ice but there are about 13 people in the company that do various things. Basically, it was my business partner and I who came up with the idea and we’ve grown the brand over time. We met in college as a result of hanging out in the same circles and then became roommates. At first, we were selling African art, but that didn’t work for us. Once we found out there was a jewelry market in L.A., we both decided to quit our jobs to start selling jewelry full time.

Who are some celebrities you guys have worked with in the past?
In the past, we’ve worked with Snoop, Game, Wiz Khalifa and even Mike Tyson. We also worked with different stylists because we supply jewelry for the artists' music videos. In the Katy Perry music video for "Dark Horse," all the jewelry you see was supplied by us, including the Allah Pendant which caused a lot controversy in the media. We also worked with Tyler, the Creator, Pusha T and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. We would love to connect with Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Future and Childish Gambino in the future if we’re lucky.

How did the process of working with so many different artists begin for you guys?
We started with this one guy named Slim The Mobster, and he invited us to a mansion in Beverly Hills. When we arrived, we met Game, who happened to be there. Once we became cool with him, Game started inviting us to parties, and one night at this particular party, we saw Snoop on stage surrounded by security. We wanted to meet Snoop, so we told his security this jewelry we brought was for him and they let us pass. Snoop took a liking to us and he started inviting my business partner and I to studio sessions and parties to hang out. From there, we just started meeting different people and other celebrities.


Did you guys always carry jewelry just in case y'all would bump into other artists?
Yes. When heading out to clubs, we take with us big bags of jewelry and our own camera equipment. When we arrived, they sometimes would just let us in because they thought we were a part of the media crew or staff. You have to be prepared for anything at all times, because you never know who you’re going to meet along the way.

What would you say is the most popular piece that boosted the brand and brought it to where it is today?
It’s definitely a combination of stuff. I think when the Cuban Links started coming out again, we were ahead of that. The Pharaoh and Jesus pieces were major for us as well. To grow as a brand, we understood it’s about having the right quality, colors and to be ahead of the trends. It’s hard to say it was one piece, because it’s about having the right collection. In the future, we have stuff like the Cuban flooded with the skulls in it, skateboard pieces, and we also have a Thor’s Hammer in the works. The Thor’s Hammer is crazy, and we already have samples of that in the office.

The Thor’s Hammer piece sounds like a game changer.
Yeah, man. It’s about having fun and being creative. That’s hip-hop.

Hip-hop is a forever changing genre and it’s completely normal for trends to die out. Do you think jewelry will always be relevant in hip-hop and how would you continue to progress as a brand if there was a shift in the culture?
If you look back in hip-hop, they were rocking those rope chains and big jewelry. Now things have become smaller. It’s just an expressive culture, and I don’t see jewelry going away, but I do see it changing forms. If people don’t want a certain color or style anymore, then we just have to adapt. People like to accessorize, so I don’t see it going away. It’s all about keeping up with the times and adapting to those changes.

What can we expect in the future from King Ice?
We definitely want to continuing to create original designs and wholesale them by having our products in stores like DTLR on the East Coast. It’s really about growing the brand further. In the past, we’ve gone to Agenda trade shows in Las Vegas as well as the previous one in Atlanta, and will be at the one in New York. On Karmaloop, we’re a top-25-selling brand competing with apparel. In jewelry, we’re about top 3. We just want to continue to grow the brand by bringing traffic to our site and supplying our customers with quality products.

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