Written by Steven Le
Many famous rappers and pop culture icons can always be seen sporting their most eloquent, decadent pieces of jewelry. From the likes of Snoop Dogg and Travis Scott to Jeff Goldblum, you can see grills, rings, watches, the works, all studded in gold and diamonds; and the man icing out these icons is none other than Vietnamese-born Johnny Dang, the King of Bling.
Johnny Dang, born Thanh Dang, was born in the Đắk Lắk Province of Vietnam towards the end of the Vietnam War. He lived without electricity or clean water in his village. It was in 1996 when Dang would make his move to Houston, Texas, and begin his work in jewelry repair at a local flea market. Dang only had $500 to live off of for six months when he first came to the United States. In an interview with VICE, he said that he initially didn’t get a job for jewelry repair in the flea market, as the manager said he had no experience. So, Dang rented the space right above him as direct competition.
Dang didn’t build his brand with rappers on purpose, but by chance. The catalyst to Dang’s future success was when he met Houston-based rapper Paul Wall. The rapper was most impressed with Dang’s grills, and the pair went into business in 2002. With Wall’s help, Dang’s popularity skyrocketed, especially after helping to pioneer the trend of diamond grills. Paul Wall was an instrumental part of Dang’s success, helping him communicate with more and more artists to build his brand.
Now, Johnny Dang himself is a pop culture icon. He’s had cameos in music videos and songs from Migos, Nelly, Trippie Redd, DaBaby, and Beyonce just to name a few. It was Dang’s work ethic and skill that brought him to this level of popularity. “I feel very blessed, you know, and cool. So you know I’ve been working so hard to build my name strong enough, like a brand name”.
Johnny Dang represents in the media what many Asian individuals live for: the American Dream. Dang says that it’s a dream come true that he, a little Asian boy from Vietnam, can be where he is now. He proudly represents and establishes an Asian presence in pop culture. Even now, he is humble and hard-working, constantly wanting to improve himself and his brand. It was his determination and work ethic that brought him from his 450 square foot repair store to his solid brand name that many in the rap community are loyal to. From poverty to the King of Bling, Johnny Dang is the symbol of the Asian-American dream.
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For the 2020-21 season, REACH will be releasing a new blog post written by our officers during the first and third Wednesdays of each month about different aspects of Asian culture, such as pop culture, conflicts faced, representation in media, history, celebration and holidays, and stereotypes. We hope you enjoy reading them!