GET FAMILIAR: EDDIE PLEIN
Eddie, I read in an interview somewhere that you got the idea for gold grills after breaking a tooth in Surinam?
Can you tell us the story behind breaking that tooth?
It was my first time going back to Surinam in 1983, after being in NY for 10 years. I went for all the goodies, the good Surinam dishes. I had a dish with Telo, fried cassave root and this small hard fish called Trie. I bit on one and broke my back tooth. When I got home my uncle and aunties was like “you have to go to the dentist.” There, I saw some moulds and I was like “WOW!”
This ad used to be in the paper every Monday and I’d see it: ‘Magna Dental Institute’. When I went in to that place and I saw that, it hit me right away, like: “You know what? I can go to that school right there. When I go back to the States that’s what Imma do.”
I still had to go back for my 4th year of college. I made it through 3 years. I was playing for the soccer team. We had a great 3rd season, so the 4th season was supposed to be the bomb. But for some reason it wasn’t… I don’t know what happened but I wound up just going to dental school.
So you dropped out of college? How long where you in dental school?
9-10 months. And I was able to get the certificate. Learn how to do the acrylic and some gold. You know, little things they do in dentistry, in that department. Certain people would go to dental school and become dentists. But I knew about golds because before [me being in] America, in Surinam every other person had at least two golds in their mouth. Those were all separate and permanents tho. No connected removable gold teeth.
How did you get the idea for removable fronts then?
You know, just messing with it. I wasn't going to file nobody's teeth because it wasn’t allowed. So I had to find a way to put it over the teeth without it being too thick. None of that. In New York they weren’t that up on permanents. You had a few people that did gold like that but nothing that you could take out.
So when those removable fronts came out, did that blow up?
Yeah, that was the best solution for not getting it permanently. Like you could put two-three together. It would stick like really tight, you'd be able to take it off and clean it.
And you would flip it for different seasons.
Was the technique something you learned in dental school?
Yeah, of course. I did so many fronts. Some people would have nice thick teeth, nooks and crannies. That was what was holding the teeth. You have to be able to go all the way from the bottom to where it ends. On top and around the back would give you the most grip.
My joints fit like a glove. That’s my motto.
So you started your first shop in Queens?
I was pondering Downtown Brooklyn, Albee Square Mall, but knew about the action in Queens after my years in junior college over there. So I decided to do it there. My first location in Queens was a pawn shop, which everybody knew. It was on 169th Street, Hillside. At first they were lukewarm about it. I was really in front of the store trying to attract people. But when the people started coming in they loved it. They didn’t mind me walking all the way to the back to set up shop. I brought in a lot of money.
After me and my business partner from Hillside parted ways, because of a falling out, I went to Holland to cool my head. Over there I even had a try-out for a soccer team. They showed interest and wanted me to stay for a couple of months to get my stamina up to see if they wanted me for the team. I thought about it for a day or two but was like: ‘nah fuck that, I’m going back.’
That’s when I decided I got to get my spot in the Colosseum. That’s where I met The Shirt Kings. People say we built the Colosseum. Mad people would come in for custom fronts, custom shirts and custom hats from this rasta cat named Tiffin.
You worked with all the legends from Flava Flav, to Just-Ice and Andre 3000. Can you pick your favourite rapper to rock gold fronts? Which one was the flyest?
The early days, 1980s New York, started with Flava Flav. I can still remember it was Christmas Eve when Flava came in to get teeth. This guy was standing on a table throwing jokes. Just killing the people in there with jokes. Flav had some good jokes too. I have fond memories of Flav.
One day I got a call from somebody saying he wanted to get some teeth but he was in the hospital. And I was like: “who’s that?” And he explained he was Kool G Rap. I didn’t really know who he was, but some guys in the shop were from Queens and they knew who he was… So we sent somebody to the hospital to get a mould. G Rap wanted to have five ginger bread men. I still remember. I didn’t know what the hell ginger bread-thing was all about! But if that’s what you want, you get it. Big Daddy Kane used to come through aswel.
Just Ice.. *Just-Ice voice* “Yo, Ed let me get these man.. I got a show to do. When I come back Imma take care of you man.”
The Just-Ice album cover Kool & Deadly, where you see the grill front and center.. It’s just based around the fronts. Do you think it helped?
Ow yeah! It was all over Manhattan. Even if you where in the car you would see it. Because they put like a 100 albumcovers next to each other. That was the way they advertised back then. The whole wall, you can’t miss it. And you probably look at it like, “what the hell is this!?”
That’s Just-Ice. I appreciate him.
Before the albumcover how did people hear about you?
Word of mouth. I was in the flyest borough, Queens. Brooklyn would’ve been harder, but Queens was really getting money. Somebody would go back to they block and people would be like “Damn where you get that? Who? Where?” You would have 5-6 people coming back. I didn’t have to do no advertising.
You started this phenomenon. And have seen grills going from gold to platinum to iced-out. What do you think of this development?
Well, I guess I started something that’s going ill around the world. I remember guys from Paris coming to me. And some people from overseas. I used to go to Holland. And I did put my cousins on and I did some moulds, sent back some teeth.
At a certain point, around ’92, you moved your business to Atlanta. Why?
I just guess that was the next step. I did New York from like ’84 till ’89. I just had my twins, they where born in ’87. And you know, I had bought a house in Long Island. But things changed or something, I kinda had to make a move. I left my brothers with my old shop. I just went for a different venture. I was trying some stuff in VA and Baltimore but wasn’t getting it like I wanted to. Tried Connecticut and stayed for a while. After that I went to Miami to my little brother who was and still is doin’ it down there: Lando Golds. After that a girl I knew from the A told me she was gonna pick me up in Miami to go and do it over in the ATL.
The first time I got to Atlanta I was like “Wow, this looks like the second coming.”
Everything happened the first two years.
At first they were like “it ain’t real” because it wasn’t permanents. So I was really trying to establish and all the while I kept hearing about Freaknik this, Freaknik that. I didn’t even know what it was, until it came around in April. It was people eeeeverywhere. It was mindboggling. I had cards, so I was handing out cards.
But I didn’t have my right machines to do fronts on the spot, because I had only been there for like 2-3 months. So I had to send the moulds to my little brother in Miami and he would send them back and I would clean ‘em up.
The whole weekend was crazy. After it all was done, I waited everyday for the next Freaknik. Which was a year later. I got my machines ready. We established. Next Freaknik, we getting it!
We used to be in Greenbriar Flea Market which used to close at 7. So when next Freaknik came we had to bribe security to leave us in the mall over time because we had to finish our customers.
The following year, I got me a different spot. The spot that was in the movie ATL. That was like 24/7
I used to have Freaknik peoples stay in there. We closed the gate, and was like “y’all can chill.”
Those were the years. The Freaknik years and the Jack The Rapper years also.
What was the craziest thing that you got requested?
In New York we used to do, hearts, stars, champagne glasses, Mercedes pieces. All on the teeth.
But in Atlanta it was all different. I didn’t have to do all this extravagant stuff, they were more about solids and the permanents. The stuff I did in New York, I didn’t even do in Atlanta.
But ofcourse I did crazy stuff in Atlanta tho. Every year we used to come up with new designs. The nugget-style fronts used to take up a whole lotta gold.
People sometimes didn’t know what to get. I used to do everything under the sun to make somebody happy, give them a different reaction. They came for that but got this. And then they go home and it was like “Shiiiiit, where’d you get that?!”
I remember early on in the the A we had same day service. You could get it back the same day. But then it started to get more and more busy and I’d be in there working till 1 in the morning. We had a pool table in the shop. And if you wanted to smoke something you could go behind the shop. The environment was super. People didn’t mind waiting, they were comfortable in the shop.
What is the piece you’re most proud of?
I got a few. On youtube I got a thing, “the illest grill ever made”. This guy brought me these giant diamonds. Two giant diamonds for the front and two for the side. Yeah, that piece was bananas.
We flipped that one for almost 24 teeth I believe. Top ’n bottom. All his teeth basically. Iced out.
What do you think is the allure of gold?
You know what. Good looking gold. I hate the jewellers, The jewellers really took advantage of the situation. The mail order gold. I kinda never really did that, but I had people send me. But the jewellers really did that, like, “you can send me the mould and I’ll do you the teeth.”
They would be making some real wack shit man, I’ve seen a lot of wack teeth. Especially when they’re like: “Oh you can get 10 carat, 14 carat.” Thats jewellery gold. That’s not supposed to be in your mouth, this thing got to be 18 and better. Especially permanents, permanents got to be 22. Because it supposed to stay to stay yellow. You’re not taking it out.
I guess it is a request of the kids. A lot of kids that requested, the parents didn’t want to pay the money. And they’re like “let’s get them that cheap gold.” And they kinda screw it up, but there is only one of me..
Why do you think we like to wear golds?
I made it a fashion statement. I have a saying: “I turn killers to ballers, and thugs to players.” People that used to come to me at first. I don’t know where the hell these guys came from. They might come from another city. I guess they’re the cream of the crop in their city.
But I know I got me a bunch of killers before. Really mean or whatever. And than they’d get the teeth and they can’t stop smiling!
It’s probably 12-1 ‘o clock by the time we’re finally done. So we’re going to the club, to advertise. You know, they just got their teeth so… you know this thing is gonna be lighting up in the dark like crazy!
Girls would act so nice and friendly. You start smiling and they’re all in your face like “can I see, can I see?” The guys were loving this shit. At first they look like they’re killers but now it’s like, they all smile. That’s definitely one of my sayings, ‘killers to ballers, and thugs to players”. A lot of guys got crazy attention, and they loved it.
You’ve mentioned soccer a lot and I see you rocking the jersey. Can you tell me a little more about your passion for the sport?
I was born in the greatest year of the century. I mean: Brasil with Pelé at 17 years old, won the World Cup for the first time, in Sweden in 1958. That’s my childhood. All we did was run around playin’ ball. That was our thing. In 1966 they got knocked off. They fucked Pelé up!
When I got here I didn’t really get to see soccer games like that. I remember seeing the Argentina game at Madison Square Garden in 1978. Peeps over here weren’t into soccer. I remember when I was about to go to New York my friends in Surinam were like ‘Hey Eddie, let me get your kicks, cause their ain’t no soccer in America my dude!’
So there wasn’t much going on over here till Pele came to the Cosmos. It was a big thing for a few years. Then Neeskens came, Rijsbergen came. Cruijff was supposed to come but the deal didn’t go through. That one Cosmos team had nothin’ but sick legends. Carlos Alberto, Beckenbauer. We used to work in the Pelé soccer camps. The Cosmos soccer camps for two or three summers.
This was before the gold teeth. I was all about ball, ball, ball. Tryna get in the Cosmos.
Why is Surinam so unknown in the world?
They're a small country. I was the guy that supposed to put Su in the World Cup, but I left. I left Surinam at 14. So I was just getting ready to do damage, but we came to America so..
Did you grow up in the city?
Yeah, I’m from Paramaribo. And I was too young to travel far. My parents are from Nickerie and I went there once, but I’m really a city guy.
Can you tell me a little bit more about Surinam?
Surinam? O damn, my country.. I breathe Surinam everyday. I been here for 40-something years. But Surinam is like in my blood, my club team, the colours, it’s in my blood. I rep Su all day, everyday. You know Surinam is a small country. I try to put them on the map as much as I can.
I got a star from the president. I forget what it’s called, a ‘ridder in de orde van…’ if I’m correct. They awarded me for really repping Surinam and making my name up here in the US with the gold. Because I rep Surinam a lot. Rock the color scheme every day. The music too. I remember back in the A, I got up on Surinam music by people like Ai Sa Si. Dammnnn they were jammin’ man!
Do you go back often?
I used to go a lot. Until the last unbelievable 20 years. The last time I was there was ’98. The last two times I went back I went to bury my grandmothers. That was the last two times. I went to Holland and lost my passport. Bush became president. And then 9/11 happened... And during his first year, I remember being in Atlanta, 9/11 happened and things where just getting more wack, crazy ’n shit. I remember one time it seemed like Europeans were hating americans. And I was like “I aint telling these people I’m American.” Shit was crazy in the world. I’m glad I did what I already did, I can reminisce. But right now I just take it easy, I take it cool.
You're mentioned in quite a few rap songs. What is your favourite one?
The Queens Day one is fly. The one by 50 Cent is also fly, maybe two of 50 Cent. Nas, when he came back he said something like “I’m in a rental, rocking that Eddie gold dental”.
What do you hope your legacy is?
My legacy? Well, I am credited with starting the grill, I’m in the history books like that. Really, I’m just taking care of my dad. Kick my ball around. I’m happy to do that. I was the one to pioneer the gold for my whole family. I guess my mom called me at the right time to come home to NY, and I was ready to leave wherever I was at. I think I kinda make my mark. I would say I’m a legend, hall of fame in New York in the 80s, hall of fame in the south in the 90s. That’s double.