Ben Baller, the man behind Icee Fresh & Co., a high-end jewelry outfit that specializes in classy bling, may have been raised in the Koreatown section of south central Los Angeles, but he was born in hip-hop. “I’ve been around hip-hop since the late ’70s,” Baller explains. “I got to see it in every single aspect. I was a b-boy, and I was a label exec. I’ve deejayed everywhere, and I have over 20 platinum records.” Baller became a fixture in the music business, serving as an executive at Priority Records, launching Aftermath Entertainment with Dr. Dre, and lighting up the turntables for punk metal pundits Snot.
In 2004, he made the jump from platinum records to diamond chains, launching Icee Fresh with his cousin and uncle. “My family’s been making jewelry for 35 years. They knew what they were doing in terms of craftsmanship, but I came in with a whole new twist.” That twist was to land their iced-out pieces around the necks of music’s biggest stars. “Inside those first three months, I booked The Game, Mariah Carey, Fat Joe, and Nas. Hip-hop and pop’s elite were wearing our pieces. Then I took it to the next level: Paris Hilton, Tom Cruise, and Nicole Richie. I wanted to cover all angles.”
Baller’s ink covers his journey from b-boy to jewelry innovator. “My tattoos are a ghetto timeline of my life,” he explains. “I can relate any tattoo on my arm to what I was doing at that time. Some of the tattoos remind me of bad shit, and some of them remind me of good. All of that shit had to happen. I learned from everything.” Most of Baller’s tattoos come courtesy of some legendary talent—Mister Cartoon, Mark Mahoney, and Tom Tilden. “Those guys respect the artistry,” he says. “I love the black and gray that Mister Cartoon does. He captures the gangster lifestyle, and his artwork has that gangster touch. He’s done 75 percent of my tattoos.”
On his arm, Baller has two praying hands holding a rosary. Below the hands are the words “Forgive Me.” That tattoo says it all for him. “I got hurt in a really bad motorcycle accident. My arms were all fucked up and I had a pin in my knee, but the only thing I cared about was making sure that tattoo got touched up. That phrase is me because I fuck up so much,” he laughs.
Next up is a back piece featuring the Sacred Mother. “I’m not the most religious person in the world, but she represents what’s holier than holy. I want to have a banner on the bottom with a scroll that says ‘SoCal Hooligan,’ and some angels as well. I want to have a street scene going on. The Mother Mary is going to have an Icee Fresh piece on too.” Of course.