From RUN DMC’s ‘My Adidas’ in 1986, to Mac Miller’s ‘Nikes on my feet’ in 2010, Hip Hop and sneakers have always been very closely affiliated; songs purely based on sneakers have been around since Hip Hop’s birth. To me, the link between Hip Hop and Sneakers is one of great significance. Hip Hop is what really introduced me to my second greatest interest (being sneakers, behind hip hop) and the countless number of sneaker references in hip hop can’t simply be ignored. Sneakers are revered and put on pedestals as well as feet by many rappers both past and present.
A love of sneakers isn’t the only thing that makes rappers decide what to put on their feet on a morning. The economic truth is that endorsements and contracts often override personal opinions, particularly in recent years. Kanye West caused controversy in both the sneaker and hip-hop world by leaving Nike for Adidas; many believe this was due to Kanye demanding more money from his endorsement- he himself stated ‘I need royalties.’ This is not only controversial (given that Nike and Adidas are huge competitors), but it is also a shame given that Nike and Kanye’s creation the ‘Air Yeezy’ is one of the most sought after pair of sneakers of all time. Resale on them can be seen to be an astronomical 1000% above retail (£225 in the UK) in many instances because the demand for them is just unbelievably high.
However amidst all the criticisms, there is an indubitable connection between sneakers and hip hop (Almost every rapper to have held a mic has at least one reference to sneakers in their work – if not a song dedicated then a verse, if not a verse then a rhyme, if not a rhyme then a freshly minted pair in the video). Although it could be argued that the love of money has overtaken the love of sneakers in artists in recent years, this isn’t the case for many artists who would spend their last dollars, and in some cases even risk criminal offences, to obtain the latest sneakers before their rise to fame.
Nas is possibly one of the greatest rappers to ever grace the face of the earth, and he has just opened a sneaker store in Las Vegas named “12AM RUN”. Even from Nas’ earliest days before he had money from rapping, his tracks were plagued with sneaker lyrics, and even claimed himself to be “an addict for sneakers” on ‘New York State of Mind’. In an interview with complex.com, Nas explained how his vast collection needs a separate house. Jay –Z (one of the most commercially successful rappers of all time) made a groundbreaking partnership with Reebok in 2003 when they teamed up to create the “Reebok S. Carter”, becoming the first non-athlete to land a shoe deal with an athletic sneaker company. This paved the way for many more rappers to do so including 50-cent with the Reebok G-unit, and Lil Wayne with the Supra Chimera. Another rapper, Ludacris, even claims to own every single pair of Nike Air Jordans ever made. This is another example of love for sneakers overriding the love of money as Ludacris is not sponsored by Nike or Jordan so does not get paid to wear them, yet by acquiring the funds through a rap career, he is now able to pursue his collection which breaches hundreds of pairs.
Sneakers are a topic that goes beyond just the lyrics of rap; rather it could be argued that they provide a metaphor which reflects what rap allows. Growing up many rappers barely had money to put the cheapest of shoes on their feet but now being able to £2000 shoes on their feet is symbolic of what has become – not a statement of vanity and narcissism as many critics would claim but rather a symbol of aspiration and achievement.
Check out some of the best references to the sneaker below.
Words by Ben Freeman
Twitter/Instagram: Follow @benfreeman
RUN DMC – My Adidas. RUN DMC are unquestionably pioneers of Hip hop. Like you’d expect from any track by the trio, My Adidas is packed full of passion and slick rhymes over a killer beat. If you can listen to this track from start to finish without wanting to rap along at the top of your voice whilst rocking your head backwards and forwards, you have more will power than me that’s for sure!
Nelly – stompin in my Air Force Ones. The air force ones are the unofficial sneakers of B boys and girls across the world. They’re arguably one of the most timeless pairs Nike ever released – they’re a classic, no doubt. Nelly has an extensive knowledge in how to make tracks that will get everyone on their feet, singing along. It would appear that he also has an extensive knowledge in the air force one.
Raekwon – sneakers. Unlike the previous 2 mentioned, this song isn’t focused on a single particular brand of sneakers but rather it highlights the Wu-Tang member’s universal love of sneakers. With an unmatchable flow and sneaker reference samples from the likes of Nas and Mobb Deep injected in the chorus, this track had to get a mention.
Macklemore – Wing$. This song is dissimilar to all others aforementioned given that it addresses the underlying issues that many face in a quest for self identification via means of consumerism and narcissism. The track itself seems to acknowledge the love many have for sneakers including the writer; however it is apparent that Macklemore is against the indoctrination of the buyers in order for Nike to achieve their capitalistic desires. Although it may seem like just a sneaker song, when deciphered it really is more than that. It’s unique. ‘Wing$’ is one of the first songs that I heard that so directly combats a really quite prominent issue in the industry – and I love it.