During the 50 years since hip-hop was born, there have been more kicks in the game than a baby in a mother’s stomach. Take a brief look at the sneakers that have impacted the soundtrack to our lives.
1970s: PUMA Suede
The Suede formed its first relationship with hip-hop as a breakdancing sneaker. Breakdancing was created when DJ Kool Herc—widely considered the creator of hip-hop—elongated his instrumentals allowing for people to dance longer. Breakdancing, and the PUMA Suede, took over the Bronx scene. The 1984 movie Beat Street featured the B-Boy groups Rock Steady Crew and the New York City Breakers, where they could be seen breakdancing in the beloved silhouette. The film gave the PUMA Suede a global audience that forever associated the shoe with hip-hop culture.
1980s: Nike Cortez
N.W.A. was one of the most internationally known rap groups of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Despite their rather short stint, the group wore some extremely memorable footwear, most notably the Nike Cortez, which was and still is a West Coast staple. The members of N.W.A., in particular Eazy-E, were often spotted wearing the timeless silhouette since the release of their debut album N.W.A. and the Posse. The Cortez was one of the first Nike models produced and served as the foundation for many of their subsequent styles.
Air Jordan I
LL Cool J has his own extensive sneaker history to coincide with his nearly 30-year rap career. From Jordans to Reeboks to Filas, he rocked a ton. LL graced the back of his debut album Radio in the original Jordan I ’85 “Bred.”
Tupac Shakur provided Fila with a timeless sneaker moment when he wore the Fila Grant Hill 2 on the inner album sleeve of his critically acclaimed album All Eyez on Me. Seated next to his Jaguar XK and between the picturesque California palm trees, Pac sported the same Hill 2s that Grant was rocking on his way to four consecutive All-Star appearances.
According to Grant himself, he gave Pac the very pair seen in the picture and was shocked to see that he actually wore them.
One shoe that is synonymous with the Wu-Tang Clan is the Clarks Wallabee. Originally released in 1967, the Wallabee has been a staple in the hip-hop scene since the ’80s but did not hit the peak of its notoriety until it was co-signed by the Staten Island group. Another shoe that created instant bedlam was the “Wu-Tang” Nike Dunk Hi, released in 1999. The Wu-Tang symbol on the lateral ankle made the Dunks a collector’s item with a resale value in the many thousands.
As one of the most notorious New York rappers to ever do it, Nas had a responsibility to come correct with the best kicks at all times and was often seen in the Nike Air Force 1, a New York staple. In his song “Halftime” from his 1994 debut album Illmatic, Nas raps “And I’m a Nike head/I wear chains that excite the feds.”
2000s: Nike Air Force 1
While the ’90s were dominated by Jordans and Nike Air Maxes, the Air Force 1 had a serious resurgence within the hip-hop community during the ’00s. Nelly is widely regarded as the king of the Air Force 1, largely due to his hit (yeah, you guessed it) “Air Force Ones.” Jay-Z was granted two pairs of Air Force 1s, one for his record label, Roc-A-Fella, and the other for the release of The Black Album. The rap group Terror Squad was also gifted with an Air Force 1 that was made exclusively for the boys from the Bronx.
Synonymous with the early 2000s, The Bapesta was the first shoe created by Japanese designer Nigo and his brand, A Bathing Ape (Bape for short). Bapes were one of the hottest and most worn brands among rappers due to many of them having a personal relationship with Nigo. Pharrell Williams, a close friend of the designer, received three colorways of his own Bape Roadsta while Kanye West received a Bapesta inspired by his album The College Dropout. Soulja Boy dropped a song, “Bapes,” about his love of the sneaker.
Reebok: G-Unit and S. Carter
During the early 2000s, Reebok reclaimed the hip-hop scene with some memorable projects, partnering with rappers to release the S. Carter and G-Unit G-6 in 2003. They also collaborated with Pharrell Williams in 2004 to launch a skateboarding sneaker, The Reebok Flavour, under his line ICECREAM, a subsidiary of his brand Billionaire Boys Club.
2010s: Travis Scott
If you use resale value and the media frenzy surrounding sneakers as a measurement of success, then Travis Scott has likely had the most successful collaborative sneaker releases ever. Nearly every Travis Scott Jordan has sold out in mere seconds and has an outrageous resale value that has only continued to ascend. His Air Jordan Is in particular, both lows and highs, have been among the most popular sneakers of the last 20 years and worn by almost every athlete and celebrity imaginable. Nike granted Travis unprecedented freedoms like manipulating the Nike Swoosh and inserting pockets into sock liners.
Starting in 2015, Drake and his brand OVO partnered with Jordan and released white and black pairs of Air Jordan Xs, XIIs and VIIIs. Most recently, OVO and Jordan produced an Air Jordan IV outfitted in the Toronto Raptors team colors. There are countless OVO PEs and samples, like the OVO Air Jordan XI with snakeskin replacing the patent leather and the “Charles Oakley” Air Jordan VIII that Jordan used to conjure a buzz around the released pairs. Drake also had two pairs of Air Jordan VIIIs made dedicated to Kentucky’s basketball coach John Calipari.
An entire issue dedicated to sneakers. Get your copy of KICKS 26.
Photos via Getty Images.