When Bathing Ape’s Nigo (infamous for attention to detail and exclusivity) teamed up with Pharrell Williams (a snappy dresser amid hordes of hip-hoppers in cheap loose denim and oversized tees) to create their own line of kicks, the results would be something special, right? Hmmmm.
Well, if what appeared to be a Stan Smith customised by Liberace was your cup of tea, you hastily scraped together 200 bucks! Naturally, the release led to another now-ubiquitous hip hop accessory: the lawsuit. Regardless, the resulting shoe was the perfect embodiment, for better or worse, of the current state of popular hip hop culture: polished, generic and costly.
Given the close ties between Hip Hop and sneakers (some naïve souls might label them the fifth element of this beautiful culture) like the Biz Safari connection, Eazy E in Jordan 3s, The Ultramagnetics’ name-checking Troop, iconic fat-laced Pumas…and some rock boxing kids from Queens (more on that later), collaborations are an inevitability. So how come the hit/miss ratio on these kicks is becoming increasingly unbalanced?
Firstly, kudos to the Dassler corporation for keeping it real. adidas hit it on the head with their Run DMC endorsement. The Ultrastar, Eldorado and Broughams that followed were classic kicks that captured the moment and still look fresh 18 years on, with items tailored for the group and its followers rather than forced product placement. Definitely shrewd marketing from all concerned.
On Jam Master Jay’s passing, the limited edition JMJ Superstar seemed an equally tasteful tribute, repeated with the recent charity Bad Boy, Rocafella, Run DMC and the Missy shells. Even the afore-mentioned Miss Supadupafly’s adidas RespectME range accurately reflected her fetish for garish old school imagery. While Russell Simmons’ Phat Farm label recently placed Rev Run in charge of their sports footwear division, the end product looks suspiciously shelltoed, and minus the three stripes, it just isn’t on par.
Nike’s ultra-limited Wu Tang Dunk in relevant ‘killa bee’ colours remains a perennial holy grail, and the Rocafella Air Force 1 seems entirely appropriate, yet their artist series has yielded surprisingly shoddy results. Nelly’s ‘Air Derrty’ CB2 looks like salerack fodder, and the ‘Shady’ Air Burst took the appearance of a particularly uninspired visit to Nike’s iD site. By comparison, the N*E*R*D Dunk looks pretty revolutionary. But, as these shoes were sold for charity, who am I to criticise? Shifting from the big guns for a minute, Rocafella’s State Property Pro Keds were more interesting than most, given the true old school legacy of the Court King, but they hardly flew off the shelves. And just to prove the South is still ‘bout it bout it’, Master P’s P Miller range unleashed some remarkably nondescript kicks with playalistic monikers like ‘Da Loot’. Check ‘em on the shelves of your local TK Maxx (or similar jumble sale megastore) in the near future. Seeing as fellow Down Souther Baby (of Cash Money Records) always seemed like a white AF1 enthusiast in publicity, he cunningly took the opportunity to design ‘The Birdman’ for Lugz in the style of a particularly cheap looking version of that very shoe. And the Doggfather’s Pony range of ‘Doggie Biscuitz’ are merely custom plimsolls thrown together in a chronic-induced moment of business savvy.
Reebok is hardly a stranger to Hip Hop Culture (“I’m like the peacock on NBC/ Nuttin But Cock, I pump, puuuuuuump pump it up yo/like a Reebok”), but until recently, rookies in a Swoosh and Trefoil dominated game. That is, until the Gucci throwback of Jay-Z’s S Carter collection made a 2003 appearance, followed closely by a particularly bland tennis variation and the slurring sensation, 50 Cent’s G-Unit range. Despite looking like some unholy union between a Pro Ked and a Rod Laver, the generic nature of this shoe was usurped by the G-Unit XT, which looks more than a little like an eBay AJIV bootleg, bringing us neatly to the Reebok/Pharrell/Nigo ‘Ice Cream’ range…
Kudos to RBK for green lighting the creation of “all-new” shoes for their artist series rather than merely authorising rehashed colourways of existing kicks, but would the artists be wearing these things if they weren’t turning a profit? How about collabos that actually reflect the act? MC Eiht Chuck Taylors? A Jadakiss Air Max/Timberland hybrid? Vegan moccasins for Common Sense? Ghostface Mink Wallabies? Maybe I’m reacting too viciously against the Nigo collab. Lest we forget, the Supreme Dunk Hi’s were slow burners. With this in mind, is the ‘Ice Cream’ a future cult classic, or an LA Gear MJ for the new millennium? We’ll let the victims of fashion decide.