August 30, 2017
Loyalty: A History of Kendrick Lamar and Nike
Kendrick Lamar has just switched teams from Reebok to Nike. Now, before you go questioning the ‘Loyalty’ rapper’s devotion, consider LeBron James for a second. He did great things with the Miami Heat. But despite winning a championship and bringing awareness to the team, his home has always been with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The same can be said for K. Dot and the ‘Bok. The two made a good pair (and even better pairs of sneakers) but – to borrow from the Cortez tagline – Kendrick has been a Nike man ‘since day one.’
Kendrick Lamar’s Nike story started in his hometown of Compton with the Cortez. The sneaker has been a community icon since the N.W.A days, and Kendrick – who owns a key to the city and ‘should probably run for mayor’ – flies a flag for the model every chance he gets.
Lamar has worn the sneaker during countless performances and award show appearances over the years, most recently when he cleaned up eight trophies at the 2017 VMA awards.
He donned an all-white pair on the red carpet and during his fiery performance just a day after he and Nike made it official – setting a benchmark for how the two will work together moving forward.
JUMPING WITH THE JUMPMAN
One of Kendrick’s earliest overtures to Nike came in the form of his 2010 track ‘Michael Jordan.’ Jordan Brand and Nike are increasingly separate entities, but their relationship isn’t that of a normal owner and subsidiary. Their stories are bound together; the Swoosh-bearing Jordan 1 is their most iconic silhouette, and it was the ‘Chicago’ version of that Jay that Kendrick wore for this video clip. (Lamar also went on to perform ‘Michael Jordan’ with Lil Wayne – who inspired the song – while wearing ‘Fire Red’ AJ5s.)
NIKES AND WHITE TEES
Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Control’ verse became modern rap legend. He jumped on an otherwise un-noteworthy Big Sean song, picked apart his peers with ruthless intent, and planted his flag on the East Coast. The deluge of think-pieces that followed focussed on who Lamar had bothered to name-drop, with most seeing it as a blessing to be dissed.
A name that was dropped (and not dissed) was Nike’s. Lamar famously swore to drop the ‘designer shit’ for ‘white tees and Nike Cortez’, later confirming his love for the retro runner in an interview with Nice Kicks. ‘The Nike Cortez. I don’t know how it is around the world, but in LA I was influenced by the 80s. My uncles wore Cortez – the type of gangster, OG vibe. They’re the originals; you can’t ever go wrong with them.’
TDE DOES BET
When rap hagiographers pen TDE’s come-up, their 2013 BET cypher will be remembered as their crowning achievement. And, thanks to Kendrick, Nike was there to share it. Anchoring the cypher, he stood in the spotlight wearing the Cortez that he rapped about in his infamous ‘Control’ verse and let loose a freestyle demonstrating the skills that won him ‘Best Lyricist of the Year’.
Kendrick’s got a penchant for the staples, but sometimes he still likes to show out. A couple of those instances were his 2014 Billboard cover with Schoolboy Q and his 2014 NBA All-Star performance, where he strapped up the Nike Air Yeezy 2. Few releases have shaken the footwear world like those ‘Red Octobers’, and Lamar lacing up in them showed that he was up with the latest in sneaker culture.
KUNG FU CORTEZ
There was no way Kendrick was going to perform ‘DAMN.’ on a world stage and not wear his trusty Cortez. The rapper embodied his ‘Kung Fu Kenny’ ego, dressing up in loose martial arts garb and strolling around in a black and white colourway of the runner. Whether he meant to or not, he also gave the shoe its modern Bruce Lee moment; his get-up paralleled Lee’s kung fu-and-sneaker combo, while offering a cheeky nod to the Cortez’s origins. It was basically one of Kendrick’s double-entendres in outfit form.
LOYALTY LOYALTY LOYALTY
Given that Kendrick has had Swooshed feat for nearly every major milestone in his career, it makes sense that the pop smash off his latest album comes with visuals that continue the tradition. At this stage, the Cortez is somewhat of a uniform for Lamar. And though his wearing of them in the ‘Loyalty.’ video clip is poetic, it’s also expected.
Cooler than seeing the shark-toothed soles, for sneakerheads at least, was K. Dot wearing the ‘Silver Bullet’ Air Max 97s. Lacing up in the reverential colourway on its 20th birthday was more than just a co-sign; it was Kendrick’s way of putting Beaverton’s goals in sync with his own.
A COLAB UNMASKED?
An early clue that Kendrick and Nike would tie the knot might have come months before the official announcement. Back in June Lamar and Future performed the remix of ‘Mask Off’, and Lamar took to the stage wearing an odd Nike hybrid.
Blurry screenshots and freeze-frames seem to show a new breed of Cortez. Was this a leak of an upcoming collaboration? It’s hard to say. The sneaker could be a customisation for all we know. But seeing Kendrick wearing a peculiar version of a model that he’s championed for years, just before signing to the brand that made it, has us wanting to believe there’s more to the story.