A Complete History of Kendrick Lamar's Sneaker Collaborations
Kendrick Lamar has the world abuzz with the release of Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers, his fifth studio album and final project as a member of the T.D.E. family. The man they call Kung Fu Kenny is one of the most talented and influential rappers of this generation, and he's equally as prolific on the footwear front – since his first collaborative sneaker dropped back in 2015, he's worked on 12 colabs in total! Take a journey down memory lane with us as we run through a complete history of Kendrick Lamar's sneaker colabs with Reebok, Nike and Converse!
Kendrick Lamar x Reebok Ventilator
Release Date: July 18, 2015
At the tail end of 2014, Kendrick Lamar was a freshly-minted hip-hop superstar with the Grammy-nominated Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City under his belt and To Pimp a Butterfly on the way. Another necessary ingredient for superstar stature is your own sneaker, of course, so Kendrick announced a partnership with Reebok in December 2014, and his first release arrived in July 2015: a special take on the Ventilator.
Lamar was already the face of the model after appearing in a 'Day Glo' ad campaign in April, but this release cemented his stature as one of Reebok's most buzzy spokespeople. Dressed in a tan colour scheme, the Kendrick Lamar x Reebok Ventilator was centred around unity between the Piru Bloods and Compton Crips, two rival gangs from Lamar's hometown. The left shoe featured blue detailing while the right shoe opted for red, with 'BLUE' and 'RED' hits on each heel plus hand-scrawled graphics and 'NEUTRAL' tongue tags furthering its message of unity.
Kendrick Lamar x Reebok Classic Leather
Release Date: January 16, 2016
Just over half a year later, Kendrick Lamar and Reebok were back with their second collaboration and first go-around with the Classic Leather. Essentially, they ran it back. The two's Classic Leather featured the exact same colour scheme and 'RED/BLUE' detailing as their Ventilator did, but did add an air of crispy old-school flair that was perfectly in line with their message of peace and harmony. Your whole family could aid in the uniting of bloods and crips this time around too, as the Kendrick Lamar x Reebok Classic Leather was available in full family sizes. We can't forget that Lamar put on an iconic Grammy performance in 'em either!
Kendrick Lamar x Reebok Classic Leather
Release Date: July 1, 2016
On their third collaboration, Lamar and Reebok continued to explore the same themes of Blood and Crip unity seen on their Ventilator and first Classic Leather. However, there was a more bespoke feel this time around. The premium suede used on the previous Classic Leather was split by a thickly-stitched seam, and split tongue/heel details that acknowledged the similarities and differences between the two rival gangs. A clever new detail could also be seen on the midfoot window, with the standard Reebok text blanked out except for the 'K' - a nod to the first letter of Lamar's first name.
Kendrick Lamar x Reebok Classic Leather 'Perfect Split' Pack
Release Date: July 15, 2016
Only two weeks had passed since their last Classic Leather drop, but Lamar and Reebok were already ready to serve up a five-colourway set of 'Perfect Split' Classic Leathers. Where Lamar's past three colabs all focused on unity between other people, the 'Perfect Split' pack was an acknowledgement of the two sides of his own personality. Men's 'White/Black' and Black/Grey' colourways plus a women's 'White/Grey' colourway put this split in literal terms, while navy and red pairs offered up a monochromatic nod to the yin and yang of outside forces. Each pair also combined gum and ice or black on its outsole to further bridge the divide!
Kendrick Lamar x Reebok Classic Leather Lux
Release Date: November 25, 2016
Lamar and Reebok's Classic Leather train didn't stop rolling for a second in 2016, and its final stop was a high-quality Classic Leather Lux. The design was once again inspired by unity, but conveyed its inspiration in a new fashion: its murky olive green colourway is inspired by combining Bloods and Crips into a single shade. Combine that clever interpretation with premium gum hits and tonal, debossed 'Red' and 'Blue' branding on the heels, and you've got yourself an interesting take on a heavily-used concept. It's surely a coincidence, but we can't help noticing the similarities between its shade of green and the one used on the cover of March 2016's Untitled Unmastered!
Kendrick Lamar x Reebok Club C
Release Date: January 13, 2017
K.Dot's first go-around with the Club C would also be his final collaboration with Reebok. Inspired by his desire for equality in society and his previously-mentioned K.Dot nickname, the Kendrick Lamar x Reebok Club C boasted an acid-washed black and white denim base with red accents on the heel – inspired by racial equality and passion, respectively – while the midfoot Reebok logo was altered to show just its 'K' and 'O' for a nod to one of Lamar's earliest alter egos. It was a fitting send-off, as later in 2017 Lamar would announce that he'd left Reebok to join forces with a certain brand based in Beaverton, OR.
Kendrick Lamar x Nike Cortez Kenny 1
Release Date: January 26, 2018
In August 2017, Lamar became the newest member of the Nike family after ending his partnership with Reebok. DAMN, his fourth album, was topping the charts, and two days after Kobe Bryant 'challenged' him to show his Mamba Mentality in an Instagram post, Lamar officially announced that he was a Nike spokesperson. The move was no surprise, as after he'd frequently been spotted in the Cortez – the unofficial shoe of his hometown that he'd long displayed an affinity for – both wearing it after his Reebok deal was up and famously rapping about it in 2013 while stealing the show on Big Sean's 'Control.'
The first shoe from the new partnership wouldn't arrive until January 2018, but it was a doozy that was far from the mock-ups making the rounds on the sneaker interwebs. Released on the day of the 2018 Grammys and officially dubbed the Kendrick Lamar x Nike Cortez Kenny 1, it took the Cortez's famous black and white colour scheme, embellished it with red thread and swapped its lateral Swoosh out for an enormous embroidered 'DAMN' logo on its lateral side while also altering the tongue branding. Lamar had joined team Nike in style, and he wasn't planning on slowing down any time soon.
Kendrick Lamar x Nike Cortez Kenny 2
Release Date: February 17, 2018
Less than a month after his first Cortez collaboration came out, Lamar and Nike pumped out the Cortez Kenny 2 as part of their NBA All-Star Weekend release slate. It was actually the first collaborative Nike sneaker that Lamar ever revealed – he shared it via a social media post in December 2017 – but the second to release. Lamar's fans were ecstatic about the drop, as many had hoped it would be his first Nike colab, and quickly dubbed it the 'Kung Fu Kenny,' a nod to another of the rapper's alter egos. It featured a bright red and white colour scheme with Chinese characters that translate to 'DAMN' on the forefoot, plus extra black tongue and heel tabs – the former of which reads 'Don't Trip.' To this date, it's still Lamar's most expensive aftermarket shoe!
Kendrick Lamar x Nike Cortez Kenny 3
Release Date: June 22, 2018
Fast-forward a quarter of a year, and it was time for Lamar and Nike to release their third Cortez colab. Dubbed the Cortez Kenny 3, the two's third effort on the classic sneaker was the pièce de résistance from an extensive TDE x Nike merch collection created for the label's 2018 tour. It was similar to the Cortez Kenny 2, but instead of bold red and white contrasts, it leaned heavily on black nylon and suede. The Chinese 'DAMN' characters returned in black, while a white Swoosh and red tongue/heel tags with 'Bet It Back' embellishments of their own added plenty of flair!
Kendrick Lamar x Nike Cortez Kenny IV 'House Shoes'
Release Date: October 14, 2018
Four Cortez colabs in a single year is certainly nothing to sneeze at, and some Kendrick Lamar fans would tell you that the last was the very best. Unlike the Kenny 1, Kenny 2 and Kenny 3, the fourth Cortez was a slip-on style dubbed 'House Shoes' that combined LA's love for the Cortez with a nod to another Angelino footwear tradition – slippers that are only worn inside the house. 'House shoes have always been part of LA culture,' said Lamar in a Nike press release at the time 'The shoe is all about being able to get up and just go out in style.' From a looks standpoint, the laceless shoe was dressed in white, navy, grey and orange with signature details provided by a 'HOUSE SHOES' tag that ran up the extra-puffy tongue and a heel toggle that enabled the wearer to adjust the fit, no laces required. A white and black pair unofficially dubbed the Cortez Kenny V was also produced, but never saw a full retail release.
Kendrick Lamar x Nike React Element 55
Release Date: November 4, 2019 (TDE exclusive drop) and November 5, 2019 (Global release)
Every collaborative legacy needs an outlier. For Kendrick Lamar that outlier is his React Element 55, a thoroughly random collaboration that he first teased in the fall of 2019 towards the end of the React Element 55's market cycle. At the time, rumours of a Kendrick Lamar x Nike Air Force 1 were starting to swirl, but when Lamar posted a black-and-white photo of him wearing his React Element 55 those rumours were quickly and soundly quashed. Featuring a lunar-inspired print on its upper, the Kendrick Lamar x Nike React Element 55 was meant to represent the back-and-forth of real-world living, making it an astral-infused exploration of the same themes that inspired the Classic Leather 'Perfect Split' pack back in 2016.
pgLang x Converse Chuck 70 and Pro Leather
Release Date: May 2, 2022
Before the release of Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers, the early 2020s saw Lamar appear fleetingly – but forcefully. He popped up on a few of his cousin Baby Keem's tracks (one of which, 'Family Ties,' won 'Best Rap Performance' at the 2022 Grammys) and released 'The Heart Part 5' to build anticipation for Mr. Morale. Outside of music his most notable step was the founding of pgLang in 2020. Created by Lamar and his business partner Dave Free, pgLang is a media company that, in its short existence, has already created a campaign for Calvin Klein and locked in a comedy film written by South Park founders Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Most recently, they expanded their portfolio by collaborating with Converse for fresh takes on the Chuck 70 and Pro Leather.
The only joints on this list that aren't a direct Kendrick collaboration, the pgLang x Converse collection equips both classic silhouettes with boot-like metallic silver eyestays, crisp contrast stitching and specially branded hits. They mark the beginning of a new era for both pgLang and Lamar himself – let's hope it includes even more co-created sneakers!