The Top Sneaker Lyrics of All Time

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From Run-DMC’s mythical ‘My adidas’ to Kanye West’s ‘All Falls Down’, kicks continue to elevate the narrative of hip hop. So rewind that cassette and track down your old Walkman – these are the top 10 sneaker lyrics of all time.

11. Nelly – ‘Air Force Ones’

Nelly’s 2002 track ‘Air Force Ones’ is definitely not the first song to drop sneaker references, but it’s perhaps one of the most spirited celebrations of leather and lace, plus the need for ‘two purrs’. In this case, it’s the Nike Air Force 1 – though the lyrics name-drop the word ‘Nike’ only once. The wings fall off the plane towards the closing verses, as the St. Lunatics’ Ali Jones mentions, ‘I’m just a sneaker pro, I love PUMAs and shelltoes’. However, the tune and its accompanying video still took flight, reportedly sparking a months-long shortage of the AF-1 in parts of the US.

10. Kid Cudi – ‘T.G.I.F.’

Kid Cudi’s first mixtape, A Kid Named Cudi, had the kind of clairvoyant sampling qualities that would detonate the hip hop scene during the late 2000s. Cutting up everything from Paul Simon to Outkast to N.E.R.D., it didn’t take long for more established producers (like Kanye West) to take notice. A Bathing Ape fed Cudi during his hand-to-mouth days in Brooklyn when the young artist was working at their shopfront in New York. This song features one of our favourite lyrics from Super Duper Cudi: ‘I dont know if it’s the name or the BAPE gum bottoms.

9. A$AP Rocky – ‘Goldie’

The prettiest boy in hip-hop keeps his sneakers damn fresh. From Prada Cloudbusts to his maximalist references to 90s skate and the Osiris D3, Lord Flacko’s wardrobe is vast. Rocky’s love of sneakers is peppered throughout his whole discography, but it’s in the second track of his Long Live A$AP LP we have his most memorable reference.

Featuring a pair of decadent Maison Margiela Gold Mirrors in the video clip, Rocky tells us it was never Martin Luther King that he looked up to, but fashion houses like Margiela: ‘Let’s take it to the basics, you in the midst of greatness / My Martin was a Maison, rocked Margielas with no laces’.

8. JAY-Z – ‘S. Carter’

A bit like John Lennon comparing The Beatles to Jesus, likening oneself to Jordan can be a dangerous career move. Not so much for hip-hop magnate and sneakerhead JAY-Z, the 49-year-old artist continuing to have the kind of cultural relevance as nasty as the Jumpman himself. In ‘99, JAY-Z dropped ‘S. Carter’, telling us that he ‘stay sportin’, played Jordan’s before Jordan / Verses tight, hook harder than Ken Norton.’ Appropriating boxer Ken Norton’s vicious hooks to his linguistic acrobatics, JAY-Z bowled over the hip-hop industry in a similar way to Jordan breaking ankles on the NBA’s hardwood.

7. Ghostface Killah – ‘Apollo Kids’

A storytelling-savant, Ghostface Killah cut his teeth with the Wu-Tang Clan before busting out with his LP Ironman in 1996. His second album, Supreme Clientele, featured loaded, stream-of-conscious style imagery to which listeners had become accustomed. Lyrically emboldened by a trip to Africa (in an attempt to abate his diabetes), Ghostface Killah’s sprawling narrative took place across 12 tracks, with sneakers taking centre stage on ‘Apollo Kids’:,

‘A pair of bright phat yellow Air Max / Hit the racks stack ’em up / Son $20 off no tax.’

6. Notorious B.I.G. – ‘Hypnotize’

The apotheosis of 90s hip-hop, Notorious B.I.G.’s ‘Hypnotise’ dropped a week before his murder on March 9, 1997. Biggie raps, ‘Pink gators, my Detroit players / Timbs for my hooligans in Brooklyn’. Alligator skin was viewed as bougie and flamboyant by the New York rappers of the 90s, but Biggie unapologetically ties them to his ‘Detroit Players’, a reference to the ‘Bad Boys’ era of the Detroit Pistons and the name of his record label ‘Bad Boy Records’.

But it wasn’t all about the gaudy for Biggie.

In the next line, Notorious throws it right back to Brooklyn with a shout-out to his beloved Timberlands (‘Timbs for my hooligans in Brooklyn’).

5. Beastie Boys – ‘Shadrach’

The Beastie Boys’ 1989 tour de force Paul’s Boutique included one of the greatest hip-hop singles of all time: ‘Shadrach’. The track belonged to a kind of psychosphere, a burst of eclectic references and samples, before dipping down to the feet for an ode to the Beastie Boys’ Three Stripes collection: ‘More adidas sneakers than a plumber’s got pliers’. Check out the music video (each frame was hand-painted by the legendary animation studio), and suss why the Paul’s Boutique LP was later dubbed the ‘Sgt. Pepper of hip-hop’.

4. 2Pac – ‘California Love’

‘California Love’ was Tupac’s first drop after being released from prison back in ‘95. Fresh from inking a deal with Death Row Records, Tupac linked up with Dr. Dre to illuminate the Californian lifestyle whilst throwing shade at those with more bourgeois dispositions. During the second verse, Dr. Dre and Tupac praise the Chuck Taylor, ‘not Ballys’ (a Swiss-based luxury label): ‘Only in Cali where we riot, not rally, to live and die / In L.A. we wearin’ Chucks, not Ballys (yeah that’s right) / dressed in Locs and Khaki suits, and ride is what we do.’

3. Kanye West – ‘All Falls Down’

The fourth track from Kanye West’s debut album, ‘All Falls Down’, paints a portrait of Ye’s equivocal relationship to American consumerism. Using Nike’s Air Max catalogue as an allegory for materialism, Kanye introduces the ‘single black female addicted to retail’ who passed on college to feed her Swoosh addiction: ‘Sophomore, three years, ain’t picked a career / she like “fuck it, I’ll just stay down here and do hair” / cause that’s enough money to buy her a few pairs of new Airs, ‘cause her baby daddy don’t really care’.

Someone tell ‘Ye walls are still built to come down...

2. Nas – ‘Halftime’

The Odyssean hip-hop from Nas was there from the very beginning. Spitting rhymes under the pseudonym Nasty Nas, the Brooklyn-born 20-year-old dropped his debut single, ‘Halftime’, back in ‘92. The track contained some legendary lines (‘You couldn’t catch me in the streets without a ton of reefer / That’s like Malcolm X, catchin’ the Jungle Fever’). But it was one of the baddest double-entendres in hip-hop history that caught our ears: ‘I drop jewels, wear jewels, hope to never run it / With more kicks than a baby in a mother’s stomach’.

1. Run-DMC – My Adidas

Legend has it that Run-DMC’s manager Russell Simmons pitched ‘My adidas’ while smoking PCP on 205th Street. Whether the track was cooked up in a shroud of Phencyclidine or not, ‘My adidas’ still emerged as the greatest sneaker tune of all time. Appearing as the opening single on Run-DMC’s third LP, Raising Hell, Russell Simmons made sure this bombshell didn’t slip through the cracks, inviting adidas reps to check out Run-DMC’s performance at Madison Square Garden. No, there was no ambiguity in this two-and-a-half-minute track, with Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels and Jason Mizell laying it all down in the opening line: ‘My adidas, walk through concert doors / And roam all over the coliseum floors’.

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