So Fresh, So Clean: Check Out Hip Hop’s Most Legendary Sneaker Collabs
September 24, 2023
Hip hop culture has always had a strong influence on fashion, and one of the most notable collaborations that seamlessly merge the two art forms are exclusive partnerships between well-known hip hop artists and sneaker brands. Rappers have become style icons, and their forays into footwear have led to some of the most sought-after and iconic sneakers on the market. Rewind the beats and explore our list of the most iconic hip hop sneaker collaborations of all time, tracking the footprints of their impact.
1999 Wu Tang Dunk High – Wu-Tang Clan x Nike
Perhaps one of the rarest gems on the list due to its extremely limited release – with only 36 original pairs in existence – Nike’s partnership with Wu-Tang Clan was a spark that birthed the 1999 high-top dunks with a distinctive ‘Black/Goldenrod’ colourway that’s hard to look away from.
As part of the special edition Nike ‘Be True’ drop, in conjunction with Wu-Tang Killa Beez unveiling their 1998 album ‘The Swarm,’ the shoes represented a convergence of two stunning cultural forces, each of which set out to dominate its respective sphere.
The upper boasts cushy yellow and black leather, with the signature Nike Dunk silouette, yellow soles, and a stitched in Wu-Tang symbol on the heel. The resale market for this piece today is rumoured to be priced at no less than USD$100,000 per pair – a number that really ‘Ain't Nuthing Ta F' Wit’!
Reebok S. Carter 3 Audemars Piguet Promo Sample – Jay Z x Reebok x Audemars Piguet
Marking one of the first commercial athletic footwear brands to have tied in stars from a concert stage, rather than the ones on the court post-millennium, Reebok turned to one of the biggest rappers of the 2000s (and arguably one of the forefathers to our current epoch of hip hop), Jay Z.
Then known as simply a Billboard chart king with a platinum sales streak, the collaboration springboarded Jay’s entrepreneurial journey into fashion, which later provided the foundations for his other ventures in sports management, liquor, mobile music streaming, and night clubs, just to name a few.
The original S. Carter, released in 2003, had a silhouette vaguely shadowing the Gucci 84 tennis shoes, which added a streamlined touch to the usual sports shoes that rappers back in the day would wear. With each generational push, the S. Carter was further elevated, with the S. Carter 3 culminating in a promotional drop to coincide with Jay Z’s 2005 joint design with Swiss timepiece brand Audemars Piguet.
This pristine black suede and white leather sneakers retain a sample tag with the label AP EVENT PROMO, maintaining its exclusivity as a piece solely produced as a limited-edition item commemorating the remarkable joint event. In the mark of an era where the line between high luxury and street-style has become blurred, the Reebok S. Carter 3 Audemars Piguet Promo Sample is currently being held for auction at Sotheby’s, at the price of USD$5,500.
Yeezy Boost 350 – Kanye West x Adidas
When it comes to Kanye West’s rap career, being a fashion icon has always been part of a non-negotiable package deal. After leaving Nike to join Adidas, the birth of his Yeezy brand in 2015 pinpointed a new dawn in the trajectory of both Kanye’s development as an artist, as well as the new directions the fashion world swerved into.
Stepping into footwear, Kanye's Yeezy Boost 350 is undoubtedly one of the most period-defining silhouettes to have come out of the 2010s. A billion-dollar-tier collaboration between Kanye and Adidas, the Yeezy Boost 350s are loosely tied to its Adidas Ultra Boost cousin in general form, with a comfortable cushiony sole contrasted against a (then) futuristic looking prime knit upper that initially displayed a speckled grey ‘Turtle Dove’ colourway.
The innovation offered a shoe that could appeal to all, stylish dressers who spent most of their time in urban areas, runners who needed proper movement support, and of course, eager fans who were gunning to swipe up any and every item said to be released under the name of the self-proclaimed 'jeen yuhs’.
2015 Kendrick Lamar Reebok Ventilator – Kendrick Lamar x Reebok
Reebok returns to the list with another smashing partnership, joining hands with L.A native, Kendrick Lamar to create a highly personal and instantly recognizable version of the Reebok Ventilator. Presented on an off-white body, the colourway segments the two shoes with contrasting red and blue accents, representing the ever-present gang rivalry between the blood and the crips, a traumatic topic that Kendrick dives into and reckons with throughout his body of work.
Having grown up amidst the conflict, this special pair of sneakers carry a deeper significance right down to its soles, with inscriptions along the top of the heels segregating ‘Blue’ from ‘Red’, whilst the inner tongues each display the world ‘Neutral,’ a simple yet weighted message calling for harmony within the community.
Following the Kendrick Lamar Ventilator’s 2015 release, K-dot went on to push out the Kendrick Lamar x Reebok Classic Leather, which ran with a greyish tan colour scheme and the same words of ‘Red’ and ‘Blue’ embellished into the heel. Kendrick then returned to the stark two-tone design of the Ventilator in his third collab with the brand, the 2016 Kendrick Lamar x Reebok Classic Leather Split V2 with a thick-stitched seam.
Golf Le Fleur Converse One Star - Tyler the Creator x Converse
A native of L.A and a skater boy at heart, Tyler, the Creator’s personal footwear choices have been seen to fall under the umbrella of comfy yet chic classics, matching his laidback garms that are often dressed up with bright pops of colour or preppy elements.
Debuting back in 2017, the Golf Le Fleur Converse series has since grown to take shape in a range of different palette combinations, expanding to suit fans with different personal styles and perhaps to challenge hardcore sneakerheads to collect the entirety of the rainbow.
The low-top suede shoe stars a rounded flower in place of the usual Converse star, calling back to the rapper’s album Flower Boy, while the soles are printed with a floral pattern to continue the theme. Tyler’s spunky energy is ever present in the bursting colours and the swooshing shapes that comprises the Golf Le Fleur One Star series.
2020 Adidas Run DMC Superstar - Run DMC x Adidas
No mention of footwear endorsements in the rap and hip-hop world would be complete without a special shoutout to the crew that started it all – Run DMC. This groundbreaking fusion between music and fashion helped establish the precedent behind the close-knit relationship between hip-hop and sneaker culture that remains pervasive to this day.
Ah, a nostalgic one for the old head community! This partnership began with the release of the iconic 1983 Run DMC track ‘My Adidas’ off the ‘Raising Hell’ LP, which spurred a seemingly unstoppable craze for the three-striped superstar shoe, with its sales reaching nearly half a million pairs within the same year.
Soon enough, an iconic collaboration between the legendary hip-hop group and the German sportswear brand began to take shape, gradually yielding a series of limited-edition sneakers. Beginning in 1986, Adidas debuted their first-ever Run-DMC collection, complete with sweatshirts and tees, in addition to some eye-catching leather tracksuits. In 1988, the label went on to release another four limited-edition Run DMC kicks, including the high-top Adidas Eldorado, the also high-top Adidas Fleetwood, as well as the Adidas Broughham and Adidas Ultrastar with an elastic tongue, the latter two of which were sold as low-tops.
The latest in the line of this ever-expanding sneaker verse is the sleek, red-black-and-white 2020 gen Adidas Superstar x Run DMC, it's release coinciding with the 35th anniversary of the partnership.
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