It's the late 1970's. You're walking along the streets of New York. You pass by an outdoor basketball court & see kids playing ball. What's on their feet? Most likely a pair of Converse All Stars (Chucks), suede Puma Clyde's or some Adidas Superstar 'Shell Toes'. But also look beyond that. Just alongside the court may be some B-boys and B-girls, busting out some cardboard to breakdance on. What are they dancing to? A new cultural movement that later became known as Hip-Hop.
The communities started to fuse together. MC's and artists, DJ's and Breakdancers, took sneaker inspo from the street basketball courts, and those playing ball were listening to (and loving) the new beats and rhymes of local rap artists. Over time, new streetwear brands were appearing, and the components/materials for sneakers were vastly improving, which meant new opportunities to mix up the fits and stamp your personality. Sneakers evolved from purely 'purpose-built' sports shoes, to a new form of personal expression!
Fast forward a few years to the 80's. Hip-hop started blowing up & becoming globally recognized. Rappers and singers were looked up to, and their footwear game was being eagerly watched worldwide. Performing on stage or showcasing their talents in music videos, their feet were always encased in the freshest sneakers. This made way for artists to become the perfect marketing partner for the big players in the sneaker world.
A prime example of this was shown when Rap group RUN-DMC secured a $1 million sneaker endorsement with sports giant Adidas, after the brand saw the sheer impact the group had on their fans in aptly titled track "My Adidas". At a live performance in Madison Square Garden in 1986, the group stopped half way through the song to ask audience members to take off their Adidas and wave them in the air. Needless to say, the brand reps saw a sea of Shell Toes and knew what their next move had to be. This was the beginning of a long list of Hip-Hop musician sneaker deals. The fan bases grew, and in turn so did their obsession for the most sought after kicks. Even without endorsements, just seeing stars wearing the latest styles would be an incentive to go on the hunt for a pair of their own.
As the Hip-Hop world developed, sneaker designs and technology were being elevated. Artists out of the East Coast were at the top of the rap royalty list. Fans took inspiration from the looks donned by their favourite artists. The likes of Tupac, Biggie, Nas & Jay Z were hugely influential figures. Just spotting them in a pair of the freshest kicks meant sales of those pairs soared. Similarly, rappers started to reference sneakers in their lyrics more, which boosted popularity tenfold.
The Wu Tang Clan, collectively interested in fashion (even creating their own brand 'Wu-Wear') were often seen in the classic Nike Air Force One, and various models of Jordan's. In the late 90's, the group of 10 even had their own Nike Dunk collabs. Likewise, Long Island formed group De La Soul have had hugely popular Nike collaborations of their own.
Hip-hop blossomed out of the streets of NYC, and sneaker culture really found it's feet there too (excuse the pun). The artists of the 80's & 90's have paved the way for future collaborations and fusions between the sneaker and Hip-hop worlds. When people say that those communities go hand in hand, they are not wrong. They wouldn't be the same without one another.