Words by Jenny Bär
Hip-hop: the boundary-defying genre was born on 11 August 1973 when 18-year-old Kool Herc set up his turntables at a South Bronx block party and started mixing records on his homemade soundsystem. The genre-turned-cultural-movement has since formed an indelible alliance with the world of fashion — most notably streetwear — with sneakers intrinsically tied to hip-hop’s pioneering roots and the artists that paved the way.
Here, Zack Schlemmer, a curator behind luxury sneaker marketplace Stadium Goods, tells the backstory behind 12 seminal sneakers from hip-hop history — available to shop now on FARFETCH.
1973: The Clyde
‘Puma’s Clyde sneakers are one of the most iconic kicks from the early days of hip-hop. They were first released in 1973 and named after New York Knicks legend Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier. The shoes grew up with B-boy crews from the 1970s and 1980s,’ Schlemmer explains. ‘Groups like the New York City Breakers would wear them when breakdancing.’
1986: The Superstar
‘The Superstar, again, is an early hip-hop classic. First released in 1969, the style was popular with original B-boy groups and made famous by Run-D.M.C.’s ‘My adidas’ song from 1986. Since then, numerous special editions of the style have been released to commemorate the legendary rappers.’
1988: The Air Jordan 3
‘The Air Jordan 3 sneakers are one of the most iconic kicks of all time — their influence on hip-hop culture is deep.’ Released in 1988, they were soon worn by KRS-One in Boogie Down Productions’ ‘My Philosophy’ video and became the first Air Jordan shoes American director Spike Lee did commercials for as character Mars Blackmon. ‘Since then,’ Schlemmer adds, ‘they’ve been worn by almost every rapper imaginable: Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem and Jay-Z, to name a few.’
1990s: The Gazelle
‘Championed by the Beastie Boys, the adidas Gazelle came to the fore as hip-hop’s popularity in Europe grew in the early 1990s. Since then, collaborations with luxury houses have replicated the style of Dapper Dan. The fashion legend — dubbed the Harlem Dandy — made custom clothing and sneakers for hustlers and rappers in the 1980s using fabrics from high-fashion brands.’
1995: The Air Max 95
‘The Air Max 95 — easily one of the most popular Air Max models on the planet — is yet another style synonymous with hip-hop culture,’ explains Schlemmer. ‘Everybody has worn these, with some rappers even referencing them in their lyrics: Gucci Mane, Curren$y, The Game and Ghostface Killah.’
1996: The Supreme Air Max 96
‘These sneakers are a modern-day recreation of the Nike Air Max model from 1996,’ notes Schlemmer. Co-designed with streetwear heavyweight Supreme — an icon itself within hip-hop circles — they dropped for spring/summer 2021 and feature translucent windows in lieu of puffed-out mesh paneling, making the inner workings visible. ‘This silver colorway references the ‘Silver Bullet’ Air Max 97.’
1997: The Air Max 97 OG
‘Nike’s Air Max 97 sneakers are another iconic pair in hip-hop history.’ They were originally released in 1997 and now retro every few years in the OG silver or gold colorway. ‘Two iconic iterations include a very rare Eminem release — produced back in 2006 with only eight pairs for an auction benefiting the Marshall Mathers Foundation — and a collaborative drop with UK artist Skepta, who had his own colorway released by Nike.’
1998: The Air Max Plus
‘Originally released in 1998, the Nike Air Max Plus is a classic running shoe that quickly gained traction in rave, grime and hip-hop circles in the UK,’ says Schlemmer. Also known as TN (after the Tuned Air technology) to insiders, they’re usually seen with a color gradient graphic upper — this particular pair is given a tonal rework in ‘Triple Black’.
2000: The Answer IV
‘Allen Iverson is often credited with bringing hip-hop style to the NBA with his tattoos, braids and off-court styling,’ notes Schlemmer. ‘The superstar point guard is one of the most significant and influential athletes ever to wear Reeboks, and the Answer IV is one of his most celebrated signature shoes.’
2003: The Superstar collaboration
‘The Bape x adidas Superstar bridges the gap between old and new-school hip-hop.’ The Bape brand is an original streetwear hero with strong affinities to hip-hop and first collaborated with adidas in 2003. This particular release updates the original with the Japanese label’s signature ABC camo print and star logo.
2018: The Air Jordan 4 Retro
The second shoe to be designed by the legendary Tinker Hatfield, the Air Jordan 4 debuted in 1989 and is rereleased here in vintage-effect blue nubuck as part of Travis Scott’s white-hot collaboration with the brand. ‘The Air Jordan 4 Retro is one of the rapper’s best sneaker collaborations to date. The black and red accents allude to Scott’s Texas roots — the team colors of the now-defunct Houston Oilers football team.’
2021: The Air Max 1
This release of Nike’s Air Max 1 was created in tandem with black-owned sneaker boutique Patta. The Amsterdam-based brand was established by two hip-hop purveyors: Edson Sabajo and Guillaume 'Gee' Schmidt helped put Dutch hip-hop on the map. ‘This iteration from spring/summer 2021 is reenergized with a wavy panel along the mudguard.’