When you think of the hip hop stars’ fashion, it’s mostly oversized tracksuits, chunky chain link necklaces and iced-out jewelry that comes to mind. But ask any hip hop and/or fashion enthusiast, and they’ll tell you that it is sneakers that hip hop has been (very) closely associated with.
Hip hop has long served some of fashion’s most recognisable trends (think oversized street style t-shirts, low waist baggy jeans, branded caps). While some micro trends came and went, sneaker culture has only strengthened its grip over time, not just over hip hop and rap artists but their fans as well. However, whether hip hop gave birth to sneaker culture or just gave it a little nudge is a chicken or egg kinda question.
While hip hop’s influence on culture is ubiquitous and takes many forms, for many artists, their sense of style and how they dressed on stage cemented their swag, success, creativity, and later, wealth. And sneakers played a big role in that. Sneakers have always been a flex in hip-hop culture, blending seamlessly with music, artists, and their style.
Some people argue that this link between hip hop and sneakers actually goes back to basketball culture wherein the shoes worn by basketball stars in late 80s were co-opted by hip hop culture. Athletes teaming up with sneaker brands has been going on for ages, sparking a sneaker craze and basically influencing shoe styles for years to come. A big reason for this is the crazy amount of love and adulation fans have for sports heroes and music icons. People bought sneakers their favorite stars rocked just to be part of their vibe, which further resulted in bigger sneaker giants realizing the potential of collaboration and joining hands with these mega-celebrities. That’s why you’ll see lots of musicians scoring sweet deals with famous sneaker brands, keeping this connection going strong.
Sneakers have always been a fashion and pop culture status symbol. The link between hip-hop and sneakers is all about making it, being in charge, and flaunting that money. As a result of their influence, rappers and hip hop artists now call the shots in business and style, in a way we never saw coming. They've basically taken over from athletes as the top trendsetters in the game. It's been a real game-changer in how companies roll, but rap, specifically, has always had a massive impact on the sneaker scene.
Drake, Kanye West, Pharrell, Travis Scott, A$AP Rocky, and the rest – they make things happen. In India, Ranveer Singh, Abhishek Bachchan, Rannvijay Singh, Anand Ahuja, among others are responsible for driving what was, for a long time, a ‘Western’ culture to us when it came to coveted, high-end sneakers. Celebrities with such clout, especially in a country like India where they are worshiped as Gods, build up excitement, create a buzz, and keep business booming. Even if some of them don't really get their hands dirty in the creative process of actually designing a sneaker collection, just their name being associated is enough to sell it like hot cakes.
Back in the day, a lot of these young folks in the rap game saw sneakers as a big deal, like a status symbol. They hustled hard to cop those kicks they couldn't afford when they were growing up. But things have changed a lot – now you've got people from all walks of life everywhere, lining up every weekend to snag a pair of sneakers their favorite rapper had a hand in making.
Shoes driving a global culture may seem odd to digest for those not exposed to it, but the underlying stories behind its annotations of success for people belonging to disadvantaged communities is a story worth telling and listening to. With sneakers turning into a massive $79 billion industry worldwide, you can bet on seeing a lot more such collaborations between brands and artists in the future, and with that, the erstwhile underground and exclusive sneaker culture becoming more accessible by all.