Straight up, streetwear wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for hip-hop. The two entities go hand-in-hand, pushing up against and off of one another in their steady quest to take over the world. That’s not hyperbole, streetwear and hip-hop have taken over the world. Hip-hop went from a niche genre that was written off as a fad in the late ’70s and early ’80s and blossomed into a phenomenon that has since influenced every other genre of American music (see autotune country) and become the dominant musical genre of cultural expression in America. Streetwear similarly went from being a niche fashion aesthetic to a world-dominating force in modern fashion. Whether you’re a small fashion label just getting started, or an iconic luxury house like Gucci or Louis Vuitton, if you’re not designing streetwear, you’re not connecting with the people.
Streetwear and hip-hop haven’t just been growing parallel to one another, they feed off of one another. Hip-hop provides the face, streetwear provides the look, and the two entities rely on one another to move product. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of the best sneakers (arguably the emblem of streetwear itself) have a rapper’s name attached. In a celebration of hip-hop and streetwear, we’re running through the most important hip-hop sneaker collaborations of all time, starting with…
Adidas Superstar, 1986
The Adidas Superstar is not technically a hip-hop sneaker collaboration, but because of Run-DMC’s hit single “My Adidas,” it felt wrong to start this list anywhere else. Make no mistake, a fresh white pair of Adidas Superstars with contrasting stark black stripes is a look wholly owned by Run-DMC Streetwear fans treat this sneaker silhouette and colorway as a stone-cold classic, and Adidas has “My Adidas” to thank for that.
The song’s video gave the world its first glimpse of hip-hop’s new look and from “My Adidas” on, the two entities have been in lock-step. The sneaker features a leather base with a shell toe cap, it’s one of Adidas’ oldest and best-selling sneaker silhouettes. Adidas would go on to let Run-DMC design their own version of the silhouette, but nothing beats the OG.
Nike Dunk High Wu-Tang, 1999
No other rap group quite understood the synergy between streetwear and hip-hop like the Wu-Tang Clan, who went off and started their very own successful streetwear label, Wu-Wear. In 1999 Nike tapped them with a special Friends And Family Only release of the high-top Nike Dunk.
The colorway was lifted from a set of sneakers celebrating different university sports teams, this black and gold iteration was meant to represent Iowa University, but since it shared a color scheme with the Wu-Tang logo, Nike slapped a W on the heel and tongue, and with that simple move created one of the most sought after sneakers of all time.
ICECREAM Dollars & Diamonds, 2003
Pharrell Williams doesn’t get enough credit for being lightyears ahead on seeing the linkage between not just hip-hop and streetwear, but the importance of Japanese designers to the medium. Streetwear wouldn’t be what it is today without the influence of Japan, and it was Pharrell who was smart enough to link up with cutting-edge designers like BAPE figurehead NIGO before anyone else. The result was his very own label, Billionaire Boys Club, and the brand sneaker brand ICECREAM.
Pharrell was the first rapper turned sneaker designer, and this pair Diamonds and Dollars silhouette was his attempt at fusing streetwear and skatewear into a single entity. It was a success, it signified a turning point in streetwear that would see the aesthetic completely absorb the world of skateboarding.
Air Jordan 4 Encore, 2004
When “My Adidas” and the Wu-Tang Dunks dropped, streetwear was still pretty niche, but by the mid-00s the fashion aesthetic started to hit the mainstream. When Eminem linked up with Nike for the Air Jordan Encore, named after Eminem’s album of the same name, people lost their minds. This shoe single-handedly created the modern sneakerhead.
It remains one of the most popular sneaker colorways of all time, fetching bids exceeding $20,000 on aftermarket sites like StockX and eBay. Nike will occasionally drop a refresh of this sneaker in very limited runs, so it’s still possible to own a pair without paying a fortune for it. Good luck.
BAPE Kanye West Bapesta College Dropout, 2007
Long before Kanye West had his own sneaker brand, and even before he started calling himself “Yeezy,” West linked up with Japanese streetwear label BAPE for the College Dropout version of the brand’s Bapesta sneaker silhouette. The sneaker features a tan and brown leather upper with red accents and a cartoon graphic of Kanye’s Dropout Bear character.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen the Dropout Bear, Ye ditched the mascot after the “Graduation Album” which was released the same year. It’s a reminder of a younger more playful Kanye and still to this day, a pretty dope design, even if it’s a far cry from what Kanye would design with his own Yeezy brand.
Odd Future x Vans Syndicate Old Skool Pro S Golf Wang Pack, 2013
Pharrell combined the worlds of street skating and hip-hop, and out of that came Tyler The Creator’s Odd Future collective. Inspired by the sort of bright color palettes you’d expect out of a Wes Anderson movie and not what you’d find in a typical hip-hop music video (at the time) Tyler The Creator presented his dark strain of hip-hop with a juxtaposing visual aesthetic that forever changed the look of modern rap music.
Before Tyler The Creator, the idea of a rapper wearing a sneaker with a pink sole is something only Kanye West would do, but he didn’t. Tyler did, and this early collaboration with Vans eventually caught the eye of Converse, who swooped up Tyler and gave him his own sneaker line by the name of Golf Le Fleur.
Air Yeezy 2 SP Red October, 2014
Another Kanye West sneaker? Yes. If you can’t talk hip-hop without mentioning streetwear, you can’t talk about either without mentioning Kanye West. His presence will weigh heavily throughout this roundup. While his cultural status is not quite at the heights it was just seven years ago you can’t deny that the name Kanye West still holds a lot of weight amongst hip-hop fans and sneakerheads alike.
But before Kanye West put his stamp on the world of footwear with his Yeezy Brand, he tried things out with Nike. Ultimately, it didn’t work out (Nike didn’t want to give Ye as much creative control as he wanted) but 2014’s Air Yeezy Red Octobers were the first indication that people needed to take West the sneaker designer as seriously as they took West the hip-hop producer and rapper.
Even today, it’s impossible not to fall in love with this all-over scarlet red colorway. Just look at the thing! Tell us you don’t want a pair.
Air Jordan 12 White OVO, 2016
Drake hasn’t had quite the same level of success attaching his name to sneakers as his contemporaries, but the Jordan 12 White OVOs is one of the finest colorways the sneaker has ever seen in its entire run, and it has Drake to thank for that. There is nothing special about this sneaker, Drake didn’t offer up any radical suggestions for a re-design, but what it presents is a highly effective colorway that exudes luxury and class thanks to its mix of white leather and gold accent work.
You can hardly tell Drake has anything to do with the sneaker, and that’s kind of its strength.
Adidas Yeezy BOOST 700 Wave Runner, 2017
We can’t overstate just how important Kanye West’s name is to the world of sneakers. It’s arguably just as big as Michael Jordan’s, so we couldn’t finish this list without talking about West’s label with Adidas, Yeezy Brand. By 2017 Kanye West and Adidas had already been making sneakers together for five years, but West wasn’t really taken seriously as a footwear designer. That all changed with 2017’s Wave Runner.
When the Wave Runner dropped, which is still the 700’s best colorway, Kanye West singlehandedly made the ‘90s influenced “dad shoe” the hot footwear item everyone had to have. The world of sneakers changed once this shoe dropped, brands like New Balance, Nike, and Adidas started to bring out more of their ‘90s designs and Adidas was able to slash the price of these shoes from the usual $300 to the more affordable (but still expensive) $240.
After the success of the Wave Runner, Adidas themselves started to put more faith in Kanye, increasing the sneaker release runs of all of his future shoes in an effort to make them more accessible amongst the public.
Jordan 1 High OG SP Fragment x Travis Scott, 2021
If Kanye West dominated footwear in the 2010s, it’s looking more and more like Travis Scott will inherit that crown for this current decade. This year saw the release of Travis Scott’s 13th Nike collaboration, the Jordan 1 High OG SP Fragment x Travis Scott, a partnership with streetwear label Fragment Design. It’s not the first sneaker people would associate with Travis Scott — that would be the Jordan 1 Mocha — but, and brace yourself for this one, it is the best.
No, it’s not quite as iconic as the coffee-toned Mocha that it’s meant to be a sequel of, but give it time, that combination of University Blue, white leather, off-white midsole, and a black oversized backwards swoosh will no doubt go down as not only one of Travis Scott’s best sneakers but one of hip-hop’s best sneaker collaborations of all time.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.