Ever since Run-D.M.C. took the laces out of their Adidas (something that always struck me as extremely impractical) rappers and shoes have been joined at the foot. Literally. Alongside a chart-topping hit record, a shoe deal is the ultimate sign that you’ve made it.
From Kanye to Cam'ron, even Jay Z and Birdman, everyone has gotten in on the action. Recently, Kendrick Lamar joined this ever-growing list, teaming up with Reebok to create a Compton themed Ventilator, which aims to promote unity between the Bloods and the Crips in the most stylish way possible.
In a new interview with Complex, Reebok’s Director of Entertainment Marketing, Damion Presson, the man responsible for orchestrating the partnership, revealed the length of time and effort that was required to finally get Kendrick on board:
I basically chased [Kendrick] for about two years. It took about two years to get them to call me back. I was constantly calling, calling, and calling, and finally we met out in Vegas and had a great meeting. They were ready to do a partnership, and then we actually made it happen.
Two years?! Though Good Kid M.a.a.D City was a tremendous success, a project that broke him through to the mainstream, Kendrick wasn’t nearly as popular two years ago as he is at the moment. Most buzzing artists today would jump at the chance for a shoe deal with Reebok, but Kendrick waited and waited until it was "right" for him. That kind of patience is admirable, but it's also borderline dangerous. A shoe deal is both money in the bank and shoes in the closet, to potentially pass up that type of opportunity is a big risk for an emerging artist.
Presson landing his white whale was just the beginning, though. Once on board Kendrick took the same approach to creating a shoe design that he has applied to his music and his visuals. The shoes couldn’t just be shoes, they had to have meaning.
His music has a message, and we wanted to make sure we were taking into consideration the things that were important to him. That pretty was much it, sitting down with some designers, hearing things he wanted to do….The shoes had a message to them, so it was more than just Reebok putting out a shoe with another artist. These shoes are speaking to the youth in a different way, as opposed to how the other artists are putting out footwear. No knock to the other artists putting out footwear, but I think that [Kendrick] has a message behind his shoes. I think it’s a bigger message to what Kendrick is trying to do in terms of just changing the culture and having people think. You get the shoes and there’s a message, you kind of look at the shoes and you see unity on the shoes, you see red and blue, but it goes bigger than just red and blue. This is about unity of everything that’s going on with the world.
While I’m not DJ Khaled, I do love a good pair of shoes. At the same time, I often feel guilty about that impulse because shoes are an extremely selfish, materialistic vice. As a guilty sneaker head, one who has seen tens of popular artists jump on the shoe line train in a completely unimaginative way, it’s great to see Kendrick take a run of the mill opportunity and turn it into so much more. He added an altruistic layer to an item made of rubber and synthetic materials. Whether it's his music, his videos, his live performances, or his shoes, Kendrick is committed to a sending a message and leaving the culture better off than when he found it.
Kendrick continues to win by doing things his way, which is the reason this Reebok endorsement, and the future of a partnership that will undoubtedly include additional collaborations, is such a victory.