Hip-hop has often judged character via footwear. Missy Elliott told her gossiping detractors they were mad because Payless ran out of plastic pumps. The Game allowed that snitches could “come in all shapes,” but some wear Reebok, some Bathing Apes. And earlier this year, the Pack, a Bay Area–based rap group, proclaimed that “real niggaz wear” Vans in a song that praised the slip-ons’ $36-a-pair frugality, observed that they’re “toe kinda thick / like a big-bootied chick,” and encouraged kids to throw away their Nikes.
“Vans” also landed the Pack a Jive Records deal. Given that success — and the fact that sneaker culture has become so big that this Sunday’s episode of Entourage will feature wannabe-thug rapper-manager Turtle chasing down a pair of limited-edition kicks — rhyming about a shoe now seems like a viable means of self-promotion.
Massachusetts’s PEAKSociety are also among those who admit that rapping about sneakers has gotten them some attention. It’s been a little over a week since the Worcester-weaned independent design-and-culture firm released the mp3 single “Dunks the Anthem,” a three-minute laundry-list tribute to one of Nike’s obsessively hunted sneaker styles, and they’ve already heard from one Dunk designer, Nick Tershay.
But PEAKSociety producer Frank Rivera (a/k/a Frank the Butcher) says, “I don’t want to just be the ‘Dunks’ guys. Hopefully, we’re not defined by one song.” Yet if the Beavertown footwear goliath came calling, he’d certainly listen. “This is just for fun; we’re giving it away for free. But if someone says to me, ‘I like the song, here’s a trillion dollars, let’s do something,’ of course, I’m gonna.”
Rivera adds, “Being from an inner city and neighborhoods, sneakers weren’t a trend. … Back in the day, when I was a kid, the community dictated what was cool: you wore what you wore and you made it cool. Now companies kind of dictate. ‘Hey, we’re making this weird sneaker with blood dripping off it, it has a light in the tip, we only made 20 of them and they’re only in Japan.’ People are like, ‘Oh my God, I need those.’ It’s like, ‘Come on, man, they got a light in the tip! Are you gonna really wear those?’ ”
Apparently people do. After all, sneakers are everywhere. Dunks, for instance, made another guest apparence on A New Dope (Baby Grande), the recent full-length from Boston-rap stalwarts 7L & Esoteric — specifically in the title verse for “Dunks Are Live, Dunks Are Dead.” (See “Cellars by Starlight”) Although Esoteric says the lyric was just a line he made up while freestyling, the 31-year-old admits the contradiction is ultimately an early-adopter’s reflection on a street trend now toppling into the mainstream.
“The hype around Dunks has just skyrocketed to the point that you have to pay $600 for a pair of Nikes because they only made 500 pairs,” says Esoteric. “And it’s a hustle to get them. And once you get them, you can’t wear them more than once. And some people don’t even wear them at all.”
“When it just gets a little out of control, you wish you could separate yourself from the whole thing,” Esoteric says. “I guess that’s where the whole ‘Dunks are Live, Dunks are Dead’ thing came from. We’re like, ‘We don’t give a shit about that stuff anymore.’ Which in reality, we do. And that’s the [following] line: ‘But they’re still on my leg.’ ” (Esoteric, for the record, is a Nike loyalist. “I’ve seen some Adidas that I like or whatever, but I could never wear them. I feel like I’d have to throw all my clothes out and start new.”)
7L & Esoteric are also releasing a limited number of T-shirts, available through their MySpace site, featuring a design of Dunks and the relevent song-title tagline. “When you see an image of a certain sneaker, it gives you a certain level of excitement — it’s like a dog seeing a chicken wing or something like that.”