Saturday, January 20, 2007


A cultural icon to many in the Rap and Hip-Hop community, Nike Air Force 1 sneakers have become a staple for so many rappers and their followers that even if they didn’t like them, they’ve been gobbled up and worn to “look the part”. Most people know one or two of these types of people who don’t know jack about the culture nor can they tell you who inspires them other than the latest artist whose album is on heavy rotation on Hot 97, Jam’n 94.5 or Power 105 FM.

For those people in the know about the sneakerhead culture, you already know the direct connection that Air Force 1s (Uptowns) have with music, fashion, politics and, of course, race. There’s so much angst when it comes to Rap and Hip-Hop and the two are used interchangeably when they shouldn’t. Rap and Hip-Hop are two very different things that share some common threads.

Let me break it down for you. The culture of Hip-Hop has been the source of dozens of words and expressions in American English, of which Rap is one of the most familiar. The word is probably the development of rap meaning "to hit." It shows up in the early 1900s in the extended meaning "to express orally," as used by such notable figures such as Marcus Garvey and later by Winston Churchill in 1933.

Many decades after Garvey and Churchill used the word, others started using the term ‘rap’ and it began to take on the meaning of "to discuss or debate informally," a meaning that was well established in the Black community in the late 1960s. A decade later the word was applied to an evolving style of music characterized by, among other things, beat-driven rhymes that intrinsically called for improvisation. The slang that is integral to the lyrics of rap continue to be a source of borrowings in colloquial American English; recent examples include 'chill', meaning "to calm down," and 'dis', meaning "to show disrespect to." These are but the latest examples, in a long series of ‘borrowings’ from the Black English stretching back a century or more.

The Man-Child
It was a man-child by the name of Moses Malone that first wore the Nike Air Force 1s in 1982 and made people stand-up and pay attention to not only his behemoth frame but also his large feet (size 22). Moses, whose first name evokes images from the Bible, was able to make the jump from high school (Petersburg High School-Petersburg, VA) to the ABA and ultimately to the NBA in 1982, when he signed with the Philadelphia 76ers on September 2, 1982.

Moses wore the traditional low-cut Nike Air Force 1 in a white and red color scheme that was so simple- a predominately white sneaker with a red outsole and red ‘Swoosh”. They mesmerized folks and it took awhile for people to realize what brand they were. You see, Nike didn’t have its current-day stronghold on the NBA players’ feet in the early ‘80s as they do today. As a matter of fact, the predominant choices of footwear, by players in the League, were Converse and Adidas.

Once fans began to realize what sneakers Moses was wearing, people started hunting for the sneakers to no avail. This is where the plot thickened.

It took three East coast retailers to convince Nike to bring back the Air Force 1 after they were phased out in 1984. Let’s suffice it to say, that it is these “Three Wise Men” whom we owe a huge ‘Thank You’ to for convincing Nike to continue to produce the sneakers that would eventually sell more than 10 million pairs per year, thus making it the No. 1 U.S. shoe on a unit sales basis.

If you’re not familiar with Downtown Locker Room (DTLR), Rudo’s and Cinderella’s, then you have to check-in with your favorite sneakerhead and ask the question about their significance to the sneaker world.

I’ll let that question hang out there for a bit because in the next coming days, I’ll post an interview that I conducted with a number of old school ‘heads that have so many stories to tell that many will leave you perplexed.


1 comment:

  1. thanks for posting about the hometown... i need to add some pics here from the event. Nike threw a nice party and there were some nice giveaways and history of the AF1..... Great Job and I love the B-more airs at the top.


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