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Into the Footprints Of the Shoe that Changed Hip-Hop Culture

Always a rebel to the current, the adidas Originals Superstar moved hip-hop from the fringe towards the mainstream

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Jessica Xalxo Mar 05, 2020

‘Change is a team sport’ and the adidas Originals Superstar is a constant. Photo: adidas

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Who thought rubber-capped toes and pyramid stripes could represent a revolution in pop-culture? Born as a response to safety in sports, the adidas Originals Superstar sneaker is now a modern classic with its distinctive solid shell detail and the resolute ribs that brace its sides, but it’s been a long journey for the versatile pair. Over five decades, the Superstar has charted a storied journey to the frontlines of art, design, music, culture and sport, changing the game and setting new rules. 

Sport is synonymous with the streets, so it didn’t take long for the sneaker to find itself off the court. The adidas Originals Superstar first found harbor in music through hip-hop. Iconic Queens rap collective Run-DMC adopted the sneaker and reinvented how it could be worn, chucking the laces and sticking the tongue out in rebellion. Widely credited with making hip-hop mainstream in the 1980s, Run-DMC established themselves as rebels to the current, calling out crooked contracts and cementing their brand of authenticity and activism. The Superstar trend then soared, with adidas changing how Basketball and hip-hop used streetwear as a conduit of cultural expression. 

In 1986, Run-DMC’s released their landmark track “My adidas.” It was a tribute to sneaker culture and a takedown of the stereotype of delinquency (“Me and my adidas do the illest things/ We like to stomp out pimps with diamond rings/ We slay all suckers who perpetrate/ And lay down law from state to state). While achieving many illustrious firsts during the decade — including landing on Rolling Stone’s first ever cover featuring a rap group — they also inadvertently made the adidas Originals Superstar a socio-political symbol of creativity and resistance. Their collaboration with adidas also went down in history as the brand’s very first non-athlete endorsement (other sporting brands soon followed suit), sparking off a revolution in hip-hop culture which further made the genre viable for thriving in the U.S. and world markets. In a way, Run-DMC’s unlaced adidas quite literally kickstarted a hip-hop revolution while also legitimizing rap’s message to the world — an achievement truly worthy of their nickname, ‘the Kings from Queens.’     

Run-DMC’s Darryl McDaniels aka D.M.C, Jason Mizel aka Jam Master Jay and Run aka Joe Simmons. Photo: adidas

Run-DMC’s flouting of sartorial rules also led people to customize their own Superstars as they fit the streets to their feet. Since then, the adidas Originals Superstar has been reimagined in all-out rainbow glory by rapper and producer Pharrell Williams as well as hip-hop/R&B label Bad Boy Records which lent it classic gold and silver decals, among many others. The sneaker has also undeniably left an indelible imprint in hip-hop music with references to the line seeping into and standing out in rap tracks over the decades, a sign of how the Superstar changed and shaped modern hip-hop culture. From the Beastie Boys’ “Shadrach” (1989) to Wu Tang Clan’s “Duck Seazon” (1997) to Jay Z’s “Jigga That Nigga” (2002) to Stormzy’s “Know Me From” (2015) to Kanye West’s “All Mine” (2018), the sneaker has always stepped forward to build covenants and create discourse. 

The 2011 adidas Originals Superstar X Run-DMC sneaker. Photo: Sneakerfreaker

Like most emblems of hip-hop, the adidas originals Superstar has always been a shoe for all, never belonging to a singular collective but forming an integral part of cultural movements over the decades. Even India’s recent hip-hop revolution couldn’t resist the sneaker and its legacy, with the shoe cropping up on the genre’s blazing trail. While adidas’ Creators Collective routinely brings the arts community together for discussion, workshops and collaboration, the brand has for long supported and chronicled the acts that make up Indian hip-hop, spotlighting breakout acts such as Naezy, Divine, Prabh Deep, DJ Uri, DJ Kan-i and more. 

Part of the adidas originals Superstar’s allure lies in its unmatched durability and influence through time. The adidas Originals Superstar has always served as a canvas for creativity — no matter the art or the medium — and changemakers have slipped them on with pride, whether on stage or on the streets, making it the go-to symbol of modern hip-hop sensibility. For half a century, the classic pair has been adopted by athletes, artists, creatives, and collectives of all kinds as they added new meaning and legacy to the kick’s silhouette, changing the game with every leap. Endlessly customizable and on the stomping ground for modern movements, the adidas Originals Superstar enters the golden dawn of timeless glory and remains forever relevant. ‘Change is a team sport’ after all and the Superstar is a constant. 

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