I challenge you to find any hip hop event and not see an abundance of the iconic three stripes on sneakers and clothing. Just like the Nike Swoosh logo, Adidas has been able to create such a simple yet highly recognisable image.
The influence on hip-hop culture all started in the mid-80s when Run-DMC gained worldwide recognition for their music and breakdance moves. Within just a few years, the chiefs at Adidas recognised how big the impact was, and it led to one of the biggest endorsement deals of its time.
But before I get into those details, let me bring you back to where it all began.
A Quick History
Of all the sneaker and clothing companies out there, Adidas probably has one of the more intriguing ones. You could probably write a movie script out of it or even adapt it into modern rap lyrics full of feuds and family disagreements.
Basically, it all started after World War I, when a returning German soldier named Adi Dassler started making sports shoes from his mother’s house. With some initial success, his brother joined him, and a formal company was founded in 1924 called Dassler Brothers Shoe Company.
Their products mainly focused on spiked running shoes for athletics, and they quickly became famous for top quality and reliable products.
The business relationship between the two brothers, however, turned sour after World War II and they formally split and founded separate companies. One of those is now known as Adidas (after Adi Dassler), and the brother Rudolph founded Ruda.
Here comes the kicker though Ruda was later rebranded into Puma, and to this day, the two companies are Germany’s largest sports shoemakers. But it was Adidas that gained huge traction in the 80s through an almost accidental branding.
Influence On Street Culture
In the mid-1980s hip-hop and breakdance was still very much a street culture, but more and more artists were being recognised by contemporary and pop charts. LL Cool J had started his career with very successful albums and then came Run-DMC.
The 3 member band was known for very heavy beats and very traditional rap vocalisation. But they were also famous for their breakdancing. At the time, there were very few formal competitions and in most cases dance-offs would just happen in the street by laying out some old cardboard boxes.
What the band members of Run-DMC noticed though, was that Adidas tracksuits with the iconic and slick 3 stripes running down the side of the legs and arms, actually produced very little friction on cardboard.
The advantage of this was that you’d be able to spin a lot faster and create some absolutely sick moves.
Then, the band hit the big stage and started selling our major events, including Madison Square Garden. And it was here that some executives noticed that over half the audience were wearing Adidas sneakers and tracksuits.
Adidas Created The First Hip-Hop Branding Strategy.
According to some reports, immediately after the concert, Run-DMC’s management team were approached about an endorsement deal, reportedly worth $1,000,000. That was an unheard of sum of money in those days.
By 1986, you would rarely see the band wear anything but Adidas gear, including in the video for “Walk This Way.” But they also pulled off another first with a song called “My Adidas” being the first-ever rap song specifically written for a sneaker company.
It was true genius, and by wearing the sneakers without laces and the tongue pulled forward, an amazingly unique look and the trend was created. If you check out rap music videos of the 80s and even 90s, you’ll see that Run-DMC look a lot.
What Are The Coolest Adidas Sneakers?
Over the years there have been some truly slick Adidas sneakers, and if you’re into hip-hop and don’t have some Adidas on your feet from time to time, then there’s something wrong.
Here’s a couple of my favourites, that are still regularly available as retro releases.
These are the ones you have to own if you’re into classic rap and hip-hop. The good news is that you don’t have to trawl through second-hand shops to find a pair that look just like the sneakers in 80s rap videos.
Adidas Originals has been adding to the designs and colours over the years to give you a huge selection of really cool kicks. They are very low, barely reaching the ankles and have those unmistakable 3 stripes on the sides.
The laces are included but are entirely optional to leave in.
While you’ll find a lot of hip-hop fans wearing these, the Addidas Samba are really made for sport. More specifically for indoor soccer. But in the hip hop world, they became incredibly popular with break-dancers.
This was mainly because they were very light and, of course, they have three stripes on them. They were first made in 1949, and have been the second most highly selling shoe in Adidas history.
Out of the Samba also came a very popular fashion statement called the Samba Rose. Totally impractical as a sports sneaker, they essentially took the Samba’s upper and put them on a platform sole. The look is impressive and one you will spot from a mile away.
James Harden is a professional NBA player who is as famous for his moves on the court as he is for a trademark beard. What is more impressive though is an endorsement deal that he struck with Adidas in 2015, reportedly worth $200 million over 13 years.
That’s a whole lot more than Run-DMC got in the 80s, but a lot has changed since then.
What the sneakers have basically done is take the classic Gazelle look and give it a more noticeable and modern twist. Just looking at the profile, you’ll see that they have a very high heel section that comes up almost like armour for the Achilles’ heel.
The soles are a lot sleeker, and designers have gone all out to create some seriously cool looks and colour combinations. But one thing isn’t missing, and that’s the 3 stripes.