What do sneakers, and specifically second edition signature models in this case, and rap albums have in common? Um, fair question and probably more than you think.
Sneaker culture and hip-hop culture have been synonymous since they both started getting mainstream recognition. The pressure of following up a hit in any business is tough. Allen Iverson may not have ever dropped an album with a sneaker release but if he did, we have a good idea what would have been the best theme music to accompany it.
Compiled by Brandon Edler
Air Jordan II
Album: Nas It Was Written
When a lot of signature kicks progress, they borrow traits from previous models, but Nike flipped the script when they designed the Jordan II. Made in Italy, the IIs had a much more premium feel than the first Js.
Nas’ second album had a much similar transition. Illmatic was the epitome of dark story telling from NYC and boom bap production, while It Was Written featured more radio-friendly production and hooks throughout the tracks. Fans were a little confused and it took a little time to see the growth from Nasir Jones as an artist.
adidas T-Mac II
Album: Jay Z Vol. 2, Hard Knock Life
One of adidas’ most successful sneaker lines was Tracy McGrady’s signature series in the late ’90s and early 2000s. T-Mac was moving out of his cousin Vince Carter’s shadow and becoming his own superstar on the court and with his kicks. The T-Mac II was one of hottest kicks on court and still rang out last year when the basketball retro craze started to slow down.
Reasonable Doubt and Vol. 1 were dope albums, but Jay Z came into his own during Vol. 2. Stepping out of the shadows of the late Biggie Smalls and becoming the latest hip-hop superstar with the Hard Knocks single and tour, Vol. 2 was the move that took Young Hov to another level.
Fila Grant Hill II
Album: 2Pac All Eyez On Me
After Jordan’s first retirement, there was a lot of pressure on the league and brands to produce another superstar quick. Grant Hill had the Duke Boyz charm and was an immediate all-star on the court. Fila put a few mill into #33 and it paid off well, making the brand very relevant during a time when Nike, adidas and Reebok seemed to have the basketball shoe game on lock. The Hill II sold really well and helped make Hill just as big of a brand as any other superstar in the league.
You already know about Pac’s legacy and his move to Death Row. He became the face of West Coast rap and All Eyez on Me had pressure to be major after Suge Knight and Jimmy Iovine just spent $1.4 million to get Tupac out of jail. He came through in the clutch and it was the first rap double-disc album to see mass success. Yeah, Pac’s iconic photo in the Hill II helps piece the two together.
Nike Air Swoopes Zoom II
Album: Missy Elliott Supa Dupa Fly
Sheryl Swoopes took women’s basketball shoes to another level. The III might have been the strongest product but the II proved that her first shoe wasn’t just some trendy move by Nike to gain female loyalty to hoops.
Missy Elliot had similar success around the same time in a lane where men typically dominated. Missy’s debut album went plat in America and put her name in the same discussion as male emcees without any gimmicks.
adidas D Rose II
Album: Common Resurrection
It’s tough to be the kid trying to win a ring in the city where you grew up. The Bulls and adidas invested heavily into young D Rose, and at the time of the Rose II, there was no question everyone made the right choice. The II was catered to Derrick’s game and soon you started to see inspirations from Chicago in his kicks.
It’s also difficult to withstand the pressure of being one of the greatest emcee’s to ever come out of your city. Common’s second album was very Chicago influenced, divided into East and West side themes. The album gained critical claim but fell short of commercial success, a lot like the Rose II.
Reebok Shaq Attaq II
Album: Shaquille O’Neal Shaq Fu: Da Return
Let’s be fair, the Shaq Attaq II is pretty forgettable. He didn’t even wear them a whole season, switching to the III by All-Star Weekend. And Shaq’s second album isn’t exactly hitting any #ThrowbackThursday playlists.
Nike Zoom LeBron II
Album: Kanye West College Dropout
LeBron’s jump to the NBA is still one of the biggest stories in the league, even after 12 seasons have passed. Nike dropped $90 million to get the kid and after the heat Tinker helped cook up on the Zoom Generation, the LeBron II wasn’t subject to a sophomore slump.
Who but Kanye could relate? The College Dropout changed music forever and his jump into raps elite felt like it happened over night after the album dropped. How many other rappers made a similar transition with just one one album and lasted like LeBron? And to think no one even wanted to sign Kanye or hear him rap.
Nike Air Penny II
Album: Notorious B.I.G. Life After Death
Penny’s sophomore sneaker could be argued as better than the original, with the same being said for Biggie’s follow-up to his classic debut. Neither signature series nor rapper had another hit, two legends that ended way too soon.
Nike Kobe II
Album: Snoop Dogg Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told
Kobe left adidas after a good run to pursue just about every young athlete’s dream, Nike. The move was major but the style took a minute to mesh, with the II being one of the more passable Kobes to ever drop.
Snoop’s experience leaving Death Row for No Limit was similar. No Limit was unstoppable during the late ’90s, but Snoop’s smooth rhymes over Beats by the Pounds production was better on paper than CD.
Nike Air Diamond Turf II
Album: MC Hammer Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt Him
“Can’t Touch This” Prime Time end-zone dance. What more can we say?!
Nike Air Pippen II
Album: Q-Tip Amplified
Man, Scottie could never catch a break. Take away Jordan, and Pippen was A1 in every way possible. And his game and his sneakers were better than just about anyone else too. Tip had the same issue being associated with ATCQ, no matter what he did, he could never exceed those type of expectations from a solo standpoint.
Nike Air Trainer SC II
Album: A Tribe Called Quest Low End Theory
“Heyo, Bo knows this, (What?) and Bo knows that (What?) / But Bo don’t know jack, cause Bo can’t rap”
ATCQ immortalized Bo Jackson on one of the greatest albums ever and Bo Jax might not have been able to four bar it, but he damn near did everything else. The sneaker and the album were both as good as it gets.
Reebok Answer I
Album: Kendrick Lamar Good Kid: M.A.A.D. City
Bubbachuck’s first sneaker in name was really his second sneaker. The Answer I was also his “Rookie of the Year” themed shoe, well before brands celebrated a player’s every historical moment like first double-double and cousin’s bar mitzvah. With the DMX cushioning, Iverson branding, and clean design, Allen had set the standard for Reebok for years to come.
Good Kid: M.A.A.D. City was Kendrick’s official debut, but many would argue Section 80 was the best album of 2011 regardless of an official release or not. Safe to say Kendrick set the standard in hip-hop as well.
Nike Air Max CB34 II
Album: Mobb Deep The Infamous
Chuck is not your typical ball player, a little shorter than most power forwards and a few more pounds than someone with his quickness. Nike engineered a sneaker for the exact specifications of his game. The CB 34 II had full length Air Max to handle the lightning and thunder Barkley displayed — tough and grimy for one of the best.
Nike Air Max Griffey II
Album: Outkast ATLiens
Two of the greatest follow-ups in both lanes. Nike brought the flourish with Griffey’s most iconic sneaker and amazing Mariners’ blue hits. Outkast continued what was just the beginning of one of the most flawless string of album releases by any artist in any genre. Both kept it funky when it mattered most.