Compton-born rapper and HYPETRAK Issue 1 cover star Kendrick Lamar is not one to rest on his laurels. Aside from delivering his latest album untitled unmastered which debuted at No.1 on the Billboard 200 chart, he’s also been flexing his creativity in the fashion realm, continuing his collaboration with Reebok. Designed in ode to the unity of the infamous rival gangs – the Bloods and Crips – in his hometown, the latest Reebok partnership (which takes form as a stripped-back rendition of the Classic Leather) features blue and red hits over a supple beige upper. Aside from maintaining its classic appeal, the sneaker is also Kendrick’s testimonial to the subcultures back home, packed with narrative unique to his West Coast upbringing. ‘BLUE’ and ‘RED’ are embossed on the heel and offset by ‘NEUTRAL’ under the tongue, which brings in the message of harmony. We caught up with Kendrick Lamar in London before he took stage to peform numbers off his GRAMMY Award-winning album To Pimp a Butterfly. Here, we learn more about the inspiration behind his latest design over the Reebok Classic Leather, and how Lil Wayne and Hot Boys were the footbed for much of his early creative output.
Can you tell us the reason behind choosing this colorway?
I wanted to make something subtle. Nothing that obviously was too overbearing, so the first release had tan with hints of red and blue. I wanted to make sure the red and blue stand out more than anything, because that represents where I come from. I think for the most part, the color complimented the fact that you could probably wear anything with the shoe. We did have that in mind. It worked out because you have all these kids out in LA and around the world and in Manchester being creative enough where they can make their own style significant with the shoe; as far as the color.
How were the colors received back home?
Ah man it was crazy. I was once that kid before going into the store, checking out shoes and copping them. Now seeing kids these days getting excited over something I’ve created is truly inspirational. I can carry this inspiration and express it in my music when I hit the studio.
Like music, fashion is also a creative outlet. How impactful do you think fashion is as a tool of expression?
Fashion is definitely impactful. Some people use drugs or violence, or whatever your vice may be, to channel your energy when you’re happy or sad. Others use music or style to express themselves. What people wear are almost a true reflection of how they’re feeling that day. Style is a great form of expression.
Fashion and music constantly intersect. Some artists opt for more high-end cues, but you’re style is fairly toned down. What role does fashion play in your life?
Yeah definitely, a lot of artists are immersed in high fashion, but me personally, I inclined to more of a classic, comfortable getup. It just represents my personality for the most part. Not to exclude any other artist’s taste. I always feel ‘do what represents you.’ I’m glad I was able to find a brand that compliments not only what I do but where I am from.
You mentioned the collaboration process with Reebok is really organic. Could you take us through the steps about how that relationship came about?
Well they reached out and we just had it always in consideration, period. I grew up with Reebok so it was all very natural. As far as being able to create how we want to create, they just put everything out on the table. I don’t think a lot of shoe brands would let you put red or blue or anything that has some type of gang significance on the back of a shoe. So when they first approached us we just made sure that there was open space for ideas to flow. Creatively, we got comfortable from the start. Me and my boy Dave Freak sat down and made it clear that we wanted control creatively, Reebok understood, and it was all love from there. We wanted to make sure the sneaker looked good but also have a backstory.
As of late, runway fashion has really taken influence from street culture. What social impact does this have, if any?
I think the impact that it has is letting the world know, that everything starts home grown. No matter how far or high end it gets, you always have to come back to the soil. You always have to come back to the streets. You always gotta look at what the next 13 year old — the same person I was — is wearing because these are the people who make the culture. We can’t run from the kids, period. And that something that we always try to do in our own way. You know we try to throw the high cost on shoes and clothes and try to distract it from the kids. No matter what runway you are on, the kids make the culture, period.
Why are the kids so important in this cycle?
Because they have the freedom. They don’t have to deal with the politics. If we weren’t giving them no shoes they would be making it themselves in a garage somewhere.
What was your dream shoe growing up? Was it the Classic?
Classic is definitely a favorite since Lil Wayne and the Hot Boys made Reebok a staple back in the ’90s by rocking the Classic in their videos. Lil Wayne is the greatest, not only because of his music but because of the culture he put behind it. And being selective in what him, Juvenile, and the Hot Boys wore.
Was it just because of Lil Wayne and Cash Money that you were into Reeboks?
The kids were wearing them heavy, but prior to me being into the shoe. I just remember my uncles and older cousins wearing them when I was four or five years old. It wasn’t like new shoe that popped in my face once Lil Wayne and Cash Money came out. Reeboks have been in my household since day one. I just wasn’t old enough to know how tight Classics were till later years. But obviously my uncles and cousins did. So by the time that I was able to understand that these were some cool classic kicks. it just so happened that some of my favorite rappers were wearing them.
Was there a particular silhouette at that time?
It was these! It was the Classics. We play on them so hard at recess and at lunch so we always messed them up. So I always had to get a new pair every two months. Like I had pairs stacks and stacks and swap meets at the local stores around the corner.
What do you hope to inspire in the kids you work with in charities and programs?
A sense a hope. A sense of faith that they can do whatever they want to. A lot of times you know older people would tell me “You can be what you want. Do what you want.” We didn’t really grasp that concept because they just seemed so far removed from where I was at, at the time. Me still being young and right in the soil and in the mix — it sounds a little different coming from me cause I can see it in their eyes that they really believe it. The people that was telling me this were 50-60 years old, they were rich and living their lives; I wouldn’t connect to them. With me saying that I know I have some type of influence. Whether its through songs; whether its through the shoes I wear; whether its me speaking at the local conferences or their schools or meetings. I always tend to put that in some form of fashion in what I am doing.
What is the ultimate goal you hope to achieve with the collaboration with Reebok?
With the collaboration it’s to continue to push ”classic creativity.” We get defined by so many rules on what we should wear or what we can’t wear. We always gotta go back to the brands and think about “what made them so classic? What made them inspire people to be classic themselves?” So if I could just continue what Reebok started, that’s great for me. That’s huge for me, to be a part of that legacy. To be a part of being original. And continue to push that. That’s a beautiful thing.
In terms of the kids and giving back, what do you foresee with this relationship you have with Reebok?
I see providing activities. Huge activities. Not just with the shoe. Having me and Reebok getting involved in something way bigger inside of the communities. Because we have been buying these brands for years and to have a brand actually come to the soil to do something bigger than just a shoe would be impactful. It could be workshops. It could be providing job opportunities. It could be teaching kids how to get into designing their own shoe from the culture itself. I never came up seeing that. Nobody ever came to my school and said how you can be a part of this brand, and this brand, and take your creativity and apply it in shoe. Thats the ultimate goal I am setting for myself right now.
Would you like to create a new silhouette? Or put your spin on a different silhouette?
I’ve thought about it but I don’t think I can touch the Classic. I don’t think I would want too. Just because it was such an original shoe. Maybe a new silhouette? Completely new, but I don’t think I would touch these.