Seeing as it’s 30 years today since My Adidas was released, and the anniversary of Raising Hell was a couple of weeks ago, my friends at MR. PORTER took my mind off pondering my old age (and subsequently, ruminating on my mortality) to write a quick homage to the Run-D.M.C. adidas deal. I got carried away, and broke the 500 word count by at least 1,300. So HERE’s the piece and below, like some DVD deleted scenes, is the rough, unproofed bits that, for necessary reasons, had to go. I get bored of hearing the same story time and time again, but it helped create an industry. That shouldn’t be forgotten.
(Just in case you didn’t already know it, Horst Dassler was a genius.)
Horst Dassler had been key to the adidas deal, having made the then-unheard of call to create signature shoes based on some existing designs and pay the group not for the shoes or for the music itself, but to promote it on tour.
(I don’t think people understand that a brand like adidas working with musicians, let alone young black musicians was a huge, huge cultural moment.)
For years, the crossover of sportswear brands and non-athletes was a rarity. Brands had supplied celebrities since the ascent of sneakers as a fashion statement from the late 1970s, but any special versions were kept extremely limited — Nike had created special colours of shoes for Elton John, Rod Stewart and new-wavers Devo, but they’d been confined to a tiny handful of sizes. After all, this was sportswear and it was meant for sports — anything else was considered a dilution, regardless of their booming popularity on the streets over tracks or courts.
(And everyone talks about “old school” shoes being an early 1990s thing — the Superstar was already 17 years old when the record dropped.)
Even by the time Run-D.M.C. released their first single in 1983, the Superstar was an old shoe. Originally built for basketball, it was handed to players back in 1969. The German company, who despite making shoes for every other conceivable sporting activity, had never made a proper hoops shoe, took plenty of input from Chris Severn, a distributor of adidas gear in America. Severn would suggest the idea of a leather basketball shoes to Horst Dassler, and after the creation of a shoe called the Supergrip and its mid-cut sibling, the Promodel in the mid 1960s. Adding a rubber toecap to protect players during lay-ups in subsequent years, the Superstar was born.
(That b-boy culture embraced something that was already old has always fascinated me.)
Worn by the Milwaukee Bucks’ newly-drafted fan favourite, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the shoe proved popular, helping adidas to usurp the long-established Converse from their role in the NBA and ABA. When a nascent hip-hop culture — much of it connected to street and high school basketball — saw the shoe, that European exoticism, comparatively vast price point and unique forefoot, resulting in its “shelltoe” nickname that persists to the present day, made it a prized b-boy object of affection. Contrary to efforts to supersede it with sequels that featured half shell detailing, its demand remained, and it remained coveted over ten years after its retail debut.
(Dr. Deas, who put together the novelty rap record — complete with some guitar parts that seemed like a copy of the Run-D.M.C. sound — My Adidas responded to was Brooklyn born but, like the group, Hollis based.)
While Run-D.M.C. were enamoured with their shelltoes, Hollis-based, Brooklyn raised Dr. Gerald W. Deas was less impressed by the cult of loose-laced or laceless incarceration-styled sportswear and began a well-meaning, but misfiring crusade to stop kids focusing on the feet. Deas so outraged with this trend that he co-wrote a 1985 rap entitled Felon Shoes that opens with the lyric, “We’re gonna tell you about a few felony cases that started with the brothers with the fat shoelaces.”
(We can basically thank Russell Simmons’ 1980s dust habit for giving us a pioneering collaboration.)
As revealed by McDaniels in the 2005 documentary Just For Kicks, the origins of My Adidas are rooted in an anti-sneaker novelty song and a vision induced by their co-manager’s recreational habits at the time, “Russell Simmons was on Hollis where we used to live at one night and Russell was dusted — he was smoking angel dust.” The visions that manifested caused him to insist on a refrain of My Adidas in the group’s new track. Coincidentally, despite operating on different wavelengths three decades ago, Deas and a cleaner-than-clean Russell Simmons would end up being photographed together as honourees at the 2002 Sports Ball: a celebration of urban health.
(At least, I assume that the Bally line was a subliminal at Doug. This, and the Shan PUMA barb about Troop being racist during his LL beef basically used shoe brand affiliations as insults.)
This in turn led to a hyper literal and truly odd animated sequence in Doug E. Fresh’s 1986 All The Way To Heaven video where some Bally shoes defeat some Superstars in a wild west style duel.
(Considering how conservative adidas would have been in 1986, and the negative attention that this show raised, I’m surprised that this didn’t wreck things.)
A notorious Raising Hell tour stop at the Long Beach Arena in August 1986, where the crowd violence would help demonise hip-hop in the American media didn’t stop the project from proceeding.
(I love Tougher Than Leather — it’s one of the albums that really got me into hip-hop — but their sound was on the wane at that point. I’ve never seen sales figures, but by the time the actual adidas Run-D.M.C. shoes dropped in 1988, the group’s appeal had kind of waned.)
But for a new culture, the half a decade that Run-D.M.C. had flourished in seemed like a lifetime. As new experimentation from the likes of De La Soul, a harder style from the west coast, a focus on Afrocentric consciousness via Public Enemy (who’d signed to Def Jam based on their love of Raising Hell) and X-Clan, and the lyrical complexity of new stars like Rakim, Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane, those traded lines and bombastic boasts started to lose their edge.
(Would Nike have taken the risk and used Spike if adidas hadn’t already worked with Run-D.M.C.? I’d like to know if that was ever part of the in-house conversation around the Jordan ads.)
By this point, the legacy was cemented and boundaries had been broken. Nike took a chance on Spike Lee, a young black filmmaker who never shied from inflammatory topics, to promote the Air Jordan line.
(If Run-D.M.C hadn’t helped sell 400,000 shelltoes before the trend ceased relatively suddenly, would there have been the stockrooms of unsold Superstars that became integral to fuelling the old-school boom a few years later?)
In Los Angeles, Mike D of the Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C’s old touring partners, invested in the X-Large store that opened in 1991 with dusty classic adidas designs from the same inventories that fuelled My Adidas and a new generation of street skaters in San Francisco were practising their flip-tricks in adidas shoes from the city’s famed Harputs store, where Run-D.M.C. had made a promotional appearance years earlier to push their collection.
(I assume that the adidas deal had gone a little sour around the release of the underwhelming Back From Hell LP in 1990.)
As the appetite for old shoes exploded elsewhere, Run-D.M.C’s relationship with adidas around 1990 seemed on shaky ground, with promotional shots for some new projects indicating that they’d traded the shelltoes for shell suits and, shockingly, some neon accented Nike Air Flight hi-tops. Other images showed the group in Ewing sneakers, the namesake brand of Knicks player Patrick Ewing — another adidas defector who’d made a mark at Madison Square Garden. In 2005, it was even reported that McDaniels had signed with Le Coq Sportif. In subsequent years, any issues seem to have been ironed out and even after Jam Master Jay’s still-unsolved murder in October 2002, the release of a memorial JMJ tribute Ultrastar, with proceeds going to New York’s Scratch DJ Academy, felt more like a familial gesture of solidarity than a corporate PR moment.
London photographer Michelle Poorman caught many, many great American and homegrown hip-hop moments on these shores in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Here’s a shot by her from Run-D.M.C’s UK appearance at (I think) Olympus Sports circa 1988. Check out her Instagram here and her Twitter here. There’s a bigger version for license via PYMCA at Getty Images.