Chicago rapper, Common poetically sums up the cultural impact of Nike’s Air Jordan sneakers in his song “Sweet” off his 2011 LP The Dreamer/The Believer.
The six-time NBA champion and undeniably one of the best to grace NBA’s parquet floors, Michael Jordan’s contributions are not limited to the rafters but extend into Hip Hop fashion. The frenzy that circulates an impending release of Retro Air Jordans (more affectionately referred to as Js) have been the reason for early morning rises, seemingly endless ques amidst inclement weather, (unless you are one of those fortunate to have a “connect” or wear a size 4 in Big Kids), and even reports of violence. Such attention has elicited harsh critiques questioning “why are these kids killing each other over a pair of sneakers?” Well, to answer this loaded and insultingly basic question it’s because Air Jordans are not simply a pair of sneakers. Js are symbolic. Not only do they represent the literal and metaphorical heights Jordan reached in the professional game of basketball, they also represent the urban culture this young man arose from to beat societal odds, not unlike the Black youth who spectate and participate. To own a pair of Jordans was to have your slice of aspiration, a version of luxury. The popularity of Air Jordans prevails the actual man and stands as an emblem of style, street and success.
Although, MJ played in his signature sneakers most of his career, the legions of Air Jordan consumers aren’t investing so they can “be like Mike” on the court, but rather to align with the cultural sensibility attributed to the shoe. Let’s be honest, I’d be hard pressed to find someone willing to scuff their Concord XI‘s for a quick game of 21. Therefore, it’s only right that Hip Hop is the closet that keeps them stocked. A quick word search for “Jordans” on Rap Genius generates 403 songs results, evidencing its sartorial status as a Hip Hop classic. Maybe your level of enthusiasm doesn’t rate the same as Mars Blackmon but Pres. Obama seems to rock with them.
(Photo by Spike Lee.)