It seems that every weekend brings a new, hotly anticipated sneaker release that is going to change the game—until the next Saturday. But even in this environment, the June 27 drop of Kanye West’s latest project with Adidas, the Yeezy 350 Boost, stands out.
It isn’t just the design elements of the shoe, like the one-piece knit upper and the ribbed Adidas’s Boost cushioning, or that everything Kanye does these days, from fashion shows to baby making, is met with breathless excitement. What’s truly remarkable is that anyone with even the slightest connection to sneaker culture has some opinion about the shoes Kanye works on. Kanye has collaborated with Louis Vuitton, Nike, and now Adidas. Each has polarized in a way that no other footwear can match. Opinions run the gamut from love to hate to love-to-hate to hate-to-love. But the fact that, no matter how hard you try, you can’t ignore the Yeezy 350 Boost is an accomplishment in its own right.
While Kanye’s sneakers may fill up comment threads and message boards, he is far from the first hip hop artist to collaborate on a pair of kicks. Sneakers have always held a central place in hip hop style and the relationship between the two worlds has only become more intertwined as rappers’s influence has matched (or surpassed) that of athletes when it comes to selling shoes.
The results of these sneaker collaborations have varied. Some artists, like Kanye, have designed signature models. Others have done custom colorways on pre-existing models. There have been some duds, to be sure, but there have also been some stars that stand the test of time.
To see which shoes really shined (and to find out where the the latest Yeezy ranks) check out our list of the 10 greatest hip hop sneaker collaborations of all time.
10. LIL WAYNE: SPECTRE BY SUPRA CHIMERA
I don’t know if I’d call Weezy a good skateboarder, but he is certainly a dedicated skater, which is admirable. So it made sense for Lil Wayne to do a sneaker with a skate brand like Supra. The Chimera had a futuristic, moon boot look that wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it definitely worked for a guy who once sat courtside at a Lakers game in snowboard boots.
9. 50 CENT: REEBOK G UNIT
50 Cent and Jay Z both released sneakers with Reebok in the early aughts. (The move reportedly came after Reebok failed to sign LeBron James). Fitty’s shoe was reminiscent of the Adidas Rod Laver and featured the name of his crew, G Unit, on the heel. Aside from that, is was unremarkable, but the rapper has said that the deal netted him $80 million or 160 million 50 cent coins.
8. BIG SEAN: ADIDAS PRO MODEL II
While Kanye and Pharrell (more on them later) have garnered more attention for their Adidas collabs, Big Sean has also put out a number of shoes with the three stripes. He helped usher in the all-red sneaker trend with these “Detroit Player” Pro Models, which featured a snake print on the leather and suede details. If that wasn’t flashy enough, they also had gold-plated Pyramid lace locks.
7. EMINEM: AIR JORDAN IV
Eminem isn’t thought of by many folks as a style icon, but when he partnered with Brand Jordan on a version of the Jordan IV, it became a cult classic. The black-and-blue colorway was nothing too complicated, but it worked. The fact that it was super-limited only contributed to its cult appeal. The sneakers are so rare that a pair sold last year for $37,500.
6. PHARRELL: ADIDAS SUPERSTAR SUPERCOLOR
Most artists, if they’re lucky, get to release a single colorway or sneaker model. Pharrell isn’t most artists. For his recent work with Adidas, Pharrell created a pack of classic Adidas Superstars in 50 different colors. Each monochrome sneaker was a subtly different shade. There were 10 different versions of purple. That should tell you everything you need to know.
5. KANYE WEST: NIKE YEEZY 2
Kanye’s first signature shoe with Nike felt a little too much like a boot. The second iteration had a more appealing, slimmed down silhouette. The sole was borrowed from Andre Agassi’s Air Tech Challenge II and the upper featured ballistic nylon and a snakeskin texture. Sadly this was right around when Kanye’s relationship with the Swoosh was ending, which led Nike to unceremoniously releasing the “Red October” version without any announcement, much to the chagrin of thirsty sneakerheads.
4. DE LA SOUL: NIKE SB DUNK HIGH
The sneaker so nice they made it twice. In 2005, Nike released a Dunk that paid tribute to De La Soul’s seminal album 3 Feet High And Rising. There was a brown high top and a white low top version. To mark the 10th anniversary of that release, Nike dropped new De La Dunks, this time switching up the colors (white high and brown low). Of the four, the brown high top is the best, with its nods to the album’s cover around the heel combined with the elephant skin print near the toe box.
3. JAY Z: REEBOK S.CARTER
Hov’s collaboration with Reebok turned out significantly better than 50 Cent’s. Sure, it’s a rip-off of a Gucci sneaker from the 80s, but that doesn’t make them any less iconic. So many sneakers designed by rappers seem very tied to a specific moment, where as the S-Dots, as they came to be known, have a more timeless design.
2. RUN-DMC: ADIDAS SUPERSTAR 80S
Run-DMC codified hip hop’s connection with sneaker culture with their 1986 hit “My Adidas” and became the first hip-hop act to sign a million-dollar endorsement deal. That historic moment was captured in the 2011 commemorative edition of the Superstar “shelltoes” that Run-DMC made so famous. Featuring a “dookie rope” gold chain lace lock and the initials of the group’s late DJ Jam Master Jay on the heel tab, the sneakers made it feel like it was the 80s all over again.
1. KANYE WEST: ADIDAS YEEZY 350 BOOST
Yes, putting a shoe that hasn’t even come out yet at the top of this list is a bold move, but the Yeezy 350 Boosts live up to the hype. And more importantly, they will outlive the hype. The first Adidas-Kanye release was a high top with a zipper down the side that was fashion forward but not very user friendly. The low-top is both stylish and highly wearable. Adidas’s Boost technology is obscenely comfortable, as is the moccasin-inspired Primeknit upper that wraps the foot. The sneaker manages to be minimal and futuristic at the same time and is destined to be a classic.