Before Run-D.M.C. dropped their crossover hit “Walk This Way” in 1986, hip-hop was still a somewhat isolated genre waiting to seep into mainstream pop music. “Walk This Way”, a reprise of the 1975 Aerosmith single with the same title, was ostensibly the first single to bridge the gap between the two worlds. The single would land hip-hop’s first ever top 5 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 list and go on to later be called one hip-hop’s landmark collaborations. The hit would catapult the crew into the homes of millions of unlikely new fans. “[expletive] in the front row started looking like the Ramones and Cyndi Lauper…” says DMC. But it was another single that the group released earlier that same year that would break similar barriers—outside of music. That track was the 1986 cult classic “My Adidas”. Although, somewhat slow to bubble, the single would eventually prove it’s value.
“My Adidas” added nuance to hip-hop’s flashy style sensibility and sneaker culture. It was less about guys rapping about the flashy gear they wore and more about why they rocked it and what it meant to “the culture”. This was a time where hip-hop was full of a lot of raw energy and youth. Run-D.M.C along with LL Cool J, The Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy, signified the advent of the new school of hip-hop music. They were “three brothers, wearing three stripes” and they looked and dressed like the fans they were rapping to. Here’s what the group had to say of the “My Adidas” single:
There was a doctor in our neighborhood named Dr. Deas, and he was like this community activist dude. He even wrote a little pamphlet and he put it around the neighborhood called Fellon Shoes, where he was saying [that] kids and youth in the streets that wore Lee jeans and Kangol hats and gold chains and PUMAs and adidas without shoe laces were the thugs, the drug dealers and the low lifes of the community.
So, when we heard that, we were like, “How in the world is he gonna judge a book by its cover?” So, we said, “Let’s do a record about our sneakers; let’s talk about the sneakers that we wear on our feet, but let’s put a positive spin on it to throw it in the face of this Dr. Deas, who’s trying to judge the youth just by appearances.” Like, you can’t judge a book by its cover. We’re young; we’re educated. A lot of us go to school; a lot of us have jobs. A lot of us, even though we look like our peers in the neighborhood – but you can’t judge everybody by that.
So, we wrote the record “Adidas,” and we just wanted to say because we had a chance to create hip-hop and travel around the world and do good things with hip-hop. That’s why we said, “My adidas walked though concert doors, roamed all over coliseum floors, stepped on stage at Live Aid.” … How you gonna look at us, not knowing you just said everybody wearing these sneakers … Don’t you know I just stepped on stage at Live Aid? The people gave and the poor got paid.
It wasn’t like Run-D.M.C. hadn’t accomplished anything. They were the first group in the genre to have a gold album (Run–D.M.C., 1984) and be nominated for a Grammy Award. They were the first to earn a platinum record (King of Rock, 1985), the first to earn a multiplatinum certification (Raising Hell, 1986), the first to have videos on MTV, and the first to appear on American Bandstand and the cover of Rolling Stone. The gaudy jewelry, the sweatsuits, the dope kicks—were just a part of who the group were.
Angelo Anastasio, a senior Adidas employee, attended Run-D.M.C’s ’86 Raising Hell tour in Madison Square garden and witnessed a crowd of more than 40,000 fans go bananas as the group urged the crowd to “show us your Adidas!” Anastasio reportedly rushed back to the Adidas New York headquarters to share his experience. In the years to follow, the three guys from Hollis Queens, NY would kick down the doors of the business world, signifying a new, more lucrative, relationship between the music business and the brands artists were already freely endorsing. The news of the incredible crowd reception and the group’s social influence would later lead to Run-D.M.C. inking hip-hop’s first million-dollar endorsement deal—1.6 million to be exact. It was also hip-hop’s first 7-figure sneaker contract.
Run-R.M.C. would become poster children for the Adidas brand and the Superstar shell toe sneaker would be to rap culture what the mullet was to rock. The crew took the kicks off of the basketball court and onto the blacktops of the NY streets. It was as much a part of their image as the dookie gold chains. The shell toe would become arguably one of the most recognizable sneakers in popular culture. Adidas would go on to release the popular shoe in a Run-D.M.C. edition—sans laces. “My Adidas”, in it’s authenticity, set out to set hip-hop detractors straight but really became more of an anthem for 80’s sneaker heads and hip-hop historians alike.
By the time of the group’s Together Forever tour (1987), Adidas’ marriage with hip-hop had proven to be a match made in heaven. The skyrocketing success of the shell toe sneaker would lead to deals with other reputable artists like Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Missy Elliott, Snoop Dogg, Ciara, and other artists that we see today.
Hip-hop, streetwear, and the brands married to the culture owe their increasingly complex relationship with hip-hop to the influence of the legendary rap group Run-D.M.C.