“Look at my player. He has Foamposites on.”
On a tour bus parked directly across the street from the Austin Music Hall venue in which he just performed, Wale, the person who has as much to do with the Foamposite off court as Penny had to do with it on court (let’s be honest here) is chilling with his right hand man – Sneaker Man Dan – and the rest of his crew while playing a game of NBA 2k13 with up-and-coming rapper Tory Lanez. The player he speaks of on the television screen is wearing “Dark Neon Royal” Foamposites, while Wale himself is comfortably dressed in a Vancouver Grizzlies throwback jersey with “Gamma Blue” LeBron 11s gracing his feet. His alternate sneaker option? A pair of Mags, which are placed neatly inside of a Louis Vuitton suitcase next to him on the couch. That’s neither here nor there, though, because he’s focused on one thing. Well, two things: beating Tory Lanez and intensely illuminating his feelings about the sneaker world he grew up in.
In the midst of pausing the game, resuming it and pausing it again, Wale simultaneously dominates through the controller and conducts a lighthearted but serious conversation about the state of the sneaker world with members of the Nice Kicks team. Passionate to say the very least, the “88” rapper vehemently stresses the difference between the shoe culture back then and now, delineates the D.C. sneaker scene and shares why he passed up on three million dollars in an attempt to protect the culture.
Pause the game, and hear him out.
Nice Kicks: How would you describe the sneaker culture in D.C. when you were growing up?
Wale: As far as the whole sneaker culture in D.C., there were so many types of sneakerheads, but we all knew each other. Back then, it was a super underground thing. To get Foams early, you were like the guy that knew people that knew people that knew people, and we were those guys – me, Sneaker Man Dan and my dude Adrian. We used to sell sneakers to all of the drug dealers on the 1st and the 15th; I vividly remember us selling those peanut butter Foamposites to everybody back in the day.
Nice Kicks: Are Foams what you were personally into even during that time period?
Wale: I didn’t wear the shoes people consider hype nowadays. I wore shoes like the “Human Torch” 95s, the “Hawaii” Dunks and the “Mork and Mindy” Dunks. SBs were our first real wave. That’s when we were on our Nationals hats heavy; no matter what we wore, we always had on red Nationals hats. As for Foams, I’ve always been into those, but I don’t like the some of the recent joints. It’s starting to look like the next Air Max 95. Remember when it was just the f*ckin’ Neon 95s? That kinda justified them being $160 because that shade of green was so amazing. The new Foamposite shoes – like the Barkley Posite Max – are cool, but they don’t have longevity.
It’s like having a hit single versus a great album. Did you see that crowd today? Millions of people come see us [Wale and J. Cole]. We don’t have the biggest record in the club. We do well on the charts – “Power Trip” went #1 and “Bad” went #1 – but you hear other rappers in the club way more than us. You can relate that to the new Foam models. They’re dope for what they are, but I almost feel like they’re being created to have a week or two of a few wears, then it becomes your hoop shoe. If a solid Foamposite colorway comes out – like the Royals or Eggplants – and gets a yellow bottom, you’ll still rock that shit. That’s the difference between myself and a lot of these new guys.
Nice Kicks: Outside of D.C., how has the sneaker culture evolved – either positively or negatively – from when you were growing up until now?
Wale: Now, everyone is into sneakers – DJ ‘this’ and rapper ‘that’ – which kinda makes things weird now. But you know, it’s the evolution of the game. Some of these industry people are not really of this sh*t. They do it because it gains them more fans and Instagram followers. Everybody gets sh*t early now because the game is so f*cked up. I can’t even tell who’s who anymore because they all have the blueprint now. I do know that Trinidad James respects the culture; I met Kevin Hart a long time ago, and we were talking about Sea Crystals, Jedis and other SB Dunks, so I know he’s into it.
I respect the culture, but I hate that it’s been bastardized. I understand it makes you a quick buck – we used to flip sneakers too because we couldn’t sell drugs – but there needs to be a line drawn somewhere. The sneaker game has just evolved into something else.
Nice Kicks: Why do you think that is?
Wale: I don’t know. Indirectly, I might have something to do with it because no matter what you do, your hobby or interest elevates as your celebrity figure elevates from a commercialization standpoint. Point in case – Meek Mill loves bikes. ‘Bike Life’ is hot now because that’s his hobby regardless if he raps or not. The only difference is ‘Bike Life’ people are more willing to support Meek Mill because the sneaker community is very snobbish. I say that with the utmost respect, but it’s a snobby type of thing. People hate me on NikeTalk, but I’m actually one of them. I like what I like, but sometimes it unintentionally dictates what’s about to pop off. I genuinely like certain shoes. I’m just a n**** from the hood that can rap his ass off and knows how to make songs, but I’m wholeheartedly into sneakers. The same thing happened with Lupe Fiasco and skateboarding. Skateboarding became a big part of the hip hop culture when Lupe Fiasco came in. It’s just a case of people who you can relate to being into what the masses like.
Nice Kicks: So, how do you expect people to differentiate between a person like you who’s been into sneakers for a while now and a person who just got into it literally yesterday?
Wale: Well, I think people differentiate me from a lot of the people because part of my place within sneakers came from being fly. I’m not into sneakers to just be having sh*t. People know me more for being fly. With me, I’ll show you how to rock the sh*t. I feel like that’s what they look to me for. 30% of my following follows me because of the dressing too – the aura behind the way I wear a shoe. It breaks my heart, though, because some people look at me like I’m the one that damaged it. I’ve always respected the culture, I always stuck to the code. I always showed love to the people who came before me, but because I rap, people will try to discredit my sh*t. People love to call me a hypebeast, but I’m like what the f*ck is hype? I wear what I like. I’ve worn a number of shoes that are not hyped, but I just love to death. Me? A hypebeast? People need to go back and look into their Wale folders, man. In the Complex Magazine shoot, I had the “Lucky 7” Dunks on. I un-DS’d them for the first time on that set.
Nice Kicks: Who did you and your crew look up to in the game, sneaker-wise?
Wale: DJ Clark Kent and DJ AM. Those are the two people Sneaker Man Dan and I looked up to as far as people being cool people with dope collections. Fat Joe, too. You can’t forget about Fat Joe. He’s someone that the younger generation is sleeping on. Fat Joe’s collection probably sh*ts on my sh*t.
Nice Kicks: Name one person who’s not as deep as you are in the sneaker culture but you respect for liking what they like.
Wale: Rihanna likes dope sh*t. I love a girl that can rock sneakers properly. When we did the “Bad (Remix),” Rihanna and I really became friends. So I was thinking, “How can we show our appreciation in our way for doing the remix?” We decided to get her some kicks, and we ended up getting her the “Doernbecher” 3s before they came out. Long story short, she really didn’t know what she was getting. To this day, she still doesn’t know that she got some super limited joints in her size, but I love her. She really knows how to rock shoes.
Nice Kicks: What’s one thing you’d like to see change in the sneaker culture?
Wale: #1 – Nike needs to figure out a way to reward the true sneakerheads. I always thought that Nike should put out signature shoes as quickstrikes, at least for like a year. Reward the guys who know about it and care about the culture, you know? There should be indirect awards for sneakerheads. I feel like we deserve that at least. Don’t make everything so widely available. You don’t even have to give it to us for free, but grant real sneakerheads access on the first day or something like that. Oh, and that bot sh*t is crazy. That should give Nike more of an incentive to want to reward the people who are really in it.
#2 – I also want to see Nike do less with the iD program. It kind of dilutes the shoe in a way because there’s someone out there that’s going to make a better one than the colorways that release to the public.
#3 – I’d like to see Nike SB step it up. I feel like – for some reason – Nike SB has been playing it safe over the past few years. I want to see more stuff like Mork and Mindys, the Jedis, the Olympics, the Sea Crystals and stuff like that. To me, the Pigeons are just OK. The 14-year-old me is not sleeping outside for a grey and orange sneaker.
Honestly, this culture matters to me, man. I passed on at least 3.5 million dollars for deals with other brands. I won’t put those companies’ names out there like that, but it was three different companies. The only way I sign with a different brand is if they do something for the community – like something for a whole football league in D.C. If it’s just for me and what I want, I’m going stick with the brands I like. That’s not to say I wouldn’t wear some Ronnie Fieg joints or Shaq joints, but at the end of the day, I stick with what I like and who I’ve been rocking with.
Nice Kicks: Switching gears, you’re known to not only wear Foams, but an array of LeBrons, KDs and other Nike Basketball signature stuff. The power tends to shift from the different signature lines each year, but which Nike line do you think is bringing it right now?
Wale: I think the KD line gets better and better every year. The “Galaxy” KD IVs were crazy to me, and I like the “DMV” KD Vs, but my favorite signature right now is the KD VI. It’s similar to the Kobe in that it’s low, but you can still wear the laces loose and it not look weird. That’s good for me because a lot of D.C. n***** – we don’t tie our shoelaces. I f*ck with the Kobes, but they’re so hard to wear with jeans. If I’m wearing my Kobes, it’s probably with a sweatsuit or something like that where it’s tapered at the bottom. I would like Kobe to surprise us all and do an Air bag on his next shoe.
In my opinion, the LeBrons are almost plateauing. The LeBron VII was my favorite hands down, and the IIIs were dope too. I didn’t like the Xs that much, but I did like the purple “All-Star” ones though.
Nice Kicks: Let’s talk off-court signatures. Yeezy 1 or Yeezy 2?
Wale: The Yeezy 1 is riskier. They’re crazy. When I look at that shoe, it’s like I’m looking at something that doesn’t really exist. Whereas, the 2 is as much a regular shoe as you can create. They feel like regular shoes in my opinion. That’s why Nate Robinson hooped in them. You should never feel like you can play a sport in a shoe like that. They were going for a futuristic, risky, crazy type of shoe, but that shoe is regular to me. My Yeezy 2s are dogged. The 1 looks like you can take flight in them. I remember every moment about [the shoe] in regards to me getting them. They came out when my first album came out. I was at Dr. Romanelli’s office and somebody from Nike brought them up there. The Zen Grey is my favorite color.
Nice Kicks: Speaking of Nate Robinson, who do you think brings it on the court in terms of kicks?
Wale: Nate Robinson; Monta Ellis; Gilbert Arenas was on it when he was in the league. KD is really into it too, but it’s different with him because he has his own signature. KD will walk up on me with some black and blue Jordan 1s in a size 37 [laughs]. Rudy Gay is in it for sure; Nick Young is up there; Isaiah Thomas too. Those Seattle guys be on that sneaker sh*t heavy. Jamal Crawford is heavy on it too. That’s one of my best friends. On the court, he’ll just wear what is comfortable, but he definitely gets down.
Nice Kicks: Name a shoe you’d like to see retroed from your childhood.
Wale: The Nike Total Air Uptempo Max. It’s one of my Top 3 favorite shoes. It’s not hyped shoe either. I really love the Gatorades. They mean so much to me. I need three fresh pair of those when they come back.
Nice Kicks: What’s one shoe today that defines you, and one shoe that means the most to you?
Wale: Flyknit is the new Air Max. We’re f*ckin’ with the Flyknits heavy, but the shoe that means the most to me is obviously the Foamposite because my hometown means so much to me. I was born in D.C., and I grew up in lower-to-middle class Maryland. That’s a very important part of my life – the schooling and all – and the Foamposite was there with me during those moments. It represents that time in my life.