Conflicts of a Culture: 1 on 1 with “WINGS” Artist Macklemore

“I think that Phil Knight (co-founder and Chairman of Nike, Inc.) has probably made billions of dollars or millions and millions of dollars off of being extremely good at manipulating the masses. But I love his shoes!” – Macklemore

We can, and will always appreciate hip-hop artists that pinpoint sneakers as the focal point of their songs. Usually, we witness artists rapping about how many sneakers smother the walls of their closets or how they are sporting retros months before the official release date; however, Seattle, Washington based artist Macklemore brings a different, more controversial perspective to the sneaker culture.

Macklemore’s new song/video, WINGS, is a powerful story about American youth and their struggle to find their way in a culture dominated by consumerism, obsession and wanting to “Be Like Mike”. Following the debut of WINGS last week, we caught up with the candid, openhearted rapper to discuss a number of contentious topics pertaining to the sneaker culture. Specifically, Macklemore touched on the conflict of sneakers and their current prices, the correlation between sneakers and drugs and most of all his thoughts on co-founder and Chairman of Nike, Inc. Phil Knight.

Check out our in-depth, 1 on 1 interview with Macklemore below.

Macklemore's "WINGS" Graphic

Nice Kicks: We have came across a number of sneaker tribute songs within the past few years; however, we have never heard a sneaker inspired song from the perspective you decided to go with on WINGS. What motivated you to portray the sneaker culture in such a controversial light?

Macklemore: I knew that I wanted to do a song about shoes. I’ve been a sneakerhead ever since I was a little kid because I was always into Nikes, Jordans and just shoes in general. So, I knew I wanted to do a song about it, but I didn’t know the perspective I wanted to hit. It started off with me just talking about my closet, but then I realized this isn’t any different than any other song coming out. I wanted to see how I could examine the subject matter of shoes and go a little bit deeper into the origin of the sneaker culture.

Nice Kicks: We spotted a video of you performing WINGS in Wisconsin awhile back. Usually, we associate big sneaker cultures in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, but the Wisconsin crowd knew WINGS word for word. What does it mean to you to see a sneaker-associated song touch such a wide array of people nationwide, let alone worldwide?

Macklemore: It’s those types of situations that have led me to understand how universal Jordans are. Leading into the song, I usually ask the crowd how many people have ever owned a pair of Nikes; it’s usually between 85%-95% of the hands go up. For Jordans, it’s about 60%-80%, depending on where you are. As a youth growing up in the late 80s, or 90s or 2000s, you either had a pair of Jordans or you knew tons of people that did. So, it’s a world topic. The response has been crazy. It’s a sneakerhead song, but it is something that has a deeper meaning just in the consumption in American culture in general. It’s been crazy to see most people that haven’t been exposed to the sneaker culture still get it, and then also all of the people that really do relate on a first-hand basis. The response has been insane.

Nice Kicks: In the first verse of WINGS, you uplifted and praised the sneaker culture; yet, in the second verse, it seems as if you lost your infatuation with kicks and referred to them as “just another pair of shoes”. When did that transformation change for you in real life?

Macklemore: Honestly, it changed while I was writing. I didn’t go into it thinking I was going to be nostalgic and reminisce about my childhood and then bash Phil Knight in the second verse. It was more of a realization in the process of writing it. That wasn’t a plan to it. I think it’s something that I struggle with, and I think a lot of sneakerheads struggle with it too. Sneakers are a huge part of my life, but on the other aspect, they are extremely expensive. Sometimes it’s excess. Do we really need these 30-40 pairs of Jordans in the closet? What does this really mean? How does this define myself as an individual? Do these shoes make me fresh? I had proposed and thought about these questions before, but I never broke them down. This song was my attempt to break down my own, conflicted interest in the sneaker culture.

Some of Macklemore's sneaker collection

Nice Kicks: In the opening lines of WINGS, you mentioned that you were seven years old when you got your first pair. Was the Air Jordan 4 your first pair like the kid in the video?

Macklemore: Yeah, it was my first pair. I actually had the red and white 4s (“Fire Red” Air Jordan 4) as my first pair.

Nice Kicks: There was a ton of retros worn throughout the video. Did you handpick all of the retros or have a role in any other part of the video treatment?

Macklemore: No, I didn’t. That was actually the line for the “True Blue” 3s that came out. That was just the sneakerheads that were in line to get them at Niketown. I found out we had one more shot to shoot, so I told them to go down to Niketown, there is going to be kids out there in crazy shoes. So, the director did it and got that shot. It’s one of my favorites shots for sure.

A few of Macklemore's Air Jordans

“As a youth growing up in the late 80s, or 90s or 2000s, you either had a pair of Jordans or you knew tons of people that did. So, it’s a world topic…It’s a sneakerhead song, but it is something that has a deeper meaning just in the consumption in American culture in general.”

– Macklemore

Nice Kicks: We read that your rap career began at local open mic sessions in Seattle. Do you remember what shoes you rocked in your initial open mic sessions since that was a very important time in your life?

Macklemore: I remember, at the time, I had gotten a pair of the Scottie Pippen’s second signature shoe. I was in eighth grade. It was funny because at the time I was probably a size 10-10.5, but for some reason I thought it was cool to buy bigger pairs of shoes. So, I remember buying like a size 11.5-12 in these Scottie Pippens, which was already a big a** shoe; you know, it’s a big, bulky basketball shoe. I just looked ridiculous with these huge pair of Pippens with these little, tiny, pale, white chicken legs rocking the open mic.