When Reebok signed L.A. rapper Kendrick Lamar to a deal at the end of 2014, there was no guarantee it would work. Lamar was popular and only getting more so, but he had also rapped, “I ain’t wearing no more designer shit / White tees and Nike Cortez,” less than a year earlier in what many considered to be the verse of the year. It’s not like no one heard it. Two years later, the brand inked Future, and once again, there were doubts. But like Future said on another hit with another rapper, them boys up to something.
Try to even think of Kendrick Lamar wearing a pair of Cortez now. You can’t. That’s because in the two years since he signed with Reebok, he’s become near-synonymous with the Classic Leather, another simple runner with L.A. connections. His gang unity versions of the shoe sold out immediately, which allowed Reebok to release an even broader collection. He did a Ventilator first (as well as a yet-unreleased Club C), but it’s the Classic Leather that’s “Kendrick’s shoe.” His endorsement has given the circa-1983 runner new life by connecting it to a culture and a cause.
The brand hopes that Future can do the same for 1994’s Instapump Fury. A cult classic in Asia since its launch, the Fury has been a tough sell in America—whether it’s a matter of pricepoint or style. Reebok has tried lots of things, from reissues to ultra-limited collaborations (most recently 20 of them for its 20th anniversary in 2014), but the Fury has remained a very niche shoe. It also happened to be the silhouette that Future gravitated to immediately at his first meeting with the brand, according to a Reebok executive. The “Overbranded” Instapump Fury, which released this week, is the first time they’ve paired Future with the sneaker—and it’s getting a positive response.
The Instapump Fury will be a tougher sell than the Classic Leather—the Fury sells for a lot more (it’s $165 compared to $110 for the Classic Leather), and its skeletal-yet-Pump-puffy laceless look is tough to pull off. But to their credit, Reebok is already thinking beyond this. They confirmed that both Lamar and Future are already working on their own silhouettes, both under the “Classics” umbrella. As companies continue to re-issue wider and wider swaths of their own back catalogs, it’s become more important that “retro” encompass more than just straightforward reproductions of older models. New retro has been attempted at various times by various companies with varying degrees of success.
Reebok themselves tried it back in the early 2000s. After signing Jay Z and G-Unit, they launched retro-ish footwear for each. Things started hot before fizzling out. Anyone remember the S. Carter basketball program? But this is a different time. Kanye West’s mainstream success with Adidas has made it clear that the right product connected to the right entertainer can do as well as any current signature hoops shoe. Meanwhile, Reebok’s decision to end their basketball program and focus primarily on Crossfit and Classics means that Lamar and Future are two of their biggest endorsers, period.
If things go as planned, Reebok will have Lamar in the classic staples with Future connected to the, well, more futuristic silhouettes, each with a signature shoe of their own. Things never go quite as planned, of course. But just having a good one, that’s the first step. Consider it taken.