Kanye West's Most Iconic Sneaker Moments
June 14, 2019
Before Yeezy became his brand name, and new colorways of his signature sneakers released every month, Kanye West was rockin’ some of the flyest footwear on the planet. West has become one of the most polarizing celebrities in recent years but there was a time, way back, when the fashion world’s most influential man, was still rockin’ backpacks and pink Polo shirts with popped collars. The trend of “Old Kanye” might not be as popular now, but the influence of Yeezy’s style is undeniable. So as Kanye marks off another trip around the sun, let’s look back at a brief history of Kanye West's most iconic sneaker moments.
The Backpack Rapper Days
Before Kanye’s debut album, The College Dropout, first released back in 2004, Kanye was known for producing music for other hip-hop artists and casually dropping sneaker references into his own music. Like everyone in the early-2000s, Kanye was rocking Air Force 1s to no end. Just one of the many reasons AF1s are regarded as one of the most iconic sneakers of all time.
One of Ye’s other go-to sneaker choices in the early-2000s was the Air Jordan 6 Infrared. The shoe that Michael Jordan wore for his first championship hadn’t been seen since 1991, and like most sneakerhead’s Kanye made the shoe a regular part of his rotation when the retro of these shoes released in the summer of 2000. Another classic Air Jordan that was a staple for Kanye back in the day was the Air Jordan 3 Black Cement. This iconic sneaker became a go-to for Yeezy in the late ‘00s when it was released as a retro.
In addition to the Air Jordans, Air Max and adidas were also a regular in Kanye’s repertoire during this era as well. The ever-changing footwear in his wardrobe became the obsession for sneakerheads following his journey from afar through paparazzi photos and the occasional leaked shots from a studio session that made its way onto Myspace. Yes, Myspace. Keep in mind, Twitter, Instagram, and social media as we know it today, was still a few years away at this time.
The diversity in Kanye’s sneaker choices prior to his first collaborations can be summed up by his verse in the Late Registration bonus track Back To Basics in 2005:
"Lets take it back to basics When shit gets worse we Converse How we need a New Balance before the lines get crossed like ASICS Just look at what we got, if we don't shoot the Reeboks"
The first sign of the possibility for Kanye West’s signature footwear came in 2005, when he was seen wearing a pair of the Nike Air 180 featuring the ‘College Dropout Bear’ that had become synonymous with Kanye’s first three albums, The College Dropout in 2004, Late Registration in 2005, and Graduation in 2007. It was this era that Kanye’s footwear choices began to have a clear connection to Japanese streetwear culture.
Kanye was quickly becoming one of the most influential faces of fashion...and a blogger. His blog, Kanye UniverseCity, was an important part of shaping the streetwear and sneaker media that we’ve come to know today. It also gave us a peek into the creative mind of one of the most popular entertainers of the modern era.
Closing the chapter of Kanye’s Japanese-inspired visuals (at least for a short while), Kanye teamed up with the legendary artist, Takashi Murakami, for the Good Morning animated music video in 2009. It was around this time that Kanye’s connection to Tokyo’s fashion influence was taken to the next level.
Along with wearing brands like A Bathing Ape, which even created a sample Bapesta model featuring his famous bear, Kanye would help introduce brands like Visvim, Ato Matsumoto, and many others, to a new generation of sneakerheads.
One of Kanye’s most memorable sneaker choices came in 2009 when he laced up a pair of New Balance 997.5 that was made by the popular Japanese streetwear brand, United Arrows. Ye was regularly seen wearing these ultra-rare kicks, and due to the limited nature and Japan-only release, they became almost mythical in the United States, making them even more desirable. In fact, their allure was so powerful that nearly 10 years later in 2018, another fashion icon, Ronnie Fieg would remake a new version of the sneaker with his KITH brand.
Kanye West’s first official collaboration also came in 2009 when his collection of footwear with Louis Vuitton was finally released. Back then was the early days of sneaker blogs and the news of Kanye and LV working together had been circling message boards like the ISS Forums and Niketalk for months. Kanye named the shoes after his now-famous friends, IBN Jasper, Don C, and others. The Louis Vuitton collab might not have been affordable for most sneakerheads but it set the course for Kanye’s most famous sneakers, the Yeezys.
The Nike Air Yeezy
In February of 2008 at the 50th Annual GRAMMY Awards, Kanye West took the stage wearing an unknown sneaker. It was the first time he had ever worn the shoes in public, although the die-hard fans had been hearing rumors of his partnership with Nike for quite some time. The sneaker Kanye wore happened to be one of the early samples of his upcoming Nike Air Yeezy. The first Air Yeezy would release in 2009, in perfect harmony with the booming popularity of sneaker blogs, which helped make Kanye’s collaboration with Nike nothing less than a cultural phenomenon.
Kanye created a sneaker that had pieces of nostalgia from past Nike sneakers but was also completely different from the shoes that consumers were used to seeing. The Swoosh and Ye would go on to release three colorways of the original Air Yeezy, a black and pink version, one in tan and one in grey. If you were lucky enough to get a pair and didn’t wear them, today they are worth upwards of ten times the original retail price.
Kanye and Nike dropped the second version of the Air Yeezy in 2012 with two color choices originally available, black and grey. Rumors circled that only 5,000 of each colorway were produced. The hype around the Air Yeezy 2 was even greater than the first shoe and it became a status symbol almost instantly. Like the first version, the resale prices of the Yeezy 2 instantly shot through the roof and it became clear that Kanye West had figured out something special about the supply and demand of sneakers.
A third colorway of the Air Yeezy 2, deemed the “Red Octobers” was rumored to be in the works. Kim Kardashian posted a photo as a part of the hype of Kanye’s Yeezus album implying the shoes would release on June 18th, 2013, and Kanye even wore them for his appearance on Saturday Night Live to further the hype.
Unfortunately, by this time, rumors of Kanye’s displeasure with Nike execs were already buzzing throughout social media. The Red Octobers did not release as a part of Kanye’s master plan but were later released unexpectedly by Nike in late 2014. However, what happened next changed the game forever.
Yeezy Jumps Over Jumpman
By 2014, Kanye decided to leave his deal with Nike and partnered with adidas in one of the most surprising and unprecedented deals in sneaker history. It was announced that adidas was going to be creating the Yeezy line of sneakers and Kanye’s own brand of clothing of the same name, with Kanye’s ultimate goal being that his shoes be available to everyone who wants them.
The first sign of Kanye’s incredible influence with adidas came when he wore the adidas Energy Boost running shoe to perform during a timeout at the Chicago Bulls game. The general release sneaker had been available for weeks but when Kanye wore them, they sold out on every online retailer by the end of the day.
Kanye’s first adidas shoe was the Yeezy Boost 750 that released in February of 2015. The hightop design that was even further from the standards that sneakerheads were used to. In fact, the shoe didn’t even have a visible Three Stripes that was the trademark of the adidas brand. Still, the Yeezys sold out instantly and became worth exponentially more than they were sold for at retail. Kanye had clearly figured out the formula. With that, Kanye amped up his battle with Nike, even declaring that “Yeezy just jumped over Jumpman,” a shot at Nike’s Jordan Brand, in the song called Facts from his The Life Of Pablo that released in 2016.
Since then, West and adidas have released over 60 styles of Yeezy sneakers in the past half-decade, including styles for women, kids, and even football cleats. Nearly every release has sold out within days of becoming available. With summer just around the corner, a new wave of Yeezy sneaker releases are scheduled, which will undoubtedly add more iconic sneaker moments to Kanye West’s climb to the top of the sneaker game.