Last night, the talk of the BET Awards was Kanye West’s acapella-rapped verse to his upcoming song “New God Flow” with fellow G.O.O.D Music cohort Pusha T. The verse was chock-full of quotables, but the one that stuck most was Mr. West’s proclamation about his sneakers, the Nike Air Yeezy, outdoing that perennial symbol of fresh, the Air Jordan. As the line goes: “Look I’m not trying to stunt, man, but these Yeezys jumped over the Jumpman.” Bold statement, right? Crazy, right? Well, maybe the answer isn’t that simple.
Sure, the Air Jordan has a serious head start. For the past 27 years, the Air Jordan’s reign has never been questioned. It’s been a rinse and repeat cycle of new retros dropping, stores selling the shit out of them, and the Nike subsidiary keeping its old base and gaining new devoted followers with each drop. Jordan Brand’s run isn’t debatable—the best basketball player of all-time has had arguably 11 or so of the best sneakers ever made. His sneakers have transcended sports—when you throw on Jordans, you immediately feel cooler. The throne has never even been challenged—that is, until now.
Look, no one is trying to—or can—debate the Air Jordan’s legacy vs. the Air Yeezy’s, but what if Kanye’s just getting started? We’re fresh off the craziest sneaker release of all-time, Ye’s follow-up to his first crack at designing a sneaker, and most people feel like he topped his first effort. The sequel is more technical, more wearable, uses better materials, and at its core, there’s only a handful of sneakers that have dropped that look cooler. Think back to 2009 when the first Air Yeezy released, and the hysteria it caused, and the fact that take-two of the shoe was even crazier. Brick and mortar shops had to create a blueprint just for people to have a chance to buy the sneakers. Imagine that happening for a series of sneakers once a year consistently.
Naysayers will quickly dismiss Ye’s $245 Nikes as a “hypebeast” shoe, but that argument is tired.
The fact of the matter is Kanye West is a brand now—a very powerful brand. When he wears clothing, people scramble to find out what it is, and where they can consume it. Back in the ‘80s, fashion trends were set by athletes and what they wore on the court. And consumers had to wait for commercials—or the shoes themselves to hit shelves—to even know what was what. The paradigm has changed. Everyone knows what people are wearing within minutes of their wearing it, sneakers are previewed in full long before they hit shelves, and much more attention is paid to entertainers, of whom Kanye is king.
Naysayers will quickly dismiss Ye’s $245 Nikes as a “hypebeast” shoe, but that argument is tired. Sure, fashion-forward hip-hop heads are wearing the shoe, but even cultural outsiders like tennis champ Roger Federer are starting to co-sign Kanye’s creations. It’s the only sneaker (okay, maybe the Galaxy Foams) that people outside the culture have brought up in conversation. And another point that backs up Kanye’s claim: look at the re-sale value—has any Jordan (with the exception of the super-limited UNDFTD IVs) ever been as high as the Air Yeezy 2? Resellers are frowned upon sometimes, but they’re a big determining factor of how much people really want a product. If all ‘Ye meant was that the Yeezy 2 jumped the Jumpman in terms of demand, the answer is yes.
So then we get to the larger picture. What if Kanye dropped a sneaker every year for the next decade? Will the designs maintain pace? Will the demand continue? Only then will we be able to definitively talk about anyone outdoing the Jumpman. It will be interesting to see if Kanye has what it takes to follow the same path as Jordan, from signature sneaker to a true spinoff brand. Does Kanye actually need the Nike logo to sell the sneakers, or would a YEEZI logo move just as many units? Only time will tell.
By Joe La Puma (@JLaPuma)
Listen to Kanye's full verse here: