The world is increasingly closer to seeing what Kanye West has cooked up with adidas. It's been a long wait, and it's because he's always had a close connection to sneaker culture, going back to when he was getting kicked out of class for drawing Air Jordans. But when he was a kid, his mother, Donda West, didn't want him to put himself in danger over the sneakers he had on his feet. This reason, amongst other issues, is why she wouldn't let a young Kanye ride Chicago's L train when he was growing up.
In her 2007 book, Raising Kanye, the now-deceased West penned a chapter titled "L No!," and she discussed the perils of taking Chicago's elevated subway system. In the book, West writes, "People were getting killed over Starter jackets and gym shoes. The murder rate and gang activity in Chicago was no joke. We're not talking an insolate incident here. Not by a long shot. And I wasn't going to risk anyone taking Kanye's Air Jordans or his Starter jacket or worse yet, his life. Life itself was not sacred on the L. I preferred to drop him off and pick him up if need be."
Kanye's mother's actions were not exaggerated by any means. Violence centered around jackets and sneakers in Chicago in the '90s was serious. In the now-infamous 1990 Sports Illustrated article, "Your Sneakers or Your Life," Chicago police sergeant Michael Chasen said his district had "About 50 reported incidents involving jackets and about a dozen involving gym shoes each month."
As one could expect, Kanye wasn't proud that he was banned from riding the L train. His mother recalls, "He didn't want to be perceived as being so spoiled that he couldn't take the trains. That was just not cool. Whenever I'd begin to tell that story, Kanye would always stop me."
With the release of the Kanye x adidas on the horizon, sneaker violence is still an ever-present problem. Kids may not be getting robbed for their Starter jackets, but Air Jordans are still a hot and dangerous commodity. This type of violence is often centered around sneaker campouts, but adidas is looking to change the headache and potential negative situations that might occur once their Kanye sneakers hit stores. The brand is launching an app that will allow people to reserve the footwear and pick them up at their own convenience, without ever having to camp out for hours outside a store.
The risk of fights or deaths breaking out over the Kanye x adidas sneakers is real. In December 2013, a Chicago barber was murdered when he attempted to buy a pair of Nike Air Yeezy 1s, for $1,800, while at work.
That goes to show that things haven't changed on the streets of the Windy City when it comes to coveted sneakers, even though it's been more than 20 years since Kanye's mom banned him from riding that notorious L train. As she joked in her book, "That was fifteen years ago and the next thing you know, we'll see a headline that says, 'Kanye's mama says L no.' What I was really saying is, 'Safety above all else.'"
She was right. People shouldn't be afraid to take public transportation or buy a pair of sought-after sneakers, but they also shouldn't put themselves in risky situations to do either—especially if they're going to potentially get harmed for what's on their feet. No sneakers, no matter how great, are worth losing your life over.
There's going to be an expected mess when the Kanye x adidas collections hits stores, even if the sneakers or jackets are reserved with an app. But in light of this, maybe we should all listen to Donda West and stay out of the thick of it when push literally turns to shove. I know, personally, I don't want to write about another person dying at a sneaker release this February.
Matt Welty is a staff writer at Complex. You can follow him on Twitter here.