Where did the sacrificial human blood that’s used in the Satan-themed Nike Air Max 97s that Lil Nas X is releasing today come from?
“Myself and some of my co-workers,” says Daniel Greenberg, a co-founder of MSCHF, the Brooklyn-based collective that created the shoes as a collaboration with the young rapper.
Like all of the projects MSCHF makes, the sneakers were designed to go viral. They fulfilled their destiny swiftly, appearing online over the weekend before their release and immediately generating headlines and furious tweets. Greenberg thrives on this kind of public reaction, although he is cryptic on one aspect of the shoes. He would not explain how he and the others at MSCHF collected the blood they claim is used.
“Not the best way, to say the least,” he says. “I could tell you; it’s just kind of graphic. But, like, not by any means a good way of doing it.”
The custom Air Max 97s by MSCHF and Lil Nas X release at 11 a.m. EST on Monday morning here. Each of the 666 pairs is individually numbered. They are priced at $1,018, a reference to the Bible verse Luke 10:18, which reads, “He replied, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.’” The sneakers are decorated with a pentagram emblem and come in a graphic box referencing their satanic theme. They are black with red accents, the most notable being the ruby mixture of one drop of blood and 60 ccs of ink sloshing around in their midsoles.
The shoes are connected to “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” Lil Nas X’s newly released song that has him gyrating on a depiction of Satan in its accompanying video. The model itself is a significant one in his footwear history—the Air Max 97 has been a favorite of Lil Nas X and was one of the first shoes he bought for himself when he blew up in 2019.
“With my song and my video, it was kind of like the perfect match-up,” Lil Nas X told Complex in an episode of Sneaker Stories shot ahead of the sneaker’s release.
The artist describes his embrace of Satan—both on the shoes and in his music video—as a way for him to reframe negative perceptions around him. Lil Nas X, who came out as gay in June 2019, wrote on Twitter last week that the song is “about a guy I met last summer.” In his initial tweet about “Montero,” he wrote that it would open doors for other queer people.
“People already demonize who I am and put me in a painting of, ‘OK, he’s evil, he’s doing this, he’s doing that,’” he said to Complex. “So it’s like, you know what? You know what? I’ll take that, I’ll be that, and I’m going to make the best of it.”
Controversial though the shoes have already been, Greenberg is confident that they will sell out in seconds. Complaints from Christians did not hinder the success of MSCHF’s first religious shoe, a Jesus-inspired Nike Air Max 97 from 2019 that had water from the River Jordan (blessed by a priest, of course) in its midsoles. It was one of the most Googled shoes that year and resells for over its already expensive retail price of $1,425, something of a rarity for custom shoes. Drake bought a pair. According to Greenberg, he’s also one of the celebrities to get a promo pair of the Satan shoes. Others have not been as enamored of the work.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem responded to the Lil Nas X Satan shoes on Twitter with a grave message, warning her followers that, “we are in a fight for the soul of our nation.”
Former professional basketball player Nick Young said he was debating whether he’d continue to wear Nike, later realizing that Nike did not actually have anything to do with the product.
There’s been a decent amount of confusion in the wake of the shoe’s surfacing over Nike’s level of involvement. The brand did not sanction the sneakers in any way, and they are merely customs of existing Nikes sourced by MSCHF through big box retailers like Foot Locker and Snipes. In a statement, Nike clarified that it had no ties to the responsible parties.
“We do not have a relationship with Little Nas X or MSCHF,” the brand said. “Nike did not design or release these shoes, and we do not endorse them.”
Greenberg says that MSCHF—which he describes as a hybrid of Banksy, Supreme, and Kaws—has no desire to do official projects with big brands. But that hasn’t stopped them from asking.
“A ton of brands, specifically in the fashion space and some in the sneaker space, have basically asked us to knock them off without endorsing the project,” he says.
One of the most common questions that comes up about MSCHF’s work is whether it could provoke litigation from the manufacturers whose products it riffs on. In the case of the Satan shoes, Greenberg believes selling them is completely legal as they use legitimate Nikes for their base. If anything, the advertised bodily fluids for sale could be more problematic were they more voluminous.
“It’s basically a drop, it’s a tiny, tiny bit in each sole,” Greenberg says. “Obviously, if you were trying to sell quarts of human blood online, you might have an issue.”
One can imagine that the Brooklyn-based creative outfit would not fret over any additional infamy for its hype product drops, even if it involved a cease-and-desist. MSCHF is not solely invested in shock value—one of the upsides of using human blood, Greenberg reasons, is that it avoids complaints from animal-rights groups—but the collective creates with the explicit intention of generating intense reactions. These responses are its barometer for success.
“We’re prepared for people to be upset with it, but it’s also not something that we predominantly mind,” he explains. “We say a lot internally, we’re OK being loved or hated, we just don’t want apathy.”