on the road with kendrick lamar
We follow Kendrick Lamar to Manchester, where he dropped in on a local community centre to battle young kids, and spoke to us about Compton, Reebok Classics and British style.
Last week saw Reebok celebrate its 1983 Classic Leather sneaker with dinners, parties and the electrifying presence of the smiley-eyed, deep-souled brand ambassador Kendrick Lamar. After a launch party in the Tate Modern, where designers including Agi & Sam, Christopher Shannon and Cottweiler showed off looks from their latest collections and Little Simz performed beside a roomful of Mondrians, it was then up to Manchester where Kendrick Lamar motivated kids at a local community centre, played an awesome, intimate gig at the old Granada Studios and talked to journalists about his relationship with Reebok, his idea of Compton fashion and the beauty of a slow bop walk.
Where does your relationship with Reebok go back to?
It goes all the way back to middle school: 13-years-old, Reebok Classics. Remember Cash Money Hot Boys? This was my favourite rap group at the time - and for many of my friends in Compton, California, Los Angeles, Long Beach. They was killing the game and they always wore these Reeboks. We wanted to be like our favourite rappers, so what we did was we just went and had collections of Reebok: the white classics, the black classics. I think they had a few high-tops. We just ran with those shoes forever man, because they felt real to us, they felt classic to us, they felt like hip-hop. When we see Lil Wayne and Juvenile wearing them we wanted to wear them too.
What did you love so much about Hot Boys?
The fact that they were so confident. You could see with the clothing. They looked good!
When you were a kid, what did you like most about a fresh pair of trainers?
How cool you can walk in them. You're looking at other rappers and the mannerisms. You'd do a slow bop. You could never do something fast. And how clean you could keep them. But that never worked for me as a kid.
You went from being a big fan of Reeboks to having your own shoes. What's that like?
It's crazy man. Just the idea of knowing that I was buying Reebok at an early age and now I'm selling my own Reebok years later. It's just an organic thing to think that you have a personal relationship with something that you invested in.
So how involved were you in the creative process?
I'm involved in anything that's creative, because I just like to be creative period. We wanted to bring unity in the city and Reebok granted my wish by doing the Red and Blues [he created a trainer representing the red and blue colours of LA gangs the Bloods and the Crips in an attempt to forge unity], which was a blessing, because it's bigger than just me, and it's bigger than a shoe. It actually represents the struggle inside the community. If you can take a pair of shoes and make it into a positive thing, that's a big thing.
What the reaction like from people in your circle and fans after the shoes came out?
They didn't think it was possible. I come from the same soil they come from, and to do something where they see a culture, a gang lifestyle on the back of a shoe, it made it that much more real for me. It's not just me selling and putting a product in their faces. It's them saying, "Man this dude really did it and he did it in the right way." So the reaction was 100% great, from my city to around the world.
What was Compton style to you growing up?
White tees, Levi jeans, Reeboks. That was the look. Nice little gold chain. We're not really huge on jewellery in Los Angeles. In the South they are. Every since the 80s, it's been little small pieces. Nothing too crazy.
And what's Compton style like now, compared to when you were coming up?
Now you have kids who are a little more open. Around Hot Boys I was wearing XXL t-shirts and jeans this big. Now kids will wear fitted jeans or skin y jeans and feel comfortable. Kids are just more open-minded these days.
Do you have any British style icons?
No. I was too young to even understand. Now I'm in the space to travel and learn about cultures and find out where I get my influence from.
Text Stuart Brumfitt