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How Run-DMC Earned Their Adidas Stripes

May 2016Words by Mr Gary Warnett

Run-DMC (Jam Master Jay, Mr Joseph Simmons and Mr Darryl “DMC” McDaniels) in Hollis Queens, New York, 1986. Photograph by Ms Ebet Roberts/ebetroberts.com

In 2016, the idea of a rapper working with a big brand is more synonymous with hip-hop than a Technics turntable. But that wasn’t the case when adidas and Run-DMC came together in the late 1980s; the group’s single “My Adidas” was released on 29 May 1986, 30 years ago this week.

For all its importance, it’s not the greatest record by the trio from Queens, New York City. Taken from the bestselling Raising Hell LP, it’s a skeletal, scratch-heavy, braggadocious homage to German sportswear that reuses a sample from a couple of years prior. But while it seems like a piece of paid promo, this was a strictly self-funded love letter. Messrs Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels and Jam Master Jay really, really liked their adidas Superstars. Still, the masterplan came soon after.

By the time Run-DMC released their first single in 1983, the adidas Superstar was an old basketball shoe, originally handed to players in 1969. The way Run-DMC wore their Superstars was striking, but they didn’t invent the look. The combination of sneakers without laces (a nod to prison, where they were removed to prevent inmates hanging themselves with them), black Lee jeans, leather goose-down jackets, Cazal glasses and gold rope chains had long been the look of New York hustlers. But as earlier popular artists like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were pushed by their labels into wearing flamboyant, shiny, post-disco gear, Run-DMC would take the street look mainstream.