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Classic Hip-Hop Album Art That Impacted Sneaker Culture

By Alec Banks

Hip-Hop and sneakers will always go together. While Run-DMC were responsible for the intersection of music and fashion on a global scale — thanks to their laceless shell-toed adidas — we've continued to see how Hip-Hop artists can popularize certain silhouettes with much greater of an impact than any athlete could ever could.

In an era before sneakers were dissected on the internet, the album cover was the place to see what was considered the hottest sneaker in the streets. It was "street style" decades before that term existed. 

Here are 8 classic Hip-Hop albums/singles that showed the world what was hot at the time.

LL COOL J's Radio

While the front cover of LL COOL J's debut album, Radio, depicts a JVC RC-M90 boombox which fit the title of the album, the back of the record reveals LL COOL J in a pair of bred Air Jordan 1's ( affectionately known as the “Banned” colorway because of the letter he received from the league office. Both MJ and LL COOL J emerged in 1985. The Queens MC is among the first MC's to sport Jordan's debut shoe in any official press photos

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five's The Source

On the cover for Grandmaster Flash’s fourth LP, he wore a pair of PONY Slam Dunks which first debuted on the basketball court in 1982 The brand would get an additional kick start not only from Flash, but Spud Webb's PONY City Wings which he wore in the dunk contest.

Doug E Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew's Oh My God

In a classic 1994 interview, Biggie Smalls indicated what made him interested in selling drugs as a teen: "I knew niggas was gettin’ money, and I knew they were selling drugs. I knew they was fly as hell—they had hundred-and-fifty-dollar Ballys on and bubble gooses and sheepskins, and I was like, 'Oh shit. These niggas just doin’ it.'” While Bally sneakers would become synonymous with the Brooklyn MC, Doug E. Fresh actually popularized the silhouette in grandiose fashion.

Fat Boys' "The Twist"

First released in 1988, the Nike Air Assault may have flown under the radar if it weren't for the inclusion on The Fat Boys' "The Twist" which showcased a different usage of animal print outside of the Jordan III.

Heavy D's Chunky But Funky

The Jordan II is as slept on a shoe as any during Michael Jordan's active playing career — possibly because it's situated in between three of possibly the most important shoes in history (I,III,IV). The shoe maintained a cult status thanks to Heavy D and an appearance in the film, School Daze. Many pointed the high price tag — $100 in 1986 — and the Italian-made sensibilities designers Peter Moore and Bruce Kilgore put into the shoe.

Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock "It Takes Two"

The Air Force 1 remains an integral piece of Hip-Hop culture. So where did it all start: look no further than Rob Base & DK D-Z Rock's "It Takes Two" which came out in 1988 — two years after the silhouette became Nike's first "retro" release.

Ice T's What You Wanna Do?

Pulled from Ice T's third album, The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech...Just Watch What You Say that was released in 1989 via Sire Records, the West Coast MC showed that MJ's Jordan IV was even getting love on the West Coast at the height of the Showtime Lakers.

Queen Latifah's Latifah's Had It Up 2 Here

The Queen herself cemented herself in sneaker lore forever by wearing Nike Huarache's on her single "Latifah's Hat It Up 2 Here." While many cite Michigan's Fab Five for linking the Huarache and Hip-Hop, Queen Latifah was year ahead of them.

Gang Starr's Step In The Arena