LOS ANGELES — Back in the ’90s, a kid named Kendrick Duckworth fell in love with the Nike Cortez. After getting his first pair at a local swap meet, he’d often rock the kicks as a complement to his trademark swag of tall socks and khaki shorts while frolicking in the streets of his hometown of Compton, California.
About two decades later, that youngster is now known around the world as the Grammy Award-winning Kendrick Lamar. Via a partnership with Nike, Lamar has his own version of the iconic Cortez. During 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend the Cortez Kenny II was presented — the second installment of his own line of the shoe he grew up donning.
“They just classic — something I’ve been wearing since day one,” said Lamar at Nike’s Makers Headquarters, the brand’s creative pop-up space for the. The MC discussed the new shoe in a sit-down conversation with Emily Oberg, the fashion influencer turned creative lead of designer Ronnie Fieg’s New York City-based sneaker and apparel boutique, KITH. “They just always felt comfortable, felt good. It’s a vibe.”
In late January, in the lead-up to the 60th annual Grammys, at which Lamar took home the award for best rap album for his double-platinum masterpiece DAMN., Nike debuted the Cortez Kenny I, a predominantly white shoe that’s highlighted by the outsole of the upper, where the title of the album — DAMN. — is printed.
The new Kenny II, also referred to as the “Kung Fu Kenny,” is red with white and black accent, featuring a lace holder that reads “DON’T TRIP” and the word “Damn” written in Chinese script on the toe box.” ‘Don’t Trip’ — it’s a classic L.A. feel. It’s open context for anything,” Lamar quipped.
Nike, at Kendrick’s request, also threw it back to old days of lacing up shoes with shortened strings. “I just like all my laces to be short like that,” he said. “That’s how we rocked them coming up, when we was in grade school, high school, or just in the city.” In terms of creativity, Lamar compared the process of designing a shoe to the way he approaches crafting an album. And when it came using the Cortez as his canvas — especially while drawing upon his youth in Los Angeles — he didn’t have to search far for inspiration.
“These kids right here …, ” said Lamar, pointing to a group of local children who sat before him on the basketball court at Makers, “that’s inspiration … I was once in a place where I had a lot of dreams and aspirations. Looking at them, and going where they want to go, I can see that vibe. I can see they have a lot of energy … That’s something I can respect.”
Before the official release, Nike and Lamar made sure that women were the first to experience the shoe via seeding — getting product in the hands of influencers early to allow for grassroots promotion. So perhaps the most important aspect of the Cortez Kenny II came through the shoe’s calculated rollout, which sought to quell the myth that in the male-dominated world of footwear women aren’t sneakerheads, too.
“I always felt like women are the original curators of the world as far as creativity. Simple as that,” Lamar said. Hours after the chat with Oberg, he headlined an exclusive show at Makers with an opening lineup of women artists, including Kamaiyah, Sabrina Claudio and H.E.R. “We can go back to creating a life … to some of the greatest ideas of man … all behind a woman. I wanted women to experience [the Cortez Kenny II] the same way I felt it from the beginning when we created it.”