Kung-Fu Kenny is back on Billboard and back in shoe boxes. Learn how the Compton MC moved through the merch world with printed tees and sneaker deals.
Obviously, a deep devotion to their craft, maniacal competitiveness, and minds that work at an elevated intensity that few could fathom. However, when considering commonalities at a ground level, it’s the shoe.
Though Kendrick does not have signature sneakers that have hit the hardwood in the NBA Finals, he’s made moves within the industry similar to those of an NBA star. Famously, he switched sponsors over the course of his career.
With this Friday’s release of Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, we retrace the steps of Lamar as told through footwear deals. While rap royalty has long-lived through artist merch and sportswear partnerships, Lamar has landed different deals with each hop in his discography.
Get the tale of the tape and litany of logos in the breakdown below.
In April 2015, Kendrick Lamar came onto the Reebok Classic roster in support of the Ventilator. The volt “Day-Glo” pair was on par with industry trends at the time, but a pump-fake in regard to what Reebok and Lamar had in store.
Coming off the heels of To Pimp a Butterfly’s Spring ‘15 release, future forays for Lamar and Reebok relayed meaningful messages quite literally on the heels of Classic silos. Famously, the Kendrick Lamar x Reebok Ventilator “Red and Blue” dove deeper than colorways by aiming to unite Bloods and Crips by way of a neutral sneaker.
Moving forward, Lamar landed collaborations on Classic Leather and Club C silos, building off the theme of neutrality while zagging to split styles and acid-wash finishes. Truth be told, the Kendrick x Reebok partnership left something to be desired in regard to range and apparel. However, the depth expressed in his introductory line set the tone for storytelling and provided the platform for a larger look with a new sponsor.
Fresh off the release of DAMN., the highest-selling rap album of the year, Kendrick and Top Dawg Entertainment inked a deal with Nike in August 2017. The terms of the deal were not revealed. However, the championship-themed apparel was largely based on the success of Lamar both critically and commercially.
The release of DAMN. saw K. Dot reach the heights of superstardom. The album beat out competitors Drake and J. Cole in their then-new releases. Drake’s More Life, a playlist disguised as an album, moved 505,000 in its first week. Meanwhile, J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only hit 492,000 in December 2016. And so the success of the album along with the announcement of an entire TDE tour — The Championship Tour — saw the apparel based around accomplishments and accolades.
Much like his music, Lamar built the anticipation of his official Nike releases through leaks and previews.
In 2017, Kendrick teased an all-red Nike Cortez to the public. As another pump fake, the pair turned out to be a rarity of player exclusive only available to the artist. Shortly after, an official release of a white Nike Cortez with DAMN. embroidered on the lateral side of the shoe came in January 2018, timing out with TDE’s tour announcement.
By February, the shoe circuit continued with the Cortez Kenny II. The scarlet and red kicks nodded to K. Dot’s Kung Fu Kenny alias with Chinese lettering that translates to DAMN. near the toe box. The Cortez Kenny II remains Kendrick’s most expensive collaboration in regard to aftermarket lure. After being priced at $100 in an exclusive release in Los Angeles, the current asking price on StockX for the shoe is a whopping $1,146. Sales have ranged from $350 to $1,300 in the past two years.
The floodgates for Nike and Kendrick opened that May with the release of the Nike Cortez Kenny III. The kicks came alongside hoodies ($85), long-sleeve t-shirts ($55), hats ($35), and socks. In recent years, the red DAMN. and championship-themed hoodie has gone for as much as $525 through secondary sales. Notably, the collection’s Nike hat has consistently sold for over $200 on StockX and the long sleeve tee sits between $80 and $100.
After months of waiting, the final Kendrick Cortez released in October 2018. The slip-on-styled kicks were a take on the traditional house slipper worn by Los Angeles natives, with the words “HOUSE SHOES” even stamping the tongue of the sneakers.
As a curtain call, Nike and Kendrick released a special edition of Nike’s React Element 55 that were “Multi-Platinum” themed. Fourteen months after the release of DAMN., Kendrick had collected a Pulitzer Prize in music, five Grammy awards, and had every song from the album Platinum-certified by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Though Kendrick kicks were put on pause for 2019, a new deal was starting to take shape.
The Next Chapter
Kung Fu Kenny’s merchandise journey continued in 2022 through a collaboration between his company pgLang and Nike-owned Converse.
Kendrick Lamar and his manager, Dave Free, announced the formation of pgLang back in 2020 and have since produced music videos, teaser commercials, and short films around fashion. Additionally, the company has announced moves in live-action comedy.
pgLang tagged Converse for a timely link-up ahead of the Compton rapper’s forthcoming album, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers. Joining a Converse roster ranging from Tyler, the Creator to Julius Erving, it will be interesting to see what the Chevron logo-laden brand has in store for Lamar, Free, and the duo’s next potential release.