words and interview // Zac Dubasik

You’d have a hard time finding a stronger sneaker association in all of music than the one adidas shares with hip-hop legends Run-D.M.C. It’s been that way ever since the “My adidas” track dropped all the way back in 1986.

But there was more to the song than just selling shoes, which is the way some current endorsements appear to work. Run-D.M.C. weren’t bragging about how many pairs they had, but simply talking about what they wore, and what it represented.

Yesterday, to celebrate adidas’ new Unite All Originals campaign, we caught up with D.M.C. to talk about the history of the song, what it really stood for, and why it’s still relevant today.

How did this new project come about, and why did you decide to take part in it?

Well, adidas came up with the idea of doing what we did over 25 years ago. When Run-D.M.C. and adidas hooked up, it changed music, changed product endorsement, changed business. But universally, it was an original idea that gave birth to such authentic originality. It was more than just Run-D.M.C. being the first to get a sneaker product endorsement with an athletic company. We brought people together; we brought business together; we brought different genres together. What we did over 25 years ago impacted all the generations all the way up until now.

So, we’re thinking, wow, let’s see the culmination of all of this artistic, creative, universal stuff, that’s influenced, that Run-D.M.C., hip-hop, and adidas has had, on the globe. We thought, let’s do this campaign, let’s get a hot DJ. A-Trak wears the hat, because he says when he was young, he was inspired by Jam Master Jay, who just happens to be the DJ from Run-D.M.C., who are those dudes that made the adidas record.

When A-Trak, who has been working with adidas, was approached to do the commercial campaign with Run-D.M.C., that was already original and authentic, because A-Trak says “I wear this hat and do what I do because of Jam Master Jay as a DJ.” So it just made sense to do what we did 25 years ago, again. Because what we did was so much bigger than just Run-D.M.C. getting a sneaker deal.

At the time, did you have any sense of how big it was?

Nope. I guess now I do, because everybody talks about it. We’re the reason why Jay-Z, and Lil Wayne and all rappers can get endorsement deals, period. But at the time, we didn’t know. Our real motivation, truth be told, was when we were doing that Raising Hell album, we were on a rap mission, and were rhyming about everything we love. So, we said, “Hey, let’s make a record about our adidas. We love those.” And we just decided to make a song about our sneakers. We had no idea that it was going to do what it did, and still being done.

How important do you think that song, and connection, has been to your legacy?

The important thing about the song, is it’s not a song saying, “Ha ha, we’ve got more adidas than you, and more money than you, and I’m more famous.” The song had nothing to do with that. That song represents what goes on in all cultures and generations. The powers that be have a tendency to look at the younger people of each generation and just consider them all worthless imbeciles and full of negativity, irresponsible, and ignorant.

When we made that song, we didn’t talk about the fact that we were number one, and nobody could ever do what we did. No, the record was about the powers that be, whether it was the lawmakers, or politicians, or even the religious folks – when they see those kids with the fresh sneakers, and gold chains, and hats, and cars, and those hip-hop guys, [they think] they’re the problem with our communities.

But we made that record to say, yeah, I’ve got fresh adidas on, but don’t you know I was at St. John’s University at that time. My sneakers don’t always stand on the street all day, doing nothing. These sneakers walked up and down the hallways at St. John’s University. In 1985, Run-D.M.C. played Live Aid. We were the only rap group on Live Aid, with all those iconic rock gods and goddesses. So, we stepped onstage at Live Aid, all the people gave, and the poor got paid.

The whole idea behind that was that real hip-hop, the purpose is to inspire or motivate whatever it is that you can do creatively to not only change your life, but change your community, and your nation, and your universe. That record is part of our legacy. What we did that was so celebrated as business and show business, that was the last thought that we had in our head. This was about doing something that empowered every listener, every DJ, every MC, every breakdancer, every graffiti writer, ever school kid, every Japanese kid, German Kid, Haitian kid, Russian kid – even the people up on Mars we wanted to inspire. That record represents our creativity, our style, our music, our art, and being able to be used as a vehicle to inspire, motivate and transform this world, to make it better for all of us in every hood.

Do you think that’s still important today? You guys opened the doors for it, but do these current collaborations, like with Big Sean, have that same kind of impact like yours did?

No, I don’t think so. What we did allowed them to participate in this type of act, if you understand what I’m saying. We didn’t do what we did to get money, and to get rich and famous. We did hip-hop because that’s our lifestyle. People will say “DMC is 49-years-old. He’s sayin’ everything that he’s sayin’ now because he’s wise, more mature, and experienced a lot.”

Yes, that’s true, but everything I make musically, everything that I present fashion-wise, everything that I speak, everything that I touch, I had this mindset – not when I turned 30 and 40 – what I do, my style, my flavor, my music, my sound, my existence, my vibe and my aura – I’ve been doing this since I was 12, 13, or 14 years old. Run-D.M.C., it wasn’t like we were growing up as politicians or religious leaders that went out and started a movement. Everything that I represent, they way that I look, the way that I sound, and the way that I feel, I’ve been going it since I was a young dude.

That being said, most of these guys are making good music. Most of these guys now are really good at that they do. But, nobody will ever do it the way Melle Mel did it with The Message, and Afrika Bambaataa did it with Planet Rock, and the way Run D.M.C. did it with Rock Box, King of Rock, and Walk This Way. Nobody will ever do it like Public Enemy, De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest. We were young people using our artistic style, our concepts and images for empowering and transforming. That’s why when you put on a pair of Shell Toe Superstar adidas, you think, wow, hip-hop can thank Run-D.M.C. But more importantly, it’s a statement and representation. Every other brand and sneaker company and fashion line is just that – they’re sneaker lines and fashion lines. But adidas – Three Stripes for life – what we represent is a statement. You get transformation. When you put those Three Stripes on, you mean something. If you can’t rap or play basketball, you’re going to find some way to express your greatness. That’s what we represent continually.

Even Eminem says, “Nobody will ever do what you guys did.” And I can understand what he means by that. But more importantly, we didn’t mean to do it. That’s why it was so beautiful. Most dudes now say, “I’m gonna get a record deal, and I’m gonna get me an endorsement, and I’m gonna be rich and famous.” And that’s cool. But we didn’t just change music; we changed the world. We changed fashion, business, and everybody that followed after us did something great. That’s because we weren’t inspired by the aspect of show business success. We had a vision of success that changed not only our lives, but everybody who puts a sneaker on, everybody who came to the concerts, everybody who already bought a record. Even if you couldn’t rap, DJ, do graffiti, or breakdance, hip-hop, what we represent, tells you to find something that you like to do, and do it.

Could you talk about why it was so important for this project to have interactivity with the fans?

This ain’t just about us; it’s about all of us. We could have just done a commercial, put it up, and everyone could have watched me and Run, run around, and talk about adidas. But, like I said, what we did 25 years ago had a greater purpose. It impacted people and inspired people. What Run-D.M.C. and adidas did, it changed and inspired, and injected a powerful potion of creativity, authenticity, originality and responsibility into commercials, into marketing, into product placement.

When you create something, you have a responsibility. It’s not just to make me look good, and make me sound good, and make me make money. My values, my inspirations, my concepts, my desires, and my hopes can be transformed to the number one people that we should care about. I don’t care if you put a record out, or a sneaker out, or movie out, or a book. You have a responsibility to the community. And we decided to have the audience, the community, the consumer, involved.

This campaign has to be interactive the same way that a hip-hop show is interactive. The hip-hop show isn’t about the artist. The hip-hop how is about the guy on stage, the culture of this music, and the people in the audience. We wanted audience participation the same way that when I’m on stage, I expect the audience to participate. When I say, “Say hoo,” they better say “hoo.” And when I tell the crowd to make some noise, they better make some noise. Because without the audience, without the crowd, without the fans – without their participation, we wouldn’t be selling no sneakers, and no one would even care about this music. They make all this possible, so we have to include them in it, because they are the ones that give us the flavor.