As seen on Unboxed Issue 49. The Unboxed newsletter covers the most important stories of the week across sneakers, sports, and fashion straight to your inbox on Mondays.
Back in late 2013, I wrote a post on my blog about how different Drake’s new Jordan Brand deal was from Kanye West’s past Nike, and newly announced adidas deal. While I didn’t have specific numbers on the terms of the deal, my post was more about how different the two would be as creative partners. The timing of the Drake x Jumpman deal seemed like an answer to Kanye’s departure, but I thought reducing it to a roster replacement was too simple of an explanation. Sure, even at the time Drake was already one of the biggest stars in the world, but the main point I was trying to make was that he would serve more as a player and spokesperson on the roster than an active designer and trendsetter, like Kanye. I predicted Drake’s relationship with the Jumpman would focus more on Player Exclusives (PE) than new designs that could rival Kanye’s impact. That’s more or less what the Drake x Jordan Brand partnership offered before a breakup that led to his pump-faked adidas deal and eventual home at Nike.
Fast forward to today and the friendly competition that existed between Drake and the man he once looked up to has become personal. Outside of the address leak, rants, and lyrics, the fuel between two of the world’s most influential artists has naturally crossed over into sneakers. Debates over the superiority of brands are certainly not new for sneakerheads, but we rarely see this crossover to the professional arena. Was Nike vs. Under Armour ever really a storyline all those years LeBron James faced off against Stephen Curry? Kanye has played into this rivalry since he left Nike, but Drake has never really had the sneaker or style firepower to go toe to toe with him with the product.
Despite Drake’s Nike collaborations all selling out, they’ve been merch at best. But Drake isn’t positioning his products against Kanye’s billion-dollar sneaker empire. He’s channeling the championship reputation, star-studded roster, and feverish fanbase of Nike in his battle. It can’t be lost on the OVO frontman that his Nike lyrics have been going viral for years and while he’ll never beat Kanye at the sneakers game, he’s still found a way to be a starter on the winning sneaker team. Perhaps this was how Drake’s sneaker partnership was always supposed to be. He was never going to design the next Air Yeezy or even Travis Scott shoe, but he was going to put the Swoosh at the center of the year’s most anticipated album and the petty but viral feuds that came with it. And he’s doing it while shouting out, featuring, and wearing sneakers designed by Yeezy alumni who, unlike him, can now go toe-to-toe with Kanye when it comes to footwear. He found a way to win sneakerheads without selling them sneakers.
Sign up for Unboxed here and join over 19,000 readers.