CREP KING
RAY BROWN
TALKS ABOUT THE IMPACT OF
THE AIR FORCE 1

From must-buy collaborations and catwalks to bootleg Gucci and Looney Tunes customisations, the legacy of the Air Force 1 is more than a token marketing slogan: its iconic look is embedded within UK youth culture. Whether it was your underhand way of wearing trainers instead of formal church shoes in Year 8, or the perfect crep to give that finishing touch to your wavey outfit, the Air Force 1 is a staple item for any and everyone. Originally launched in 1982, it was the first basketball shoe to have air support in its heel for maximum comfort. The sleek trainer’s history within U.S. hip-hop style has been wildly documented—especially around the JAY-Z/Roc-A-Fella and Dipset era, which fed to its influence back in the UK and grime MCs bought into the legacy of streetwear brands like Akademiks, Phat Farm, and Avirex.

It was to be a radio reload lyric from Dizzee Rascal, which ended up on the Boy In Da Corner track “Fix Up Look Sharp”, that cemented the AF-1’s journey within UK streetwear: “Be serious, you wouldn’t last an hour in my shoe / It’s an Air Force 1, trainers by the truckload, trainers by the tonne.” The bar even led to Dizzee doing an exclusive drop with Nike. While the Air Max gets a lot of spotlight, many forget that Skepta gave an official salute to the Air Force 1 during his Nasir Mazhar catwalk show and his performance of “Shutdown” at The Brits earlier this year—proving its reliable comfort on top of its clean-cut edges. In light of it being the Air Force 1’s 35th anniversary, TRENCH linked up with emerging crep expert Ray Brown to discuss hypebeast culture and the impact of the AF-1 in British street culture.

“I begged my mum for pair of Air Forces; there was something about the white ones that was like a status symbol.” ⚔️

When did your love of trainers first come about?

Low-key, I think my love of kicks came from the fact that I couldn’t have all of the kicks that I wanted. Back then, when I was a young kid coming up, those shoes had to stretch across church, P.E. and general use. I had to gas to my mum that I needed a new pair of kicks for a specific activity at school to get a new pair, and then sneak them out of the house on a Saturday. I know my mum meant well, but I wasn’t really on them all-black Peacock creps with the elastic and no laces [laughs]. They weren't lit. Back then, I had about three pairs—which was a lot to all my friends—but I wanted more. I would go to school on mufti day and always see the kicks that I wanted and I took pride in knowing the name of all of them, which I’d been researching.

Tell us about Tha Ballinest and what inspired you to take your penchant for trainers to YouTube?

So Tha Ballinest is an idea that I’ve had for a long time, and it stems from two things really: my rebellious nature, and other people valuing my opinions. In general, I don’t really enjoy being told what to do, and I definitely don’t like being told what to like. I just thought to myself, “Why should I think something is cool just because Hypebeast or Highsnobiety says so? These are credible street culture publications—but I like what I like.” At the same time, people would look to me for advice and, for a long time, my answer to most questions would be as follows: “Do YOU like it?” and “Cool, then buy it.” Eventually, though, I realised that people value my opinion and my friendship circle might be a microcosm of the world so let me put some shit out into the world, and thus—Tha Ballinest was born. I think, if I’m honest, Tha Ballinest came about as the anti-Hypebeast; I’ve got nothing against the publication, but I really feel like there’s this whole sheep vibe in the kicks’ scene. It’s weird: I wrote all the articles in my own voice because I wanted people to read and make up their own mind about the products.

How important is it for it for young people to have a voice on style?

It’s very important for young people to have a voice on style. At the end of the day, we are the future, but I really like that style is so subjective nowadays, that no one has the right idea about it. I like that some of the things I see people rocking today, just three years ago, you’d be getting flamed for that. Someone could take a picture of you, tweet it and then you’re a meme for the next couple months. The irony of this question is how much the youth have taken to vintage clothing; like you’re 15 dressing like a 50-year-old. If you’ve got the spirit that can pull it off, then I low-key dig it. Honestly, style isn’t an age thing—it never has been. When you think about it, all ages were rocking flares and platforms back in the ‘60s, so the best thing is to just do your own thing and not care what anyone else thinks. The fashion scene nowadays is so cliquey that what you rock is like a uniform, and you will be judged. Coming from Thamesmead, where fashion is dead, to being in the scene and working in and around Shoreditch is an interesting contrast.

How far has hypebeast culture and the art of reselling affected the sneaker community?

“Do young people care about hype?” Yes! Hype is everything. A kick can drop and be hot for a minute when they first drop, but then become too common and these kids ain’t tryna’ rock nothing that doesn’t get them compliments. Even if it’s the same recycled compliments that their bredrin is getting, because he’s definitely rocking the same garms as you. The last few years have all been about the collab—and with collaboration comes scarcity which brings a frenzy of resellers. I’m not gonna lie: for a long time, I was a hater before a congratulator, and I used to hate on resellers and think they were scum. But when I sat down and thought about it—really, it’s all just trainers and fabric. Now, don’t get me wrong: there’s money to be made and a next man might want the trainers to wear because he loves them but, I, myself, love the hustle. So as a hustler, I can’t look down on another man for doing what he needs to do that get that bread. But, on balance, I have to honestly say that reselling has be detrimental to the sneaker/streetwear scene. It has added an element of competition and resentment that I feel shouldn’t be present in a hobby that most of us fell into as an escape from all the other fuck shit that life brings. That being said, all of you shops and managers that allow back-dooring and enable sneaky practice, you make the scene worse and dangerous for everyone.

What would you say the impact of London street culture has on a global scale?

I think the effect that different cultures have on a global scale is relative. Although London is highly influential due to the opportunities there are to do your own thing, as well as it being so small that everything pops off in one place, I still think that it’s a grass-is-greener kind of vibe, because Londoners will look to Paris for a co-sign and Parisians will look to us for the co-sign. Then we’ll look to Milan. So, for me, the effect of that is what’s considered trendy is the same in all the major European cities—even spreading into parts of Asia, due in part to my boy Ciesay from Places + Faces.

How important is the Nike Air Force 1 to British street style?

Air Force 1s will forever have a place in British style. When I was a younger, I begged my mum for a pair of white Air Forces; there was something about the white ones that was like a status symbol. And if you splashed that extra £6 on the high-tops, you were really on some other shit. It’s mad, because you had the OG in my area with the creased Air Forces and boot cuts; then you’d see the sweet boy with a cardigan and the white AF-1 lows; and then you had the sweet roadman hybrid, who you just knew wasn’t gonna make it on the roads walking like a penguin trying not to crease them. Whenever you saw a white pair of Air Forces, you’d always show a level of respect for the wearer—especially growing up. The iconic kicks is that go-to shoe after all these years—and it’ll never be forgotten, especially with the recent collaborations like the Vlone joints and the Nike Lab exclusives. I’m also low-key feeling the Roc Nation ones and the new white ACRNYMs.

When would you say the AF-1 shoe sparked a cult underground following in the UK?

I remember seeing them on one dude’s foot and was like, “Fam!” The weird thing is, is that I already knew what they were called as if I’d subconsciously seen them somewhere before—the silhouette was just so clean. I wasn’t really into grime growing up, so all my musical heroes were American and you know how they all banged out the Air Force 1. I remember Nelly had that one tune about stomping in his Air Force 1, and the gassiest moment for me was when I was saw Fat Joe wearing those pink Air Forces in the “Lean Back” video. The Air Force 1 just had that status symbol.

How has the AF-1 cemented itself organically within the everyday life of a young Londoner?

The AF-1 is that staple shoe. The kids of today are lucky, because I didn’t have the variety of colours and materials that are available today.

What’s your favourite AF-1 style/colourway?

My mum got me a pair of the all-blacks with the white swoosh, low, from 2003. They were my first pair and I think that was the first time I’d come close to tears over a pair of kicks. My mum went to JD Sports and left me in the car to eat my McDonald’s and then came back with two bags. I was thinking, “My mum isn’t buying trainers for herself like that.” But she insisted that she saw a pair on sale and copped them for herself [laughs]. I took personal offence to the fact that she would be so selfish—I love you mum!—and not even consider the months I’d been waiting for them shoes. When I got home, she said go and get my new shoes; I opened them, and it was my first ever pair of Air Forces. I banged those out with some weird outfits, man. Proper shambles! [Laughs] I then managed to secure a pair of Air Force 1 Foamposites, low teal, back in 2014. I copped them on sale from Offspring; it’s only one of three pairs of kicks I’ve ever ordered online. I got them and I was gassed because I would always be jealous of people that had black Nike shoe boxes in their houses. These shoes got me through some wild times. They were so robust, and the material was a simple wipe-clean ting. I went rock-climbing in them, played outdoor basketball, and then on the same day wore them to a party. And they still look crisp today! No creases—not one. They’re the perfect example of an Air Force done well.

What are your thoughts on the early noughties spray paint customisation era, which featured Looney Tunes and tag names on Air Force 1s? Did you ever feel tempted to have a pair yourself?

Those times were so jokes, man. We’re talking Piczo days, and these were the same times that those websites popped up selling some wild colourways for like 15 yen or some shit. In my area, there was this man who could print vinyl on tees. So we would all go Matalan, get the tracksuit and go to my man to get our nicknames printed on them. I actually went as far as to have ‘Rayman’ written on my pair of AF-1s. I look back on how influential the Air Force was, and so many of my boys had those fake Shaq kicks that looked like AF-1s. Even those old Akademiks jeans with the AF-1 print on them [laughs]. Adademiks, you know! Madness.

Check out the full Nike AF-1 lookbook featuring rappers AJ Tracey and Little Simz here.


Posted on December 12, 2017