The Ambition Archive – contextualizing the present hip hop culture by exploring the past.

The Ambition Archive #4 – How the Air Force 1 became a timeless sneaker

Welcome to our format #AmbitionArchive where we will contextualize the present hip hop culture by exploring the past.

This time we look at how and why Nike´s legendary sneaker Air Force 1 became a staple in hiphop and sneaker culture.

Roots in basketball

The Air Force 1 is one of the best-selling shoes of all time and has a solid place in the fashion and hiphop scene. But how did it came to this?

Named after the U.S. presidential plane (Air Force One), the sneaker first hit the market in 1982 (initially only as a high top) and was designed by Nike designer Bruce Kilgore as a basketball shoe. The #AF1 was the first shoe to incorporate Nike Air cushioning and was marketed as “Air in a Box.” Several NBA players, including Moses Malone, Bobby Jones and Jammal Wilkes, wore the shoes on the court in the ’80s, which created some hype around the shoe. 

But just two years later, Nike had planned to discontinue the shoe. When this news made the rounds, thousands of fans in New York City went to the stores to grab another pair. And so everyone who was anyone in New York City wore an AF1, especially the dealers, hustlers and guys on the blocks – the clientele that always had a major impact on the style in hiphop.  

The Hype

Nike quickly realized, that they have something precious in their hands and started to release the AF1 in every imaginable colorway. Another milestone in AF1 history came in 1997 in the form of the “white-on-white” leather Air Force 1 Low. The sneaker was simple and timeless and could be combined with anything, making it an absolute classic and everyones favorite ever since. 

The AF1’s official entry into the hiphop world came in 1998, when Brooklyn rapper Jay-Z was one of the first rappers to acknowledge the sneaker in a rhyme on the track “Can I Live II.” Rappers like Shyne, The Lox and G-Unit followed. And the AF1 became desired outside of New York as well. St. Louis native Nelly, at the height of his career, dedicated the sneaker its own anthem in 2002 – Air Force Ones. 

And even today, the sneaker has not lost its popularity and can be found in the shoe closet of anyone who is even halfway interested in hiphop or sneaker culture.