The idea of a rapper collaborating with a major sneaker brand might not be groundbreaking in 2020, but just three decades ago, one endorsement deal paved the way for hip-hop to cash in on its cultural cachet.

If you’re an avid hip-hop head you’ll likely recall Run DMC’s third studio album, Raising Hell, which thrust the group into the American mainstream and forever linked the genre to their iconic style and affinity for the Three Stripes. When the album released in 1986, one track particularly stood out: “My Adidas.” The song was more than just a powerful co-sign — it would soon become the catalyst for rap’s first endorsement deal, setting the stage for a generation of new artists to follow suit.

A fan proudly waves his adidas Superstars in the air at a Run-DMC concert.
adidas Originals

Part of Run DMC’s success was its outsized influence within youth culture and ability to mobilize their fanbase to become arbiters of the group’s style. When Run DMC’s manager convinced an adidas executive to attend a sold-out show from the Raising Hell tour that same year, the Germans didn’t see what the big deal was.

But once “My Adidas” cued up and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels commanded the crowd to show them their adidas, it was at that moment the Germans understood the marketing goldmine they had in their hands. Tens of thousands of fans proudly waved their adidas Superstars in the air, promptly leading adidas to sign an unprecedented million-dollar endorsement deal with Run DMC just weeks later.

Run-DMC members, from left: Darryl McDaniels, Jam Master Jay, and DJ Run.
adidas Originals
adidas Originals

The deal solidified adidas’ reputation as a brand who empowers artists and creatives while giving them a financial platform to create. One of adidas’ most pivotal partnerships in recent memory was the recruitment of Kanye West in 2013. After being snubbed by the Swoosh, the Three Stripes offered West creative freedom to build his own sneaker empire that would soon make “Yeezy” a household name. Through the partnership, West was able to expand his business ventures into an entire clothing line, something he couldn’t have done without the resources and backing of adidas.

Getty Images / Timothy Norris

The following year, in 2014, the sports giant turned to another musician to ramp things up — Pharrell Williams. While Pharrell’s fashion ambitions aren’t exactly a secret, the Billionaire Boys Club founder signed a design deal that would help infuse Bionic Yarn, his sustainable textile company, into his own adidas collection.

Fast forward to today and it’s clear that hip-hop’s influence with brands is still a dominant force to be reckoned with. Last April, the internet nearly broke when it was announced that Beyoncé would be earning her stripes at adidas through a multi-layered partnership. While the Queen B is already a thriving business (she signed a $60 million Netflix deal last year), the adidas partnership ensured her Ivy Park clothing line would live on.

adidas Originals
adidas Originals
adidas Originals

Countless other endorsements within the hip-hop community have since been made possible thanks to Run DMC’s early success, but it was their brazen videotaped message to adidas that eventually helped seal the deal: “Give us a million dollars!

Words by Daniel So
Branded Content Editor

Not always there when you call, but I'm always online.