Illustration by Pope Phoenix
How De La Soul, Madlib And MF DOOM Nike SB Dunks Became Hip-Hop's Rarest Sneakers
De La Soul, Madlib and MF DOOM are the inspiration behind some of hip-hop's most coveted Nike SB Dunks. Here is the story of how those collabs came about.
This article has been handpicked from the Okayplayer editorial archives and included in our Hip Hop 50 collection as a noteworthy inclusion to the genre's rich and diverse narrative. The article has been edited for context to ensure its accuracy and relevance.
De La Soul, Madlib, and MF DOOM are some of hip-hop's most beloved left of center figures. The three are also the inspiration behind some of hip-hop's most coveted, expensive and rare sneaker collaborations. Each have their own Nike SB Dunk — the footwear brand's line for skateboarding shoes — serving as a reminder of how hip-hop music and skate culture came to have a fruitful relationship in the '90s as hip-hop songs began to soundtrack skateboarding videos. Finding these Nike SB Dunks is easy; all of them are available to purchase on popular sneaker reselling sites like GOAT, Far Fetch and StockX. But convincing yourself to pay the high ticket price to own one of these obscure pieces of sneaker history is where the process gets hard. A pair of Madlib's SBs (better known as the Stones Throw Quasimoto SBs) go for over $20,000 — the same price as Kanye West's coveted Yeezy Red Octobers. Amid his passing, DOOM's SBs now run up to $10,000. And De La Soul's SBs can cost up to $3,000.
But the consumer hype is unsurprising given how intertwined hip-hop culture and sneaker culture have been for decades. MCs have long been the face of sneakers in urban communities — from Run-DMC's "My Adidas," which led to the first endorsement deal between a musical act and an athletic company to Travis Scott dropping his own SB last year, the two entities' relationship has evolved from name-dropping and rocking a pair of kicks to artists being creative forces behind sneaker collaborations. Within that evolution, there's been a handful of obscure sneaker collabs: Wu-Tang Clan's 1999 Nike Dunk High, Questlove's 2008 Nike Air Force 1 Low, A Tribe Called Quest's 2009 Air Jordan 1 High and, of course, the Nike SB Dunks from De La Soul, Madlib, and MF DOOM.
De La Soul's Nike SB Dunks were the first pair of sneakers Nike SB had done with a hip-hop artist. @popephoenix for Okayplayer
The first hip-hop Nike SB Dunks
De La Soul's Nike SB collaboration came about on September 5, 2003. The hip-hop group was booked for Street Scene — a festival in San Diego — that was occurring at the same time as the Action Sports Retailers Show (ASR). The rap trio ended up making an appearance at ASR before their festival performance after the clothing company LRG asked them to. While at ASR, an unplanned meeting took place between De La and Nike, which ultimately led to the two's 2005 collab.
"We happened to see one of the booths and it was Nike SB. One of the gentlemen that was there working for SB at the time was [Team Manager] Robbie Jeffers, and so it just kind of started from there," Posdnuos said. "They were fans of ours [and] they came to the show. Robbie had said, 'Hey man, would you guys be interested in doing a Dunk?' And we were like, 'Great, of course.'"
Weeks later, they began designing both an SB high and low with Nike's then Product Line Manager Chris Reed.
"Originally, we just wanted to be able to velcro the 3 Feet High and Rising album on the tongue," Pos recalled. "But for some reason they thought we wanted them on the front of the shoe in velcro and in hologram. It wound up being a really, really cool mistake in which we left on both shoes."
In 2005, the shoes were released, marking the first pair of sneakers Nike SB had done with a hip-hop artist. Ten years later, both versions of the sneakers were re-released. As the only SB to get a re-release and high and low versions (unlike the DOOM and Madlib SBs, which haven't been re-released and are only available in high), De La's sneakers are more readily available than the DOOM and Madlib SBs, despite not being mass-produced.
As an avid sneakerhead who owns his own pair of notable hip-hop sneakers — including the DOOM SBs, the Tribe Nike Dunks, and Roc-A-Fella Air Force 1s — being a part of that shared culture between hip-hop and sneakers was special for Pos.
"Quite honestly, it was just a lot of thought put onto it," he said. "We never from the beginning wanted to just slap our name on a dunk or just an existing color."
The shoe's design was beloved by fans of the group, with many of them deeply resonating with its distinct look. Such is the case withDijahSB, a non-binary rapper from Toronto, Canada. The 27-year-old owned the De La sneaker in high school, allowing them to express their sneaker style and separate themselves from their Jordan-favoring peers.
"What drew me to [the De La Soul] collaborations was the fact that they are unique pieces of culture, seeing it's a cross between my favorite genre of music and my favorite type of sneakers," DijahSB said.
The DOOM SB Dunks are an embodiment of the persona that Daniel Dumile crafted for himself following the death of his brother DJ Subroc. Graphic: @popephoenix for Okayplayer
The origin story of DOOM's SB Dunks
In July 2007, Nike SB followed up its De La sneaker with a collab with DOOM. In a story for Complex, Rob Sissi, a former Nike employee who oversaw the collab, recalled how De La reached out to DOOM on Sissi's behalf to see if he was interested in his own shoe. DOOM eventually contacted Sissi, and from there a DOOM-inspired SB was born, with one of the rapper's friends handling most of the sneaker's design.
The DOOM SBs are an embodiment of the persona that Daniel Dumile crafted for himself following the death of his brother DJ Subroc. The metallic gray panels meant to represent his mask; the soles featuring album art that show DOOM as a cartoonish villain — it's a fitting tribute to the enigmatic rapper, the sneaker also branded with his distinct graffiti tag.
Although the sneaker resonated with a niche market of skaters and hip-hop lovers upon its release, DOOM's SBs weren't off the shelf sellouts. However, that changed following his death. Jaysse Lopez, the owner of the sneaker resale company Urban Necessities, recalled how his DOOM SBs sat for months in his store prior to the MC's death. Shortly after his passing, Lopez sold three pairs of the SBs for $1,470, $900, and $800. This was a drastic increase from when he last sold a pair of the SBs for around $300 (double its original retail price of $150) three years ago.
"It's not that there was anything wrong with the shoe, just it wasn't sought after," Lopez said.
According to Shawn Grant, a hip-hop and sneaker journalist who's the Senior Editor at Source magazine, the newfound interest in DOOM's SBs speaks to fans' desire "to be able to connect to anything that is resemblant of DOOM and his legacy."
"Specifically, I think what's more important when it comes to those dunks is we have no idea if Nike [will] ever do that again," he said. "I think it's vital for the people who love DOOM."
Made for the Stone Throw's tenth anniversary, only 50 of the Quasimoto Nike SB Dunks were made solely for members of the label. Graphic: @popephoenix for Okayplayer
The rarest Dunks
One of DOOM's most frequent collaborators also has his own SB — Madlib. How the "Quasimoto" (the name of Madlib's helium-voiced rap persona) SBs came to be isn't as straightforward as De La and DOOM's sneakers. Initially, the sneaker was just a collab between Nike and Stone Throw, the independent record label that put out DOOM and Madlib's beloved Madvillainy album. Made for the label's tenth anniversary, only 50 of the sneakers were made solely for members of the label. Adding to its rareness is a drawing of Quasimoto, which Stones Throw art director and illustrator Jeff Jank added to the sneaker last minute, resulting in the SBs being called the "Quasimoto."
Now anywhere between $12,000 and $21,000, the Quasimoto was significantly cheaper in the past. Kevin Wietsma, a 22-year-old New Yorker who's a part of a Nike SB marketplace group on Facebook, recalled how he purchased a pair of gently-used Quasimoto SBs that Madlib had signed for around $1,000 bucks in 2013. He saw the sneakers as a collector's item, understanding the cultural capital they held even before they became as coveted as they are today. About five years ago, he ended up selling the shoes for $1,500 to $2,500 — a vast difference from what people are selling them for now.
"Personally, I don't necessarily think it's worth it, but I could definitely see why some collectors are willing to spend that much on a pair of shoes. Specifically some of those that love Madlib," Wiestma said.
Wiestma also noted how celebrities being seen wearing these (and other) SBs has led to them being sought after — from Travis Scott wearing the De La Soul and Quasimoto SBs to Kylie Jenner and Kyrie Irving wearing the DOOM SBs.
"There was a point where sneakers were cheaper. But as we went on, some of the celebrities started to get back into them," he said. "And I think with some of the social media rise, even some of the TikToks, I feel like everyone thinks it's cool to be a sneakerhead now. It gives these sample pairs a big target market that people are trying to get in, and rise to the top of some of the Nike SB collecting."
There's no denying the influence hip-hop has on sneaker culture, whether it's trendsetting or directly driving up sales through a genuine partnership fans respect. Each of these factors has made Nike SB's collabs with De La Soul, Madlib, and MF DOOM timeless pieces of broader sneaker culture.
Banner Graphic: @popephoenix for Okayplayer
Daric L. Cottingham (she/her) is a Black Southern queer multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. She is from Ruston, Louisiana, and grew up in Dallas, surrounded by streetwear, sneaker, and hip-hop culture. This environment fueled her interests, which lead to her passion for pop culture news. Daric loves analyzing the intersection of society and culture in a nuanced digestible way.