Why Rick Williams and Puma gave Slum Village their very own sneaker
Detroit made the group and their second album legends. Now Puma is adding to their legacy.
Rick Williams bleeds Detroit and reps it with every piece of art he creates. His story starts and ends with the city he loves and its important music scene. While wondering how his lifestyle brand, Distinct Life, and Puma might celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, Williams thought about an entity synonymous with Detroit’s rap music scene:
“We have a group from Detroit that had a real effect on music. And it’s important for the younger generation to understand that. We understand the cultural significance of Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane. But it’s important to understand these brothers as well,” Williams said.
Hip-hop’s golden anniversary coincides with Slum Village’s Fantastic, Vol. 2’s 23rd birthday. So Willimas decided to enshrine the album that elevated T3, Baatin, and J Dilla beyond their hometown by stitching it onto the Puma Suede, a shoe entrenched in hip-hop culture.
He contends the Suede is “the most classic shoe that Puma ever released.” Celebrating the group, the album, and the culture with any other shoe felt like “a disservice to the brand and the task at hand.”
Marrying Slum Village’s 2000 album with the Suede embodies a “show, don’t tell” ethos. Motown’s grid sits on the Suede’s tongue, while the lace locks feature Slum Village’s and Distinct Life’s logos. Drenched in sunset hues, the insoles further explore the city’s map with the Slum Village logo stamped on top. What better way to say that all roads start and end with them?
“I could tell this story about so many artists. But this is a foundational group. I used [the 2022 book by Dan Charnas] Dilla Time as a blueprint for everything about the design because it inspired everything I’m doing with my ‘Hip-Hop Raised Me’ showcase,” Williams said. “Now, anyone who gets the shoe has a road map on where to start for their own research.”
It’s clichéd, but Slum Village feels humbled knowing they have a sneaker that might influence the next generation the way Run-D.M.C. and LL Cool J molded their fashion choices in the 1980s.
“When you dealing with something like a sneaker, and dealing with a brand like Puma, which represents the foundation, you’d never imagine something like this can happen,” Slum Village member Young RJ said. “It’s an honor.”
“I remember when LL dropped his collaboration with Troop. He had a Troop jogging suit and matching shoes, and I wanted that Troop so bad because of him. Hip-hop shaped me in a bunch of ways, from the music to the fashion,” T3 said.
Fantastic Vol. 2 represents the moment when peers and people the group idolized took notice. It also became something larger for everyone who attended parties at Saint Andrew’s Hall, the Detroit hip-hop venue that became the focal point for every climatic rap battle in 8 Mile.
“The album represents a rebirth for Detroit,” Young RJ said.
“Before Slum Village signed [to a major label], there were no groups from Detroit out like that. We were the first of our kind,” said T3, the lone surviving member of the group’s founding trio.
Williams’ perspective differs a bit as a fan.
“Vol. 2 came from my community. This went out to the world and I knew what that meant because I was there. Me being in Detroit when it happened means I have to share it for everyone who wasn’t. And so many people came off Slum Village’s tree. I have Big Sean’s early mixtapes and I know they influenced him, he’s rapping over these beats,” Williams said. “It’s a source of pride. This is Detroit history, which is American history.”
T3 and Young RJ also remember the album’s initial reception beyond their backyard. While Williams and others like him felt it immediately, publications such as The Source needed a late pass. The album never reached the heights on any Billboard chart, and the genre’s premiere publication gave it a tepid review. It was, in so many words, slept-on.
The album gained cult status as days turned to weeks and months turned to years. That Puma and Williams recognize Fantastic Vol. 2 says many things about its cultural influence. T3 called the collective wake-up call “amazing,” while Young RJ chalks up the two-decade journey to timing.
“Sometimes people get things at later dates. That’s the point of art,” Young RJ said. “They skipped over the masterpiece of Vol. 2.”
“That was my job. That’s why I went to Puma. These dudes created a soundscape that people follow. The flows from T3, Baatin, and Dilla had cadences that people still can’t f— with. My passion for these brothers and their art is why I had to make sure that the collaboration happened,” Williams said.
T3, Young RJ, and Williams hope this sneaker also honors J Dilla, who died in 2006, and Baatin, who died in 2009, before the group received their flowers. But their influence bleeds into this collaboration between Distinct Life, Slum Village, and Puma. Williams notes that with artists such as Big Sean, Royce da 5’9, Boldy James, Kash Doll, Tee Grizzley, and Icewear Vezzo hailing from the Motor City, people might forget Slum Village helped make it possible. He knows their impact, feels indebted to them, and believes keeping their names on people’s lips is his responsibility. That whole thing about the past informing the future? According to Williams, Fantastic Vol. 2 shows audiences why a lot of hip-hop exists in its current form.
“They don’t get enough shine. We amplify stories at Distinct Life through creative projects. I just so happen to be a sneaker designer and Puma stands behind me,” Williams said.
“It’s all under the mission of inspiring the world, and Detroit inspiring the world. What’s more Detroit than Slum Village?”