On Nov. 30, Nike will celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Air Force One by releasing five different styles designed by Errolson Hugh of Acronym, Virgil Abloh of Off-White, rapper Travis Scott, Don Crawley of Just Don, and Roc-a-Fella Records cofounder Kareem “Biggs” Burke.
Burke is the unofficial godfather of the group, and in many ways planted the seed from which the rest of the collaborators sprouted. It starts with Roc-a-Fella, which he founded with Jay-Z and Damon Dash in 1994, then moves on to Kanye West, who signed to Roc-a-Fella in the early Aughts. Both Abloh and Crawley, better known as Don C, are directly connected to West — Abloh was his creative director at one point and Crawley served as the road manager and DJ from time to time. And Scott is signed to Good Music, which is West’s record label.
“This is the offspring of what we’ve built,” said Burke. “To see Virgil and Don C’s success, I love that. People talk about legacy and how I want to be remembered and I just want that family tree to keep growing.”
The Roc-a-Fella Air Force One is the only shoe from the capsule that isn’t an entirely new design. In 2000, Nike reached out to Roc-a-Fella wanting to create an Air Force One that was embroidered with the record label’s logo. It was a limited release that had one of Nike’s highest resale values, so they decided to bring it back for the anniversary. Nike released the collection at ComplexCon and will drop it at specific locations today.
In the early days of Roc-a-Fella, Burke, who handled creative marketing for the label’s brand extensions, was less visible. But he’s been much more accessible since starting his own lines, which include Fourth of November, Reasonable Doubt and ReDo96, which was previously named Roc96.
With Rocawear, which at its height did $700 million in sales annually, the goal was to grow the business to be as big as it could be and sell it, which they did. In 2007, Iconix acquired Rocawear for $204 million. Burke is taking a different approach with his lines by diversifying the distribution and creating small capsules.
Burke introduced the Reasonable Doubt line last year via a 14-collection drop at retailers including Social Status and Ubiq to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Jay-Z’s debut album. The line, which is based on song lyrics and graphics from the album, is the more affordable collection and taps into the growing merch space. Burke held pop-ups and activations tied to “Reasonable Doubt,” and Urban Outfitters recently picked an exclusive assortment. The ReDo96 collection is more contemporary. Burke collaborated with MadeWorn on an assortment that was released at Revolve and Barneys New York in May. He will release a capsule collection of numbered bomber jackets under the label later this month to sell directly online. Burke will also relaunch his Fourth of November denim line next year with a cleaner aesthetic and less of a focus on denim. He works with Emory Jones on each of these brands and while Jay-Z isn’t directly involved in the collections, he’s a silent partner.
“In the past with Roc-a-Fella, we had 30 companies at one time. The team couldn’t handle that,” said Burke. “With the team I’m building now, we are a lot more focused so we can execute properly before attaching our name to something.”
Burke said next year there are plans to work with more collaborators and there is also the possibility the partnership with Nike will continue — Burke has been wearing a pair of Reasonable Doubt Jordan 4s that could signal more to come, but he wouldn’t reveal any concrete releases.