The History of SK Air

April 24, 2022 by Joey Birch

The History of SK Air

Joseph Junior Adenuga, better known as Skepta, is one of the UK's, if not the world's, greatest music artists. Starting out as a Tottenham based DJ for Roll Deep, playing beats over pirate radio, Skepta has come a long way from his humble beginnings. 

During his debut within the music industry in 2005, Skepta was a part of creating the rap collective Boy Better Know alongside his brother and now long term collaborator JME as well as Wiley. Following the creation of the group, the Grime artist went on to release his first studio projects ‘Microphone Champion’ and ‘Greatest Hits’, which are still beloved by many fans to this day.

Following the release, his influence was quickly felt in the US, after hip-hop legend Sean Combs (AKA Diddy) got Skepta to do a remix on his song ‘Hello Good Morning’. 

It didn’t take long for Skepta to hit the charts after his breakout success with his song “Cross My Heart’ from his third album titled ‘Doin’ it Again’ which reached number 19 on the UK top 40 list following its release in 2011.

However, by 2011, many considered Grime to be dead with artists who had gained their original footing in the culture, taking a more mainstream approach to their music. This was further seen with Skepta’s single ‘Hold On’ which was set to be featured on an upcoming album titled ‘The Honeymoon’.

'Blacklisted' Album Cover, 2012

However, after NME called 'Doin’ it Again' “the sound of Grime destroying itself” and the response to his follow-up single being met with similarly negative feedback from those who were still a part of the hip-hop scene in which Skepta’s roots lay, the artist decided to scrap 'The Honeymoon' and instead went onto release ‘Blacklisted’.

An album that took Skepta back to his Grime roots, Blacklisted was released in 2013 and is now widely seen as the album that set him on the path that he is now continuing, allowing him to revitalise Grime within the UK and leading him to spread its message and influence worldwide. 

However, it wasn’t just Skepta’s career trajectory that 'Blacklisted' inspired, but also his first sneaker collaboration. Fast forward to 2016, in an Instagram post, Skepta announced that he had visited the Nike HQ in Beaverton, Oregon the previous year to discuss the idea of creating his own sneaker. The sneaker he chose, was the Nike Air Max BW (Big Window). 

Konnichiwa Album Cover, 2016

At this point in his career, Skepta’s increased popularity was at an all-time high following on from his fourth studio album ‘Konnichiwa’ which included features from Pharrell Williams, A$AP Nast and others, providing an unskippable lineup of hard-hitting tracks including 'That’s Not Me' and 'Shutdown' which went onto become platinum.

Air Max’s influence over UK culture has been thoroughly baked in for years. Key silhouettes such as the Air Max 90, 95 (lovingly known in the UK as 110s) as well the TN have been made incredibly popular thanks to the likes of Dizzie Rascal with his ‘Tongue in Cheek’ AM90s and the AM95 almost becoming a staple part of London culture.

In a mini-documentary by AFEW about the Air Max 90s influence over London, Aneesha Dewshi, a long-term sneaker enthusiast and expert discusses: “In terms of the UK music scene and grime culture they [Grime artists] were all known and pioneers of wearing Air Max and pushing Air Max culture”. With that in mind, it only made sense that Skepta too would go on to choose an Air Max for his first collaboration with the Swoosh. 

While the Air Max BW is more synonymous with Gabber culture in the Netherlands, it did have a big impact in the UK after Dizzee Rascal was seen wearing a black and white pair on his debut album cover, 'Boy in the Corner'.

As the name suggests, the colourway Skepta chose to use on his AM BW was an all-black aesthetic featuring black suede and black detailing throughout. The release stands as one of the lesser-known collaborations due to the more minimal approach and the less mainstream silhouette. Nevertheless, the release dropped on Air Max day to celebrate the BWs 25th anniversary from its initial debut in 1991. 

The following year, Skepta went on to release a sneaker that has since become arguably the greatest addition in his lineage thus far. The Air Max 97. When speaking about the importance of Air Max culture in the buildup to the release of the collaboration, Skepta says: 

From my earliest memories on the estate, since I was about seven. All I remember is people running the streets in Air Max. That was the shoe to wear, whether you were going out to a club or you were kicking ball in the street, you just worse Air Max. It was only natural that Nike and Grime welcomed each other with open arms, and it’s been the same ever since”. 

To create the colourway of the shoe, Skepta went back to his roots in Morrocco. Inspired by the garments people would wear, the sneaker features an embroidered style material around the upper that was taken from his then newly debuted clothing line ‘Mains’. 

OG Nike Air Tuned Max 'Celery', 1999

While the Air Max 97 was the sneaker of choice for Skepta’s second Nike release, the original inspiration behind the sneakers beetle shell-esk colourway, and his love of Air Max, came from the 1999 released Air Tuned Max. The first sneaker that the artist bought, the Air Tuned Max pioneered the full-length Tuned Air midsole which was first released within the Air Max Plus (later coined the TN) a shoe that continues to play a massive role in the UK sneaker scene. 

Between his EP ‘Viscious’ in 2017 and his next studio album ‘Ignorance is Bliss’ in 2019, Skepta was on a roll with his Nike collaborations after the sellout success of the Marrakesh inspired AM97. The release saw so much success and sold out so fast that the artist apologised via his Instagram page not long after the drop stating: “honestly I’m not happy that so many of you miss out on being part of something I put so much emotion in.”

However, he didn’t keep fans waiting long for the next project as in 2018, Nike released the next addition to the SK Air lineage, this time inspired by a different city that played a role in Skepta’s life, Paris. 

While his previous collaborations had featured original silhouettes with a new colourway and details - this release saw a completely new silhouette crafted from of his previous models, the BW and the 97. 

Sean Wotherspoon Air Max 1/97, 2018

Utilising the upper of Air Max BW and the elongated Air Unit midsole of the Air Max 97, the fusion begs the question of why this was never done previously with the two sneakers working seamlessly together, similar to the Air Max 1/97 by Sean Wotherspoon which released during Air Max Day that the same year. 

Everything from the colourway, to the details to the rollout of the sneaker, was in honour of the French capital. In Nike’s behind the design for the sneaker, Skepta describes: 

"I initially wanted to have padlocks on the shoe, inspired by punk rock. I remembered the bridge in Paris, where people go to 'lock' their love with someone they love. That's why I've decided to launch the shoe in Paris and involve the people and the city who have shown me love since the beginning". 

The details on the sneaker were deeper than any of his previous collaborations, showing just how much time and care the artist wanted to put into his sneakers, much like his music. The overall colourway references the French flag, with one pair featuring red detailing and Swooshes while the other presenting them in blue. Everything down to the SK Air on the outsole, replacing the Swoosh in the jewel usually seen on the 97s outsole to the exact shade of blue used on the sneaker referencing Marrakesh's Jardin Majorelle, an electric-blue villa created in the 1920s by French Orientalist artist Jacques Majorelle and French architect, Paul Sinoir. 

Later that same year, the SK Air Max Deluxe was released. This time going for another silhouette released in 1999, the Air Max Deluxe was inspired by the rave culture that had risen within the UK and surrounding European countries at the time.

Once again, Skepta looked back at his past for inspiration on the future collaboration; this time focusing on his hit single ‘That’s Not Me’ featuring his brother and fellow MC, JME which saw his explosive return to his Grime roots in addition to his 2014 ‘Never Slept On’ tour. 

'That's Not Me' Music Video, 2014

The sneaker celebrates the rapper's key successes during his career with the obvious detail being the static print surrounding the upper both acting as a reference to the music video for ‘That’s Not Me’ as well as his mind when he’s on tour. 

While the ‘Never Slept on Tour’ title can be found on the medial side of the upper, the exact date that the 2014 track was released can be found on the lateral side of the sneaker with additional details being found on the shoebox further showcasing Skeps attention to detail in and outside of his music.

2019 saw the release of Skepta’s next studio album ‘Ignorance is Bliss’ which provided the MC with his highest spot on the UK charts yet with ‘Greaze Mode’ hitting number two. The year prior, 2018, he received a chieftainship in his parent's home state of Ogun, Nigeria. This sense of royalty led him to want to share that feeling with others. 

Following on from his Air Max Deluxe collaboration the year prior, Skepta took a step away from Air Max and worked on the Nike SK Shox. Unlike his previous set of releases, the design of the SK Shox was fairly simple featuring a similar colourway to his AM Deluxe with an all-black upper detailed with a hit of silver on the Swoosh and ‘SK Shox’ text on the tongue, switching out the Shox pillars from black to a bold red colourway. 

Additional details included a lion imprinted on the insole to represent power while allowing for the external silhouette to speak for itself. 

Following the release of the Nike SK Shox, there was a brief hiatus during 2020 in which Skepta went on to release a full-length joint project with fellow MCs Chip and Young Adz titled ‘Insomnia’. 

The next year, 2021, Nike and Skep came together once again with a focus on another classic Air Max silhouette - the Air Max Tailwind V. Releasing in two colourways, the inspiration behind the design was the idea of rebirth, looking at the design of a butterfly which inspired the pattern on the upper. Utilising the silver Swoosh previously seen on the SK Shox as well as a silver shank plate that stretches up to the heel, the colourways were both eye-catching and unique in their appearance.

Addition details included an iridescent heel and tongue, acting as a nod to his 2019 project ‘Ignorance is Bliss’ as well as a retro feel SK Air jewel tag on the tongue. With the first colourway released using a bold blue upper, the second continued the colour palette seen on the Air Max Deluxe and Shox, showcasing a crimson red pattern on the black canvas.

At the time of writing this, there are no further rumours or announcements surrounding a future Skepta project with Nike. However, with 2022 marking the 25th anniversary of the Air Max 97, could we see another collaboration between the two?