You never know what’s going to happen in the course of your day. That’s what I told myself as SBD told me that they’ve arranged an interview for me with DJ Clark Kent. In the interest of full disclosure, I have only been with Sneaker Bar Detroit for 2 years. During this period, I have met people I wouldn’t have ordinarily met because of this blog. I have befriended people who I wouldn’t have normally encountered because of this blog. I gone to different places and events that weren’t even on my radar because of this blog. So now, here I have the opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with “God’s favorite DJ”, DJ Clark Kent.
Now, I wasn’t—and I am not—even about to pretend to be some type of “die-hard” DJ Clark Kent fan solely for the purpose of doing this interview. (Once again, “In the interest of full disclosure…”). No disrespect to him, but I didn’t want to be THAT guy that looked up his Wikipedia page the night before, and tried to present those facts that I recently memorized, as my own recollection of HIS career, having been an alleged “fan”—all of a sudden—who’s followed him my whole life. (I’m telling on myself aren’t I? Lol). I knew of him. I knew of his work and the great artists that he’s produced and worked with. I was familiar with his accomplishments. I had a healthy respect for his career and achievements in the game. But the beauty of doing these types of interviews, for me, is that it forces you to do some research on your subject, honestly. That way, you are driven to ask the RIGHT types of questions to find out more about THEM, and who they are. Having said that, I did slightly fan- out a bit.
When you’re directly talking to someone who’s reached that upper echelon in their craft, and who has worked with the artists that he’s worked with, you can’t help but to fan-out a little. It wasn’t a “Oh, my God there’s 1980’s Michael Jackson. (Cry and/or faint)” type of fan-out. It was more like a “Oh shit, there’s LL-Cool-J. I’m about to ask him for a picture. My dudes are gonna flip when they see this” type of fan-out. But in talking to him, he couldn’t have been more down to earth if he was the ground itself. Super cool. Early on in the conversation I forgot who I was talking to and became fully engaged in just the conversation itself. “Look At, not UP to people,” is what he told me. In reading this interview, you can definitely tell that he lives by that motto….
SBD: First let me say that this is a huge honor and thank you for making time for us to do this interview. It would’ve been even crazier if you were here in town doing this interview.
DJ Clark Kent: When I was out in Detroit I tried to get with ya’ll. I was out there with Dan Gilbert, and we were talking about StockX, and I was like, “Yo, who’s the Sneaker Bar Detroit guys?” And they had made some phone calls trying to reach out to ya’ll. See, I just wanted to meet ya’ll.
SBD: Wow. REALLY?! Where the hell was I at? (Laughs). I don’t remember getting that phone call. But it’s a trip to know that you’re hanging out with Dan Gilbert and those guys and you’re like “Where are those ‘Sneaker Bar Detroit’ guys at?”.
DJ Clark Kent: (Laughs) Yeah, because I was in Detroit. But we ain’t tripping. We’re here now.
SBD: Yeah, but it ONLY took a whole year.
DJ Clark Kent: (laughs)
SBD: It’s always refreshing for me to talk to people who’ve accomplished so much, such as yourself, and still be that relatable and approachable. You have a lot of people on your level who have that “I wear sunglasses at night because I’m so cool and awesome” type of attitude. You’re real regular.
DJ Clark Kent: Thank you. I appreciate the kind words. I’ll keep trying to be “regular” as much as possible. (Laughs).
DJ Clark Kent: My thing comes from something I learned a long time ago. Somebody said to me, “Never look UP to people, look AT people.” Because if you look up to them, and something goes wrong, you’re going to be disappointed. So instead of looking UP to them just look AT them. I treat everybody the same. You never know who you’re running into.
SBD: Wise words to live by. That’s that “old school, let me drop a catchphrase that perfectly sums up a reality of life” type of wisdom. (Laughs). Ok, let’s begin with your background and work our way from there. Who is DJ Clark Kent?
DJ Clark Kent: To the sneaker world, the two letters, “DJ”, mean that I am actually a DJ. Because in the sneaker world, people don’t equate DJ Clark Kent with being a DJ. They just think it’s a name. And it’s not. I’m a DJ first. I’m a record producer. I’ve produced Jay-Z, the Notorious B.I.G., Mariah Carey, Rick Ross—I can keep going. I’ve ran record labels and I’ve worked at record companies since I was 22. I consult brands. I consult sneaker brands. I consult electronic brands. I consult clothing brands. I’m like a brand consultant. I’m out here loving life and just trying to take care of my family.
SBD: So when did you actually start your career? It was in the mid-80s right?
DJ Clark Kent: Naw, I started DJ-ing in the 70s.
SBD: The 70s?! Damn! (Laughs).
DJ Clark Kent: Yeah, I was 9 when I started DJ-ing.
SBD: That was around the same time frame that most people consider to be the genesis of Hip- Hop right?
DJ Clark Kent: Yeah
SBD: What was it like to be on the scene as Hip-Hop is developing into this entirely new genre of music?
DJ Clark Kent: I guess, to answer your question, we didn’t realize that it was going to be called “Hip-Hop”. We didn’t know. We were just catching the break that break-dancers could dance to. And then, at some point, somebody started talking over the breaks, and that became “rapping”. It was just a party; the way that party moved for us younger folks at that time. Imagine if you’re sitting down listening to a record, and you KNOW you only got a favorite section of that record. You don’t want to wait until the whole record goes by to get to that section. But let’s say you have to. When you get to that section, that’s the section you’re the most hype about. Then it goes away in like 10 seconds. What we did—what we were doing back then—was trying to extend those 10 seconds and make it more like 2 minutes. So [what] was your favorite part, you kept hearing it, it became a “groove”. At some point rappers loved the groove and they started rapping to it.
SBD: So all of that was just spontaneous and organic with no one knowing that they were creating something new?
DJ Clark Kent: Absolutely. It was very organic; very spontaneous. Grand Master Flash became like a guru with it in his house trying to create things to make this process easier. Grand Wizard then comes up with the “scratch” by accident. I mean, not really by “accident”, but if you think [of] the way it happened, it’s almost like it happened by accident. And then it just keeps building and building and building and building; and [then], you have what you see now.
But like all “new” music, it builds from somewhere. If you listen to the early rap records, most of them were based off of another record. So the music that you were rapping to was probably something that we could cut up in a park—or cut up in a jam—and you took your favorite part of it, played it over, and now you have a new record. Like, look at “Rapper’s Delight”. What would be looked at, for the rest of history, as the first rap record ever, that record is made off of the best parts of Chic’s “Good Times”. So you gotta look at Hip-Hop and know that [it’s] built off of the other music that was around. Look at Aerosmith. Aerosmith made “Walk This Way”, years later Run-DMC does “Walk This Way” over with rap on it. Aerosmith didn’t know that their record was being cut up in the park jams when their record came out. They didn’t know that that 2-bar break was one of the most widely used records in the park jams back in the day. They didn’t know.
SBD: Its crazy to listen to you describe it, and to know that it all started as something simple; a way for people to have fun and to be creative. Nowadays, it’s this huge industry and arguably the biggest genre of music out right now. Since you were basically there at its beginning, what has that ride been like watching Hip-Hop grow into what it’s become?
DJ Clark Kent: Like I said, when you’re coming from the time when it’s starting, you’re not really feeling like, “Oh my God, we’re about to build something.” [You] just accept what was happening. You’re in the moment. I believe that if we knew, [and] truly understood what we were doing, we probably would’ve recorded EVERYTHING. But we were just in the moment. And it just kept being a better moment, and a better moment. And more park jams, and more club jams. And then more people started rapping. It just became more, and more, and more.
Hip-Hop itself is based off of not having violence, and ‘gang vs. gang’. That’s the reason why there’s a Zulu Nation. It’s because it was based off of “Ok, we don’t want to kill
each other. What we’re gonna do is we’re gonna to try beat each other dancing. Or we’re gonna beat each other DJ-ing. We’re gonna beat each other rapping.” You know what I’m saying? Who’s gonna be the best rapper? Who’s gonna be the best DJ? Who’s gonna be the best break-dancer? Who does the best graffiti? All of that lived within the culture of Hip-Hop. So, as the ride kept going, it just basically was “Who WANTS to be better? Who’s gonna BE better? How are we gonna elevate [Hip-Hop]? Who’s gonna be the best of everything?”
SBD: What are your thoughts on Hip-Hop now?
DJ Clark Kent: If you look at the culture now it’s not that way anymore. When money came into play for the rapper, it started to move it away from the actual culture. And then it became this industry. And of course, music is entertainment, [but] it’s not about who’s the best anymore. It’s about “who makes the best record? Who makes the best song?” That’s what’s really driving what’s selling. Who’s gonna make a song that instantly works and how long is it gonna work for? How many records can we sell in the time that it’s “working”. It’s just so ‘super-businessed’ out that it’s not like the records are being for the same reasons that they were rapping back in the day. Because its business now, and it makes sense.
But what I’m speaking of is about rap, not about the culture of Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop culture is not going away. Rap is changing, and rap changes. And the way people DJ changes. And the way people dance changes. And the way graffiti looks changes. I mean, think about it, back in the day graffiti was on trains and walls. You can walk into a gallery now and buy a piece of graffiti for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
SBD: It’s funny how you mentioned graffiti. There’s been such a shift in how that skillset is viewed. It went from street corner nuisance to museum gallery artwork just in the last 30 years. I’m not sure the word “evolved” fully captures the shift in perception concerning graffiti.
DJ Clark Kent: They were trying to get it OFF of the trains. Now the same guy who was putting work on the train, can sell a piece; when he was doing the trains for free just so that his friends could see him so that he could be looked at as the ‘king’ in graffiti…….this guy is [now] getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars EACH canvas. It was a form of expression. Everybody wanted their name to be seen. So, you just wrote it on the wall. You wrote it on the train. I look at somebody like that, [who] began riding on trains, [now] men’s fashion designer for Nike, to be mind-blowing to people. If you don’t think about it, like, what he was doing with art, it looks like this vandal designed sneakers for Nike. But no, what he was doing was considered a form of expression. It’s an art. He just turned his art around so well that you respect it enough to let him give his thoughts on shoes.
SBD: Going back to what you said earlier, do you think that the pursuit of making money has stifled that inner-incentive to be creative and to use music as an actual form of expression? Not just doing what is necessarily enough to simply get a check and make money.
DJ Clark Kent: Well, the thing is, when the money came into it, it made rapping MUCH more enticing. Everybody wanted to rap once they saw that you could take care of your family with it. So, who’s to say one is right and one is wrong? If you are truly a talented rapper, then your song is gonna resonate different than the guy who’s just [like], “Oh my God! I think I can rap now.” I went to Kanye’s show the other day, and it wasn’t about how many records he sold. It was [about] HOW good his songs were. People are into Kanye, big time. But if you go and you see what the songs do to people, you know that his work is about songs. It’s not about records. Records are “Yo, let me get something that’s gonna pop right now.” Songs last forever. A great song will last forever. That’s why you can turn on “What’s Goin’ On” from Marvin Gaye now, and hear it, and get the feeling that you got when your father heard it. ‘Cause it hits you. It hits you a certain way.
SBD: Speaking of ‘hit you’, when did it HIT YOU that Hip-Hop was taking off?
DJ Clark Kent: I think when I started playing clubs—I think I was like 16 when I played my first “club, club”. And I just realized that [what] the music was doing was really important to us. Once you realize that it’s important to us, then you want it to be important to everybody else. And because I’m a DJ, it’s damn near my job to MAKE IT important to everybody else.
SBD: It sounds like your love for music and for DJ-ing runs deep. Where did this love of music come from? Was it love at first sight or was it something you grew to love more and more as you became more involved?
DJ Clark Kent: Let me take it further back. When I was 6, my grandmother used to play records in the house. It’s the earliest I [can] remember. And one day I put the needle on the record in the house. And when I did that, the music came on. And when the music came on, I thought it was the most amazing shit in the world. So I wanted to be the person who always put the needle on the record in the house. So my grandmother would want songs to play and I would go to the stereo console, and I would put the needle on the record just to hear it start. But I LOVE music. Big time. So when I saw a DJ set up 9s at my uncle’s house, it was like, “Oh, I want to play that.” Then I want to know what two turntables will do, it’s not like the one at my house. My grandmother had a console carrier. It was just different. You had two separate turntables, and this thing in the middle that made [the] two turntables work with this mixer, and I was like, “How is that? I want to know.” But I had loved music so much that if you’re playing one turntable, and you love music, when you see TWO, you just believe you’re gonna love music twice as much. (Laughs)
DJ Clark Kent: And that’s what’s running through my mind. So it was like, “I want to play both of these turntables. I want to play music on both of the turntables.” It started right then and there. “I’m gonna learn how to do this.” But it was more about the music than it was about the actual thing [of] DJ-ing. I love music, like, big time. I love music more than I love DJ-ing. When I started playing the music and DJ-ing, and knowing how to do it, honing what the craft was about, it [didn’t] matter what anybody said.
SBD: I just caught what you said at the end. “It [didn’t] matter what anybody said.” So it sounds like you had some doubters. Now you said before that no one knew that Hip-Hop would become what it became. So there was a level of risk for you, and others, as you were breaking new ground creating new music. I’m guessing there were a lot of people who just saw it as a fad, or as a waste of time. Did you ever have anyone, in particular, family, tell you that you were wasting your time with DJ-ing? That you should find “real work” just in case your dream didn’t come true?
DJ Clark Kent: My grandmother is the only person who never said “You can’t do it”. She was just like “Ok”. She never said, “Oh, you gotta do this. You gotta do that.” All she ever said was that, “You gotta finish school.” So I was like “Well, I’ma finish school.” But my mother was like “Well, you’re gonna need a job. You’re gonna need this…..” Everybody on my block was looking at me like “Yeah, aiiight. Whatever “Mr. DJ”.” And then I end up playing the clubs that they’re going to. I never really cared when anybody said, “You can’t do this. You can’t do that.” I met Grandmaster Flowers when I was 12, and he let me play at a park jam. After that, I went home and I told my grandmother “I’m going to be a DJ for the rest of my life.” She was like “Ok baby.” It probably never hit her, the way that it hit her later on in life, when she realized that I was actually playing records to take care of myself. I moved out, and there was nothing anybody could tell me ‘cause I was playing records to take care of myself. She understood that this meant that much. That I was gonna do that and I loved it that much.
SBD: It’s cool to hear someone who genuinely loves music. Period. I also was raised by my grandmother and she used to listen to a lot of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, James Brown, The Temptations…. And I still listen to that music now. What’s crazy is when I’m driving around with my friends and I’ll have my music on shuffle and one of those songs begins to play. My friends look at me like I’m crazy for even owning that type of music.
DJ Clark Kent: Here’s what you should know, a great song will NEVER go away. So if you’re in the car listening to Frank Sinatra—Frank Sinatra had some great songs. The Temptations had a lot of great songs. It’s about great songs. Great songs never, ever go away.
SBD: So somewhere during your career, aside from actually DJ-ing, you hosted DJ battles back in the day. You had your “Superman Battle for World Supremacy”. How big were those types of events back in the day? How did that whole thing get started?
DJ Clark Kent: Battles used to happen at [the] park jams. But [what] we were doing was taking the park jam and bringing it inside and giving it some structure, and giving it some rules, and making it something to win. So when I worked with the music seminar on the DJ battles, that’s what we did. We made it something to win. When they decided that they didn’t want to do that anymore, then I was like “Well, I’m a DJ, I gotta keep it going.” So that’s when Superman’s DJ Battles for World Supremacy started. That’s why it’s called the “Battle for World Supremacy”. Because the new music seminar—when I was working with them, and we did the battles—It was called the “Battle for World Supremacy”. So because they quit doing it, I was like “Well, I’m the only one here who’s a DJ. So I’m gonna keep it going. And it was what it was.
SBD: And what do you think of the DJ battles and the rap battles now?
DJ Clark Kent: I think things are different. It’s relative to what’s happening. It’s entertainment. Back in the day it was for bragging rights. Now, it’s like “This is real entertainment. I can make a living battling.” You guys can get $10,000 a battle. IF they’re a draw. If their fan base says [so], they’ll get $10,000 to battle whomever. And think about this, these guys don’t have records out. They’re not living off of their records. They’re living off of talking shit at each other. It’s entertainment. These guys—when they battle—they say some of the craziest shit in the world to each other, walk away, shake hands, and talk and be friends the next day. Back in the day, THAT shit wasn’t going down like that. Because it was truly a contact sport.
SBD: (Laughs) I’m guessing many a fights broke out at different battles.
DJ Clark Kent: Yeah, yeah, yeah. “I ain’t never ever fuckin’ with him. Look what he said about my daughter.” What?! You can’t say something about somebody’s daughter. Now in the battles dudes be talking ‘bout screwing somebody’s mom. I’m like “Naw, you can’t say that to somebody.” But, it’s the shock value. To walk away and still be homies because you realize it’s just rap. But back in the day…… JUST RAP? Naw, there was no “just rap”. Because it was a contact sport. (Laughs).
SBD: In your mind, how have things gotten better, or worse, for the art of DJ-ing?
DJ Clark Kent: Well, technology is the one thing that changed DJ-ing the most. Back in the day, when you played a party, you played on turntables. So when you played on turntables— your hands had to be light enough—you had to understand the skill of tracking. You had to understand the skill of making records play on beat and mixing properly. There was a skill level to it. When CDs came around, you didn’t have to have light hands. You didn’t have to have touch. They built out beats-per-minute for you on the machine, so it kinda showed you what records would go together. These machines, or these programs, damn near showed you what records you should mix by showing you the bpm of every song in front of you. And then there’s sync buttons, and stuff like that, on some of these things. It became “Oh, you want to DJ? Here. This is how you DJ.” It took the actual skills and made it kind of second[ary]. And once the skills are taken out of it, it kinda waters things down. Then once you can record— mix and play the record out of your system and never have to touch the mixer—it takes the ‘umpff’ out of it. So actually being a DJ has become being a performer, an artist.
SBD: Yeah, you rarely see your ‘prototypical’ DJ anymore, but you see a lot of people with the letters “DJ” in front of their name. What are your thoughts on how nowadays every and anybody considers themselves to be a DJ? Take Paris Hilton for example. Like, how? (Laughs)
DJ Clark Kent: Instead of you having skills, it’s more like “how do you perform?” Or, “how do you throw your hands in the air? How do you say put your lighters up? How do YOU do that?” When you’re at club, why are there 2 guys playing one CD? I look at most of the bigger names and they’re not even DJ-ing. They’re throwing their hands in the air, they’re lighting lighters, they’ve got light shows….. they’ve got smoke machines. Understand me, if you can actually DJ, you should be able to do ALL of that fanfare WHILE actually playing. And I believe that most of them start as actual DJs, and then it changes when they start producing records. Now the ‘Paris Hilton’ thing? I don’t even get that shit. (Laughs). When you put the 2 letters “D-J” in front of your name, actually know how.
SBD: (Laughs) So over the course of your career you worked with both Biggie and Jay-Z, not to mention a number of other legendary artists, what is that experience like to walk into a studio and work with someone like Jay-Z or Mariah Carey?
DJ Clark Kent: When you’re doing it, you’re not thinking of it. Later on, when you look back on it, you’re like “Boy, that was dope. You got to work with the best.” I was really friends with the 2 best (Biggie and Jay-Z), and I really thought they were the 2 best. But when you’re in it, you’re not going, “Oh my God, this is amazing.” That’s the way people look at it now because they think everything is a ‘moment’. They think everything is ‘history being made’. You don’t know when you’re making history. If that was the case, EVERYBODY would make history. You can’t predict “Brooklyn’s Finest” is gonna come out like this… It was, “Let’s see how this comes out.” (Laughs). There’s guys going, “Awww, man, When I do this record with Kanye it’s gonna be like the best shit ever.” I’m like, “Well, why? Why is it gonna be? You still gotta make people like it.”
SBD: I think we, the fans, just have this way of romanticizing the process. But listening to you talk, you make it sound like a normal day at the office. Most people, if they ran into Kanye, would be like, “OH SHIT!!! There’s Kanye!!” Listening to you, you’re like, “Oh yeah, there’s Kanye.” (Laughs)
DJ Clark Kent: Everybody’s a person. They’re nothing more than people. Never look UP, always look AT.
SBD: Ok, since we’re on this continuous theme of Hip-Hop, I HAVE to ask you this question now that I have you here. Tell me what really went down with that rumored diss song Jay-Z had for Tupac. Was it true? Or was that a joke that everyone ran with?
DJ Clark Kent: It was true.
SBD: So without the ability to look this song up on YouTube for myself, I need you to give me your honest opinion on how good or bad was. Could it have done damage had it ever been released to the public? Could it have knocked Tupac off of his pedestal at that time?
DJ Clark Kent: Absolutely. Absolutely. Because it wasn’t no lies. It was just real shit.
SBD: Wow. Damn, I wish I could’ve heard that song.
DJ Clark Kent: Trust me when I say, everybody wishes they could’ve heard that song. (laughs)
SBD: It’s just so hard to imagine Tupac in the height of his career in 1996 being brought down by a song. Especially one from Jay-Z, at that time. People tend to think of Jay-Z now, and everything that he’s accomplished in his career, NOW. But he wasn’t the same guy back then. He had the skills, but he didn’t have that clout in the game yet. So it’s hard to imagine that scenario playing out.
DJ Clark Kent: Well, I mean, that’s if you believed everything Tupac said. That’s the reason why you looked at it that way. (Laughs). If you ain’t believe everything he said, then it’s not that confusing. See, we didn’t believe everything he said…
SBD: Ahhh. Ok. So, moving on from music…
DJ Clark Kent: (Laughs)
SBD: That’s one hell of a segue right? (Laughs)
DJ Clark Kent: (Laughs)
SBD: Switching gear from music to sneakers, you had the opportunity to work with Nike and design a number of shoes. How dope is it to get a call from ANY brand and have them want you
to officially design your own sneaker? Not no NikeiD, but to OFFICIALLY design your own sneaker. Most sneakerheads consider that honor to be the Nobel Peace Prize of the sneaker community. (Laughs)
DJ Clark Kent: (Laughs) I’ve done a lot. The whole “112” pack. I did all of those.
SBD: How does that work? Who contacts who?
DJ Clark Kent: Well, I was sitting in a meeting, we were talking about the Air Force 1 25th Anniversary. From that, a question got asked. I answered the question a certain way. They felt that we should have a lawyer present. Everything got worked out right then and there. And I became a consultant. In my first meeting, sitting at the company, I just asked, “Can I do a shoe?” I didn’t ask if I could do the shoe so that it could come out, I just asked if I could do a shoe for myself. (Laughs). Just one pair for myself. I didn’t have the foresight to think, “Oh yeah, these gotta come out.” It was more like, “I just want to do it.” I had seen Bobbito had this one pair of white and team red Air Force 1s that said “BOBBITO” on the side. I’m like, “I NEED that. I need one pair of sneakers that are just mine and nobody else’s. And in the process of me trying to convince them we came up with what would become the “112” pack. It was just because I wanted to do one pair of shoes.
SBD: If only it were so simple for the rest of us. (Laughs). Typical sneakerhead question, what’s your top 5 sneakers of all time?
DJ Clark Kent: Great question. I don’t know if I could name a top 5, I just know my favorite shoe, period, is the white on white Air Force 1. Then there’s the original red and white Air Max 1s. Jordan 3s and 11s are, like, on the same level to me. Grand Prix Adidas…..
SBD: That’s a first. Every time I’ve asked that question, I get a lot of the same answers. Every blue moon someone mention’s shoe outside of the usual suspects. But no one has ever mentioned the Adidas Grand Prix. Ever.
DJ Clark Kent: Well, I come from a long time ago. Most people don’t really know what Grand Prix’s are. But I do. I like them. But to me, I believe that if you’re in the sneaker game, you
should like what you like. I’m a big LeBron 7 fan. I’m a big Jordan 1 fan. I’m a big Jordan 3, 4, 5, and 11 fan. It’s too much. I would be sitting down for a long time trying to figure it out.
[But] people don’t know, like, I’m huge on [New Balance] 997s. If I was making this list, somewhere on the list the 997s would be there. 997s, 576s, there’s some New Balance’s that I am a SUPER fan of. I’m one who probably has every 997 that’s come out in the last 10 years. I’ve got more New Balance in my house than practically every other brand besides Nike and Jordan.
SBD: I do love it when I ask that question and someone genuinely names a shoe outside of the usual suspects. I’m aware of the Adidas Grand Prix, but I don’t know much about it. At least not like I do my Air Jordans. But hearing it get brought up in this conversation makes me want to find out more about that shoe. You mentioning it might make someone reading interview want to research and look up that shoe. And who knows, they might end up liking it.
Do you think the average sneakerhead does a good enough job of educating themselves about the different sneakers and the different brands? Like, everybody knows about the “Space Jams” but who knows about the New Balance 997?
DJ Clark Kent: But there’s a reason why. The information centers are only showing them THAT information. So if a kid doesn’t know about a Grand Prix, it’s not his fault. Grand Prix’s came out when his mother was a kid. To know it, you had to be a part of it. If the information centers that they’re dealing with—all the blogs and websites that they follow—aren’t giving TRUE information from WAY back; if they’re not doing that information, [and] if all they’re worrying about is who’s coming to their site to see what’s coming out in 6 months, then they’re never going to be able to say, “Oh, I wish I had…”
SBD: True. I’ll concede that. I’ll like to get your take on another interesting conversation being had in the sneaker community. (Laughs), what’s your thought on the whole “Yeezy jumped over the Jumpman” debate?
DJ Clark Kent: The question is “how do you look at it?” Are you asking me did Kanye’s shoes jump over [Jordan’s] shoes? If you ask that what you’re asking is “who sells the most?” And if you’re asking who sells the most, It’s an IMPOSSIBLE…… You have to understand; it will NEVER be possible. Sheer numbers; if it’s just numbers that we’re looking at, it’s impossible. Will I say Kanye’s cultural relevance has jumped over Jordan’s relevance? No. I would say they’re almost equal. But you have to remember, Jordan drops a new shoe every week. Understand me, he drops a new retro every week AND new shoes almost every other week. Understand what I’m saying to you, shoes that were consistently selling for 30 years, he
drops those all the time. Then he introduces new product that sells on a legitimate level as well. So what you’re trying to tell me is that Kanye, who’s done something that’s magnificent in the sneaker world, has been able to equate THAT?! Naw. That’s not gonna happen.
But…..but, cultural relevance has put Kanye in the sky. He’s the ‘guy’. Something happened with Kanye West that changed damn near the whole shoe game a little bit. Nike is a performance company, and they only did shoes for athletes. Kanye is a performer, and they did a shoe for Kanye.
SBD: I’ve had this conversation with many people, and it always goes to back to who has the most followers, or the most “likes”. My argument is, “Oprah has less followers and “likes” than Kim Kardashian, but we all know Oprah is substantively bigger. There’s what LOOKS good and then there’s what IS good. Substance is key to context when we’re looking at this narrative. No knock on Kim and her show, but Oprah has her own channel. Not a show, an entire channel. And I feel that that is analogous to the whole “Yeezy V. Jumpman” debate.
DJ Clark Kent: Ok, here’s something I’ll ask, if Kanye decides to stop making records is he gonna be as culturally relevant as he is right now? In the next 10 years?
SBD: (Laughs) So now you’re asking me questions huh? (Laughs) I would say yeah, probably.
DJ Clark Kent: No, he’s not. Because his music is the reason why people love him.
SBD: 10 years ago I would’ve said, “No.” But now, people’s “15 minutes of fame” are lasting 4 or 5 times longer than they used to. Nowadays they’re getting a full “60 minutes of fame”. So if you’re someone who actually had a skill, who actually had talent, your relevance and staying power lasts a lot longer than it used to; probably because of social media.
DJ Clark Kent: Wait now, Michael Jordan quit FOREVER ago, (laughs), and he’s still MICHAEL JORDAN. ‘Cause Michael Jordan was the BEST EVER. There’s a big difference, there’s a big difference man. Kanye’s living in the “right-now time”. Jordan is still known RIGHT NOW. And he ain’t done a goddamn basketball move in……..shit………dawg, it’s Jordan. You talking ‘bout a dude who most of these kids never saw play a basketball game. But they got closets full of his sneakers.
SBD: But that goes back to my point, look at Jay-Z. Jay hasn’t dropped an album in a minute but he’s still the first name you think of when there’s the discussion of who’s the best rapper alive.
DJ Clark Kent: But Jay-Z still raps on people’s records. AND, Jay-Z still continuously shifts the culture. AND you still care about what he’s doing. And he don’t say shit. (Laughs)
DJ Clark Kent: Understand me, we talking ‘bout somebody who doesn’t jump out the window and just go on rants. He just don’t say NOTHING. He just goes in doing his business. But you give a fuck. When RocNation does something, you give a fuck. When you see that paper plane on that hat, you give a fuck. But if Kanye stops doing the rants, stops making records, his thing would fade a little bit. If he stops being OUT there the same way, it would fade a little bit. If was just sneakers, how is he jumping over the Jumpman? Don’t get it confused. Be Clear. I am taking NOTHING from what that man has done. I’m just saying, “Yeezy, Yeezy, Yeezy jumped over the Jumpman” was a marketing statement. And it WORKED!! It made people do this one thing that we’re doing now—we’re having a conversation about it.
Understand me, I don’t have a conversation about it. I know it’s not true. But WE’RE having a conversation about it because it’s culturally relevant to you that he made a statement. He didn’t even prove it!! He just made a statement and you ran with it. I didn’t run with it; YOU ran with it. You ran with it so much [that] you want to ask me what I think about it. (Laughs). I didn’t run with that shit. I looked at it and was like, “Ehh, he made a record.” (Laughs). He knows he ain’t jumped over no Jumpman. He knows his cultural relevance is on fire though. His cultural relevance is a BEAST. Yo, Kanye is RIGHT NOW. For real. He’s that ‘real-deal’. And he’s probably one of the most talented artist we’re ever going to see in our time.
He is a ‘super-talent’. I don’t look at Kanye as like a sneaker designer. I don’t look at him as the guy who’s going on rants. I look at the guy who makes that music. That’s how I met him, that’s who he is to me. Everything else he’s doing is like “fringe benefits”. When it comes to the Kanye that I look at, I look at the guy who made “Jesus Walks”. I look at the guy who made “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”. I look at the guy who made “Flashing Lights”. I look at the guy who made “Devil in a Blue Dress”. That’s who I’m looking at. THAT guy is fuckin’ amazing.
SBD: It’s funny how music and sneakers have this connection nowadays. This marriage of sorts. With that being said, we’ve seen cultural appropriation happen in music before. With Jazz. With Rock-N-Roll. Even with Hip-Hop on some level. Looking at sneaker culture, do you see it being vulnerable to that same type of appropriation?
DJ Clark Kent: What builds appropriation is hype. What builds this appropriation is too much information. What builds this appropriation is a website saying, “7 months later, these Jordan 11s are coming out.” Like, “Yo, in 7 months, the Air Jordan 11s are coming out.” Then there’s a sneaker picture. And then there’s a “Oh my God, this guy has a picture.” “Oh my God, this guy has an early pair.” It’s reporting with a level of hype. Everybody wants to have the first picture. Everybody wants to break the story. How about let’s just worry about what’s happening right now? If we did that—if the companies decided “Ok, we’re NOT going to give out no information. We’re not gonna tell everybody what’s coming [out]”—you know what you’re gonna have to do? You’re going to have to walk inside of a store and find out about sneakers. You’re going to have to walk inside of a store to find out what came out today. Back in the day, there were no release dates. You didn’t know when a shoe was coming out. You just walked in the store and you discovered shit.
The age of discovery is GONE because of the age of instant gratification. “I need to know NOW about what’s coming out next year.” Why?……WHY?!….. So that you can show how “hype” you are for it, the reseller can watch your hype, and be the guy who gets to the line before you so that HE can live off of YOUR hype. It’s an extremely vicious cycle. If you seek getting this information—all a guy gotta do is watch the comments: “Instant cop!!” “Robo-cop!!” “I can’t wait to cop!!” “I’m copping 5 pair!!” The reseller is going, “Oh, that’s how many pairs you copping? Fuck that. I’m gonna get to the line first so you cop all of those 5 from me…. At rape prices…” The information has made you think [that] it’s more than a sneaker. IT’S. A. SNEAK-ER. (Laughs)
SBD: But there is a certain level of creativity to each sneaker. Shoes can tell a story, depending on the designer. Just like a painter paints on a canvas, a designer has to create that shoe with the same level of artistry. One could look at then like art expressed through two different vessels.
DJ Clark Kent: Yeah but art you put on walls. Sneakers you wear……..or, you should wear. (Laughs). There’s a lot of people who have a house full of sneakers and never wear them, or go out with the same Yeezy Boosts on every day. Why do you have a closet full of sneakers if you ain’t gonna wear them? Playboy…. (Laughs).
SBD: (Laughs) Ok, this seems like a good lead-in to talk about your event that recently did, the Ultimate Sneaker Expo. Tell me about that.
DJ Clark Kent: We do [the Ultimate Sneaker Expo] once a year. This is our 5th show, and every time we do it it’s a great turnout. And we only do it in Long Island so that we’re not in direct competition with the other shows that I have so much respect for. We do it for the community of Long Island. The kids on Long Island, they get on those Long Island railroad trains and they go to the shows in the city. They risk their lives getting home with all of these thousands of dollars’ worth of shoes and money that they got in their pockets. My thing [was] I was gonna give back to their community because they respect OUR community and support our community so much.
SBD: Now the Ultimate Sneaker Expo is also in collaboration with the charity “Heeling Soles”. What can you tell me about their charity/foundation, and the work that they do within the community?
DJ Clark Kent: Well what they do is try to uplift those who don’t ‘have’. So what they do is collect sneakers, [they] collect clothes, and then they outfit and ship away the clothes to people who are less fortunate, to build their self-esteem moving forward in life. [They] just help them feel better so that they can DO better. ‘Cause when you feel better, you do better. When you have a certain level of “ok, yeah. I look a little better”, you do better. You feel better.
SBD: How cool is it to see charities forming and helping the less fortunate in their communities under the umbrella and guise of sneakers?
DJ Clark Kent: Anything that has a lot of attention put on it—anything that becomes popular—can get turned around in a certain way. So when Hip-Hop became popular—or when Rap became popular—we were gonna do things that create the ability to give so that we can give back. You give back because you have a platform to create attention. Once you have something to create attention with, you’re able to give back. If you have a platform to make it happen, it’s a little realer.
SBD: Do you see sneaker culture fading away anytime soon?
DJ Clark Kent: Here’s the deal, before this thing called ‘sneaker culture happened, everybody had sneakers. And the guy who had too many sneakers looked like a weirdo. People used to come to my house and used to think I was crazy, because I had hundreds of sneakers. They thought I was weird…
SBD: Exactly how many sneakers do you have?
DJ Clark Kent: A lot. (Laughs) But they thought I was weird. I took all of my money and bought sneakers and records. I took the two things that I was really cool on. I wanted sneakers, and I wanted my sneakers to look brand new. And I wanted records because I’m a DJ. So it was sneakers and records. Actually, [it was] records THEN sneakers. I bought more records than I bought sneakers. BUT, everybody had sneakers. It’s just now it’s a ‘thing’ because some people are more enthusiastic about sneaker than others. And now people put a different value on sneakers than others. And now people talk more about sneakers than others. So because of this thing, where can it actually go if the companies are still making sneakers? It can’t fade ‘cause they keep making sneakers. Until people look at sneakers and realize that the only thing they are is just shoes, this thing that you see, is gonna keep looking exactly the same.
SBD: Ok, we’ve talked everything from music to sneakers. Outside of that, what message would you want to leave for anyone reading this interview?
DJ Clark Kent: You gotta believe in yourself. You gotta invest in yourself. I want to continue to be a DJ, so I invest in myself as a DJ. Do I get to do other cool things? Yes, I’m lucky. Do I score when I do it? Yes. Again, I’m lucky. You never know how people are gonna perceive the things that you’re doing.
I’d like to thank my family here at Sneaker Bar Detroit, Mario and Alin, for giving me this opportunity. I’d like to thank Ms. Erika Schaefer for putting this whole thing together and never growing tired of playing “cat and mouse” via our emails. And finally I would like to thank DJ Clark Kent for the time and opportunity, in the midst of his busy schedule, to talk to him and allow me access for this interview. Hit me up the next time you’re in the D. The Motown Museum is on me…