Kendrick Lamar fans got a little taste of his partnership with Reebok at last month's surprise concert-meets-5k-run in Los Angeles, and now the first official commercial starring the rapper has dropped. It's a very Kendrick-esque ad, but it still has a few people raising an eyebrow over his motivations for the partnership.
The full video features sweeping views of the rapper's native L.A. and shots of Kendrick and the team going over shoe designs in a warehouse. But it's the voiceover that's the main draw here. It's reminiscent of Kendrick's signature lofty lyrics which, somewhat oddly, don't have much to do with shoes.
"When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for we, the people, to do things a little different," starts the voiceover. "It's in the air. We can no longer sit idly by while the powers that be tell us how to live, how to think, how to act—all the while writing about so-and-so not caring about us. No anonymous posts or spineless subtweets will do us justice. We, the people, can no longer hide. The time is now and they know it, too. For we hold these truths to be self-evident: A Wind of change is blowing in. Inhale. Exhale. And breath."
As you can see, while the message of the ad connects with the message of Kendrick's latest album To Pimp a Butterfly, the idea of sparking a revolution by making day-glo shoes seems a little...off. Fans are calling him on it, too—there are a host of comments on the official Reebok video claiming that the commercial is a move towards selling out. Vulture even called the video's "we the people" ethos as "transparent as Jay Z's Tidal." Ouch.
So, this begs the question: Is it selling out for Kendrick Lamar to film this commercial? If you look at the commercial alone, it is a little suspect to usurp a young rapper's revolutionary movement in order to sell sneakers. But taken in the greater context of Kendrick's career it's not quite as bad.
For starters, he's hardly the first rapper to ink a deal with a major shoe company. Two of his most famous peers have signed on with rival brands; Drake with Nike and Kanye West with Adidas. Endorsements are one of the best ways to bring in money (especially with the issues over album streaming), and while Kendrick does seem to pride himself in being a bit better than his peers, you can hardly blame the guy for wanting to make a buck. In an industry full of wealth showmanship Lamar is actually one of the least flashy—as he admitted to Rolling Stone last month, he still lives in a rental in LA's South Bay and one of his only major purchases to date was a house for his family.
There's also the fact that the prolific rapper hasn't yet let this commercialism seep into his music. Unlike a few other stars who will remain nameless, he hasn't pandered to mass audiences—To Pimp a Butterfly barely contains any singles produced for radio play. You get the sense from his lyrics that he really practices what he preaches, and in this instance Reebok seems to have had the foresight to capitalize on his growing influence.
Then, finally, there's the actual shoes. He's not hawking a $300-and-up limited-edition fashion sneaker; the Ventilator Day-Glos are $75. In the grand scheme of what's possible when a rapper "sells out," this is pretty harmless.
But it is important to note that Kendrick's Reebok partnership is just the first step in what's sure to be a long—and most likely imperfect—journey to huge fame. This probably isn't the last time we'll be discussing him or his latest projects.