Last month, UPROXX, an independent subsidiary of WMX at Warner Music Group, launched season two of its hit original series, Fresh Pair, with Grammy Award-winning hip-hop producer Just Blaze and sneaker customizer to the stars, Katty Customs returning as the show’s co-hosts.
This season has presented in-depth conversations with some of the biggest names in culture, including hip-hop icons Bun B, Ice Cube, Rick Ross, and more. Following the same structure from last year, Katty and Just design a custom pair of shoes inspired by the featured guest. Once the sneaker is revealed, the two hosts detail the inspirations behind the sneaker’s many elements and ask the guest compelling questions about their careers and personal journeys as well as their passion for sneaker culture and streetwear style.
“One of the most compelling things about hip-hop as a genre is the sense of walking in an artist’s shoes through their storytelling and art,” says Just Blaze. “Fresh Pair goes the extra mile in its second season to deliver what fans look for across culture in that regard – emphasizing the music, the style and the stories of some of the biggest names in the game.”
More episodes will be released in the coming months and will also be available to stream on WMX Hip Hop on The Roku Channel. You can watch the complete first season of Fresh Pair here. The show’s co-hosts spoke with ESSENCE about the connection between hip-hop and sneaker culture, preparation for each episode, what makes a true shoe collector, and more.
“Fresh Pair challenges us in the very best way. We take every element of the design very seriously and dive deep into the culture to conceptualize, design and create personal classics for our guests,” Katty Customs added. “It’s the best feeling when they resonate and you get to hear their reaction. Then to get to hear the fan response – that takes it to the next level for me, as a creative.”
ESSENCE: Can you walk me through the preparation for each show, and how do y’all go about putting the design together for each guest? What’s that process like?
Katty: Just Blaze and I, we get on a phone call and we talk about the artists that we have coming on. We speak about what shoes they like most, get that particular shoe and then do a whole bunch of research. We customize shoes from the insoles, the under sole, to the laces to different fabrics, to tongue tags to everything. Just really trying to capture everything about that artist and having the shoe as a script while telling the story.
Why do you think Hip Hop and sneaker culture have been so connected with each other throughout the years?
I mean, it definitely goes hand in hand – hip hop artists love sneakers. Well, most of them do. And that’s pretty much what they wear in their music videos, photo shoots. It goes hand in hand. I think it started off with Run DMC, probably before then, but I know they wear sneakers. They were all putting it on for hip hop, for sure.
Just Blaze: I’ve been asked that question a lot, and I’ve actually never really had a good answer for it until right now. When you really think about it, Hip Hop culture is obviously an offshoot of street culture. Before Hip Hop, there was no such thing as sneaker culture, but that was part of our uniform. You go back to the earliest things that would be considered Hip Hop fashion, it wasn’t penny loafers, it wasn’t boots or whatever. Not that people didn’t wear boots, but the uniform, it was shell toes and Pumas.
Especially going back to the early days before shell toes even took over, it was Puma. That’s kind of always been part of our uniform. Before that, people wore sneakers for function when they were just comfortable, but they were never part of your everyday uniform. People weren’t matching up their sneakers to their outfits and whatnot, pre Hip Hop. And on top of that, many times, a sneaker company, they might’ve had one or two designs and that was it. Converse pretty much just had the Chucks. Adidas only had a few models. Nike only had a few models.
Around the same time that they started stretching their lines, as the idea of wearing sneakers was more widely adopted. If you look at that, on the timeline, it coincides with the rise – I shouldn’t say the rise, but the beginnings and the spread of Hip Hop, back when it was spreading again. The two kind of came up together. And again, sneakers being part of our uniform and being fresh being part of our uniform, the two just have always gone hand in hand. You weren’t fresh unless you had a pair of fresh kicks. And that hasn’t changed 50 years later.
I thought it was interesting that you said, prior to you working on the show, you never had an answer for this question. How has working on Fresh Pair changed your love or your affinity for sneakers?
It hasn’t really changed it, it’s an extension of it, because this is something that we’ve been going through before there was a term sneakerhead. I am one of what you would call original sneaker heads. And for me, I’m a collector by nature. As a DJ, you have to collect records. As a producer, and as a musician, you have to collect the equipment. The collecting thing has always been in my nature. So, Fresh Pair is more so an extension of my love of sneakers and the culture that has developed around them over the past few decades. And it’s a way to express ourselves through the art that we create all the shoes, but at the same time, giving our guests this knowledge.
Katty, what was your introduction to sneaker culture, and what prompted your decision to make it your career?
I’m a huge sneakerhead and I love art. So I just put two together and just did my own thing. I always wanted to be different and have shoes that people didn’t have. I wanted to have a different colorway that people didn’t have. So that’s pretty much how I got into it so early.
I heard the word sneakerhead a lot in your responses, and I think in recent years, it’s kind of become loosely used by a lot of people. What is your definition of a sneaker head?
There’s no one singular definition, because I’m going to give you an analogy. There’s also Lo Heads, right? People who collect Ralph Lauren and Polo. And one of the conversations I remember, I was talking with one of my homies, his name is Bag. We were talking one night, this is maybe like 10, 15 years ago. Because there’s the argument within that cult of thug life, like, who’s a Lo Head and who’s not? And we’re like, yo, you can have one dude who maybe has 30 power pieces, like 30 holy grail pieces. You could have another dude who has nothing but basics, but he got a closet full of basics, and it’s all one brand. That doesn’t make one more of a Lo Head than the other. They just have different tastes, they have different financial abilities. Either way, they have an affinity for the brand.
With sneakers, it’s the same thing, there’s no singular definition. It’s just about, what do you love? Or do you love sneakers? Do you rock sneakers? And that’s really it. Do you keep up with what’s going on? But even that, you can’t tell me I’m not a sneakerhead, but I’m not really sitting there keeping up on the internet every day, studying every new release. But you can never tell me that I’m not a sneaker head and an OG sneaker head at that. I don’t know if there really is a definition per se. At least for me, it’s like I don’t like to do labels and myths and things like that. My thing is just like, do you love kicks? All right, cool. Then we got something in common, let’s do it.
So what exactly can viewers expect from the rest of the season two of Fresh Pair?
Man, this season is about to be so lit. We made shoes for Rick Ross already, so this season’s about to be fun. It really is.