Few artists have had a busier summer than Skepta. Although there’s been an absence of new music and tours, the Meridian multihypenate has been quickly broadening his creative repertoire with a catalogue of ventures. To recap: alongside Shlohmo and Kelvin Krash, he produced A$AP Rocky’s latest single, "D.M.B", returned to his DJ Moschino Joe days with a rare set at Ibiza’s DC-10 and released his first painting, “Mama Goes to Market”, as part of a Sotheby auction with the likes of Goldie and Slaun. The painting sold for £81,000 and featured in a recent collaborative clothing collection with Denim Tears.
Skepta’s most promising accolade of recent times, however, is the creation of “Big Smoke Corp”: a multi-faceted business agency looking to “have an impact very much in the now” with its “entrepreneurial approach to the media industry”. Earlier this month, it announced a partnership with German sportswear giants Puma. Taking to Instagram, Skepta announced the news and provided some vague information about what the collaboration may entail.
“Cheers to creative control”, the post says before adding “looking forward to bringing our world to #Futro”. What this all means is still left to the imagination of his fans, but it does highlight a topic that has been debated widely in the fashion world for many years: should brands be giving artists the freedom of their company, and realistically, how much control do the creatives really have? Recently, Kanye West slammed Adidas, accusing the company’s "Adilette 22 slide sandals" of being a direct imitation of the Yeezy Slides. Throughout August, Ye continued to post, and delete, a series of hastily made comments on Instagram, calling out members of Adidas’ team. Despite the bickering, Kanye’s ongoing collaboration with the German giants is one of the most successful, if not the most successful, partnerships between a brand and an artist. Ye famously left Nike for Adidas in a bid to have more creative control over Yeezy and Skepta has followed suit.
Whether it’s airmax 95s and windrunner jackets or TN tracksuits and airmax caps, Nike’s synonymity with grime is undeniable. The brand has been the chosen armour of English emcees for decades, fending off the aggravated stereotypes society faces them with whilst allowing them to bar freely in raves. So, it’s of no surprise that grime traditionalists and SKAir fanatics haven’t taken to the idea of Skepta, one of the scene’s pioneers, signing a deal with Puma. However, it’s a move that makes sense from the artist’s point of view. His most recent musical project, which was widely reported to be his last, “All In”, sees him veering further from the genre, experimenting with more mainstream flavours like afrobeats. So, if anything, signing with Puma is indicative of Skepta moving beyond the scene and towards life without music – where his current ventures will unanimously work towards his new status as a “global visionary”.
Any reasoning becomes clearer when you look at the overarching history both Puma and Skepta share. “My name’s Skepta Boy Better Know, London city by way of Nigeria,” the artist said to sign off a recent show in Portugal. He’s incredibly proud of his African heritage, turning down an MBE and taking up the offer to be made chief in his parents’ Nigerian home state. To reduce the gap between Puma and sportswear leaders Adidas and Nike, the brand has looked to Africa and its rich sporting history to engage an audience and stand out from the crowd. In 2022’s AFCON, Puma supplied the kits of 5 teams: more than any other sports manufacturer, and in 2008, the brand had visibility throughout 87.5% of the tournament. Skepta has frequently looked towards the continent for inspiration in his own collections, shooting Mains (his contemporary luxury brand) lookbooks in Marrakesh and nodding to traditional Nigerian wear in his painting. A recent Big Smoke Corp statement says: “Skepta’s aim is to discuss themes of race, equality, rehabilitation and do so from a place of honesty, truth and authenticity” and, with PUMA’s longstanding interest in Africa and its diaspora, they provide a great platform for him to do this.
Presuming that “futro” is a new line of shoes and apparel, it will be interesting to see if Skepta is given license to create unique silhouettes or if he is contracted to reimagine existing ones with some big smoke flavour. Puma suedes have been the company’s most successful trainer, with its affinity to hiphop, turntablism and breakdancing. However, with the popularity of New Balance 550s and other classic court silhouettes, Puma’s slipstream line needs revamping and Skepta could be drawn to its inevitable revival. Skate brands like Butter Goods and luxury fashion houses like MCM have repurposed the slipstream in recent years, receiving praise.
The American retro aesthetics of both these trainers don’t really fit the mould of Skepta’s previous forays into the fashion industry. The North Londoner’s SKAir line revels in rave futurism, as do previous collaborations with Cyberdog on tour merchandise. From the iridescent motifs on the tailwind Vs to the fluorescent green accents on the 97s and the distorted mesh of the Deluxe’s, there’s always been a utopian feel to his shoe releases. Pictures have recently surfaced of a new Puma trainer called the “NFERNO”, which although clearly influenced by Ye’s Yeezy line, looks more tailored towards what Skeppy might try to achieve with “Futro”. As for any apparel, Skepta’s team have been pictured recently in a range of Puma gear: from leather jackets to tracksuits and long sleeve polos to football shirts. However, and more excitingly, “Futro’s” perceived future/retro approach to fashion may see Skepta conceive something completely different on its own.
In 2014, PUMA partnered with Rihanna and made her their women’s creative director. The subsequent Fenti line drove the German company’s sales up astronomically, with the creepers selling out in only three hours upon their first release. They gave the songstress space for her own innovation and, as a result, the line had a significant global impact. There’s always commercial potential when artists align with brands but it will be interesting to see if Puma takes off in England, where it hasn’t been the choice of tastemakers for a minute, as a result of Skepta’s input. If “Futro” has anywhere near the cultural appeal of “Fenti”, however, it will be a huge success and one that may see Puma rival the likes of Adidas and Nike.
For any updates on Skepta’s latest business ventures or releases with PUMA, check back here.
Words Liam Cattermole (@liam_cattermole)