September 22, 2014
In case you didn’t know, hip-hop and fashion often intersect at the gym shoe store.
The day of this interview, Twista is rocking some Independence Day-centric Nikes. They are red, white and blue, with spangled stars.
His partner, Alan Wehbi, is wearing gray and red Air Jordan 3s. A few months before this interview, Bucketfeet, a local custom, drawn-art-on-sneakers company, announced it had sold a collection to Nordstrom. A year before this interview, Kanye West made his signature Nike Air Yeezy Red Octobers, and they sold out in minutes, showing up now on eBay for about $6,000 a pair.
I say all this to say: Shoes apparently are important. That said, the creation of the Sole Expo, an upcoming gym-shoe convention of sorts, makes a lot of sense. There, Twista and Wehbi will present a sneaker-fied three-ring circus of shoe and hip-hop culture.
“I’ve been a sneaker head for years,” says Webhi, who also owns a sports ticket agency and has known Twista for a long time. “There are conventions I’ve seen but they weren’t up to standard, and I felt it was time to bring these to a different level and give people a bit more.”
By that he means the two are bringing 150 vendors to the ultracool first-floor space at the Lacuna Artists loft in Pilsen on July 19 and 20 for an “expo” complete with a custom shoe design contest (judged by — who else? — TV’s Judge Mathis) and a giveaway of one pair of the highly sought after Air Yeezus. Attendees will be able to buy, trade and view new and old shoes. They’ll be able to talk about the Air Jordan anniversary. They’ll trade tips on where to find gold Pumas or snag a JS Instinct Hi pair of Adidas. Webhi is the sneakerhead. Twista is the hip-hop guru.
“When it comes to hip-hop, fashion has always been a big part . . . especially shoes,” says the West Side-born emcee, who once attended Collins High School and has an album, “Dark Horse,” coming in August. “I think the artistic shoes or the unique shoes are something [youth] are into because they’re into hip hop and into fashion.”
Local rappers King Louie, Lil Kemo and Chance the Rapper are slated to be in attendance, Twista says, but he won’t confirm that anyone will perform except to slyly note: “You never know what happens when a bunch of rappers get together.”
But back to that giveaway of Kanye’s Red Octobers. They sold out shortly after being released, so how on earth did Sole Expo get a pair to give away? Webhi, it turns out, owns 21 pairs. That’s not a typo. Twenty-one pairs.
“I got a pair of my own, and we’re giving away a pair for the event,” says Wehbi, who hails from Villa Park, nodding to his own size 15 feet. “It’s rare to see more than one pair in a place, let alone eight to 13.”
And finally, the two put to rest the issue of word usage. Are they gym shoes or sneakers?
“Urban, gym shoes,” Twista says, smiling. “Suburban? Sneakers.”