The intersection between music, art, sneakers, and design is a dynamic and creative space where different forms of expression come together to create unique cultural phenomena
The Black Footwear Forum (BFF) has operated in this fusion and understanding for years. On September 21-24 the BFF was held at Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design (PLC), the industries college and the only Historically Black College or University (HBCU) dedicated to design, in partnership with the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA).
With impactful conversations, great energy and good food to fuel 600+ attendees, the free four-day event proved to be a resounding success and lived up to its theme, Culture is Currency: Know Your Worth, attracting a diverse range of participants from around the globe.
BFF, created by Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, PLC’s president and founder, is a community that brings together the most significant cluster of black creatives to share, educate, motivate, network, and address diversity and inclusion challenges in the design industry. As a collective of footwear industry professionals and supporters from around the country, BFF encourages collaboration in establishing industry goals that center on developing and advancing black talent at all levels.
For four informative-packed days, speakers and moderators from esteemed organizations and successful brands contributed to effective and noteworthy conversations.
Adding to the conversations were two-time Academy Award-winning costume designer, Ruth Carter, costume designer and PUMA creative director, June Ambrose, Grammy Award-winning DJ Jazzy Jeff and NBA All-Star Russell Westbrook who encouraged attendees and emphasized the importance of diverse talent in the design field.
One particular conversation, led by Dion Walcott PLC’s Director of Partnerships and LaShae Boone-McCray, Director of Strategic Accounts at Footwear, entitled Music Fuels Culture: Exploring & discussing the intersection between Music, Art, Sneakers and Design, addressed a crowd of aspiring and established designers igniting creativity and innovative thinking.
Sponsored by Amazon Music, the panel comprised Byron Merritt, VP of Design & Creative for Amazon Music, Kelley Walton, Global Head of Brand and Integrated Marketing for Amazon Music, and Karim Wazani, Director of Partnerships for Amazon Music.
Music, art, sneakers, and design reflect the interconnectedness of various artistic fields and their impact on culture, fashion, and design trends, which fosters collaborations, inspire innovation, and create immersive experiences that resonate with audiences who appreciate the fusion.
Music has the power to express and shape identities, preserve cultural heritage, foster social cohesion, reflect and inspire social change, and drive economic and creative industries, making it significant in fueling culture. It has a significant impact on culture and is essential in shaping cultural expressions and identities.
Take “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys, for example. This 2009 hit celebrates New York City and its cultural significance. The song captures the spirit of the city, its iconic landmarks, and the ambition and hustle associated with it becoming an anthem for New Yorkers and a symbol of urban aspiration and success.
Fashion, style, and trends are also heavily influenced by music. Hip hop has a long-standing tradition of using metaphors, particularly those related to footwear, to express social commentary. Musicians and artists often become style icons, shaping fashion choices, hairstyles, and overall aesthetics. Music videos and album covers are a source of visual inspiration that shapes youth culture, contributing to the ever-evolving landscape of pop culture.
“Air Force Ones” by Nelly ft. Kyjuan, Ali, and Murphy Lee use the popular Nike Air Force One sneakers as a metaphor for status and street credibility. It discusses the influence of sneakers on urban culture and highlights the significance of footwear as a symbol of identity and social standing.
Or how about everyone’s favorite, “My Adidas” by Run-D.M.C? It pays homage to the Adidas brand and its impact on urban fashion, using footwear as a symbol of empowerment, pride, and cultural identity within the hip hop community.
The power of music lies in its ability to unite people from all walks of life by transcending boundaries. Events like The Black Footwear Forum provide opportunities for people to come together, celebrate their culture, and form connections.
At BFF, I participated in the sessions and saw the excitement of attendees as they absorbed impactful and informative content. Additionally, I spoke to Dion and LaShae to get their perspective on how music influences or affects culture and beyond.
Q. How does music impact culture?
LBM: Music has a profound impact on culture in a multitude of ways. It influences trends, fosters collaborations with brands, allows for individual expression, and extends its reach globally, all of which contribute to the cultural significance of footwear brands within the context of hip hop.
DW: To me, music is the soundtrack to my life. Whatever I’m listening to becomes the memory of the moments that have happened in my life.
Q. Rethink your playlist: What five songs in the past or current, impact culture.
1. “Rappers Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang—the Pioneers themselves! The beat and clever lyrics helped introduce hip hop to a mainstream audience.
2. “Straight Outta Compton” by NWA ignited debates about free speech and censorship while also shedding light on issues facing marginalized communities.
3. “U.N.I.T.Y” by Queen Latifah, “Who You Callin’ a Bitch” pioneered the conversations around several points of sexism against women such as sexual harassment, domestic violence, and issues surrounding black women.
4. “Juicy” by The Notorious B.I.G. popularized storytelling regarding the journey from poverty and adversity to wealth and success.
5. “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar—Its powerful message made it a rallying cry for hope and resilience during the Black Lives Matter Protest.
1. Jay-Z – “Can’t Knock the Hustle” taught me how to hustle neatly without negativity.
2. Nipsey’s “Mailbox Money” showed the importance of being sustainable over time.
3. Snoh’s “I Want You Around” is the importance of partnership.
4. Biggie’s “One More Chance” provided culture to connect to the past but be in the present.
5. Kanye’s “Big Brother” allowed culture to see Black men congregating with each other.
Walcott and Boone-McCray, who also host the BlackLights Podcast, a derivative of PLC’s Back Lights—"Illuminating the Vision & Igniting the Path to Make it Possible”—will partner with Amazon music soon to heighten their message, highlight creatives in the design industry, and more.
Q. What is BlackLights Podcast about and what role does Amazon music play?
LBM: The BlackLights Podcast is all about fostering important conversations related to diversity and representation within the footwear industry. Our podcast aims to highlight Black Footwear Industry leaders within the footwear world. By featuring their stories and perspectives, it not only recognizes their achievements but also serves as inspiration for aspiring individuals looking to break into and/or navigate and succeed in the footwear industry.
DW: Amazon will help to power and expand our message to provide people access to information and introduce our followers to “black lights” (people) who have done impactful work that most people never heard about.
The discussions will also include the challenges, opportunities, and experiences of people of color working in the industry. In addition, BlackLights Podcast benefits from the sponsorship and support of Amazon Music, which enhances its reach and impact. This partnership ensures that the podcast can reach a wider audience and continue to produce high-quality content.
By reflecting, shaping, and fueling cultural expressions, identities, and movements, music has a profound influence on culture. It's a powerful tool that enriches societies globally by facilitating communication, connection, and creativity.
Whether it’s “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy which became an anthem for social and political activism addressing issues of systemic racism, inequality, and the need for empowerment and resistance or, “Sneakers” by Raashan Ahmad which explores the concept of sneakers as a metaphor for pursuing dreams and aspirations drawing parallels between the uniqueness of sneakers and personal authenticity, music will forever fuel cultural movements, trends, and shifts.
The ability to express diverse perspectives, challenge norms, and give voice to marginalized communities has made music a powerful force in fueling culture.
This article was originally written for Groov Magazine.