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April 26-May 2, 2006

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Brand Awareness: 'Vans' is like 'My Adidas' of 2006.

Got My Vans On

The Wolfpack make comfortable footwear fabulous

By Todd Inoue

WHEN E-40's "Tell Me When to Go" hit, the Bay Area's hyphy movement was pushed into the national spotlight. It was good to see outlets like MTV, the S.F. Chronicle (who wildly proclaimed this upcoming season could be Oakland's Summer of Love) and USA Today pick up the story, but one of the first concerns is: how will momentum continue? E-40's album My Ghetto Report Card is tumbling off the charts, peaking at No. 3 but already down to 71 in five weeks.

Living in the Bay Area, urban radio appears enamored by hyphy music, but beyond the 100-mile radius, the style is just another regional curiosity like Screw music or Miami Bass. For hyphy to make a cross-country transition will require building upon the foundation with multiple slaps. Could another hyphy song come out that was as good, as catchy, as banging as E-40's? A few have exhibited qualities—"Blow Your Whistle" by Too Short, "3 Freaks" by Turf Talk and Keak Da Sneak, "Skrape" by Traxxamillion, "Hell Yeah" by San Quinn, "Super Sic Wid It" by Mistah F.A.B.

But of all the bangers mentioned, the song that could possibly eclipse "Tell Me When to Go" in volcanic status is a strangely odd tribute to utilitarian footwear. The song is called "Vans" by Berkeley group The Wolfpack. "Vans" is getting major spins on KMEL. It breaks from hyphy's parade of upbeat drum programming to embrace the slowed-down "snap" style of Atlanta. Snares are replaced by finger snaps, buoyed by sweeping and arcing bass synth. It's a space oddity that blends Bay Area slang and street wear culture with a hook—sped-up and processed with an electronic voice box—that sets up camp in your long-term memory bank: "Got my Vans on, but they look like sneakers/ You wearing coke whites 'cause my Vans look clean."

It's reminiscent of Gucci Crew's "Sally"—blending tribal minimalism with weird sound manipulation. And like "Sally," the song is catching on through word of mouth and radio play. There's no video (though fans are making their own and posting them up on YouTube), no street team or Vans sponsorship. It's viral marketing at its most pandemic.

The concept of shouting out couture is well documented—Run-DMC's Adidas, Slick Rick's Bally shoes, Lil Kim and Prada, LL Cool J and his Kangol hats. Hence, the appeal of "Vans" is linked to the Bay Area and its insistence to dance, talk and dress differently. $38 low-top slip-ons suit the economic realities and the Pack is elevating them as status symbols. The nemesis could be the all-white Nike Air Force Ones, which have been touted in song by Nelly and seen in multiple videos and photo spreads. The Wolfpack seem to say, Who needs shoes that ballers wear once when Vans are the shit? "If you wanna get right, stop buying those Nikes," goes a line. "Get some new fucking Vans and l bet you look icy."

It's an individuality and boldness that comes with youth. The Pack—Stunna, Lil B, Uno and producer Young L—are teenagers. The single appears on their album Wolfpack Muzik Vol 2. It'll be interesting to see how things progress for the group—as many of the songs on Wolfpack Muzik are equally minimalist in construct. Young L, who says he made the beat in a few minutes, says that Vans hasn't approached them yet. "We have a lot of people trying to approach Vans for us. We're talking to a couple people linked with Vans. We might get some endorsement deal. I do know we can get one pair of free shoes." Heck, the least Vans could do is invite them on the Warped Tour or use their music in an advertising campaign. It'd be a good look all around; Vans gets free publicity while the Wolfpack rock on Van's dime and leave a waffle iron shoe print across the globe.

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