Earlier this month, Puma announced a multi-year partnership with rap megastar J. Cole. The announcement was made alongside the release of Puma’s latest new basketball sneaker–the Sky Dreamer–and was accompanied by a short film, which was a joint project produced by both Puma and J. Cole’s Dreamville imprint.

J. Cole, a former basketball player in his own right, is involved directly with the new Sky Dreamer, which features a Dreamville “Dreamer” emblem on the heel. Eventually he will release his own Dreamer footwear and apparel later this year. Cole was arguably the most notable rapper on the market without a shoe deal, as the sneaker space has long been dominated by contemporaries like Kanye West, Drake and Travis Scott for years.

Puma is one of the sneaker industry’s leaders when it comes to embracing rappers as both partners and pitchmen–and it’s working. This announcement comes on the heels of Puma’s record-breaking 2019, which saw sales hit nearly $6 billion, an 18.4 percent increase from the previous year. Puma’s emphasis on hip-hop can be attributed directly to its creative leadership. The company is spearheaded creatively by none other than Jay-Z himself, who serves as an overseeing “creative director,” and many of his Roc Nation clients are now signed to Puma.

It’s no surprise that the common thread behind all those names is Jay-Z. Jay famously linked with Reebok to release a signature sneaker in the early-’00s at a time when rappers didn’t sign shoe deals. Despite being in uncharted territory, his S. Carters flew off shelves. While he doesn’t get the credit for his influence in sneaker culture the way West or some of his other peers routinely do, it’s important to understand his role in making it commonplace for rappers to have their own sneakers.

Never forget: No online retailer has the same breadth and depth of selection as Grailed. From New Balances fit for a Kennedy to Jordans in a briefcase (and everything in between)–in no particular order, these are our picks for the Rarest Sneakers on Grailed This Week.

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