The Aficionado: A Conversation with DJ Clark Kent

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The reaction was instantaneous. Before we could even turn to the direction of his interest, his giant frame lurched forward in a calculated pace toward the intended target. Again, we were left behind in his wake, wondering among ourselves.  This is what sneaker shopping with DJ Clark Kent (born Rodolfo Franklin) is like.  It is similar to a hunt: brief moments of stillness punctuated with laser-like focus, but instead ended with transactions.  His keen sense is uncanny, able to pick out a pair for his collection long before anyone else notices.  We were always steps behind him.

Though second nature to him now, Kent had to take time to hone his skills.  Long before the term “sneakerhead” came about, Kent had already amassed a collection in the hundreds.  Today, his collection continues to grow, currently at some 2,400 pairs.  And that is not counting his other interests, including New Era fitted caps and Casio G-Shock watches.

Like his namesake, Kent, in many ways, is also a guardian of the culture in which he was raised.  He will never pass judgment on any design since he understands that, despite public conception, designing sneakers takes more effort and purpose than any outsider could imagine. He also looks beyond future pricing on limited edition or just a plain general releases.  To him, it is the “emotional capital” that matters and that is how it should be for anyone who is an aficionado.

And so, in between these so-called “sneaker hunts” during a recent trip to Taiwan, we had the opportunity to talk with Kent about a variety of his interests, from music to his collections, and some of his most recent projects, including his ongoing involvement with Nike.

DJ Clark Kent, could you please give our readers a brief introduction?

I think everyone here at Freshnessmag.com knows who I am. I am a friend to the brand, the site; a friend to sneakernews.com I am a friend to everything. I’m DJ Clark Kent.  I am a DJ, a record producer, a consultant to Nike, and I’m ATF (Addicted To Fresh).

How long have you been working in the music industry? How do you feel about its current state?

I’ve been in the music industry for about 22 to 23 years, but I’ve been a DJ for 33 years. So I’ve been around the whole business for a long time. The current state of music has definitely changed because times are different. The music industry went through a shock at one point—there was a lot of money and the ability to make a lot of money. Then, the energy came to an end and money became short. During the boom, there was a gap without artist development. Now, because the economy is tough, artist development is coming back and it’s a good time to for music development. At the moment, artists have to actually earn their love. For somebody to achieve the next level, they have to develop the artist and the music—they have to do more and give more back to the music. It’s going to be about cultivating the good craft of music and that is coming back.

How was it to work with two of the greatest Hip-Hop artists ever, in Jay-Z and the Notorious B.I.G.?

It was actually perfect. It was pretty easy because they were both friends of mine. Introducing them to each other was probably the best part of it. When I was working with Jay it didn’t seem like work. It felt like he was an old friend and we happened to make records together. It was a very easy partnership.

With Big, I started out as his DJ and we were on tour. One day, he asked why I never made him beats.  I replied, “Well, I’m keeping this for Jay.” Big then proposed for me to work up something for them, and that’s how everything started.

Working with both of them felt like a family affair.

Are there any new artists that you feel can potentially reach the status of a Jay-Z or Biggie?

No. The state of music as it is puts us in an age of instant gratification, so artist development is not really done well. Artist development would have to really improve for someone else to elevate to the status of Jay-Z or Big. If Big was alive, he’d probably be at Jay-Z’s status too because he was musically incredible. To actually get to where Jay-Z is right now, you have to be two things good at what you do, and also be a good businessman so you know what you need to do. The trick to the success, however, is realization. Now, if someone can actually do it, then we are going to see some big money again. It’s probably practically impossible, but I believe it can be done because there is a ton of people out there.

When did you find yourself transitioning into the street culture side of things, specifically fashion (apparel and sneakers)?

The funny part to this is the “street culture” everyone is talking about today is something we actually grew up with, and that was before it became “street culture.” When we were young, we wanted to be fresh. We made whatever we wore fresh. So it’s kind of weird that we call it “street culture” now. Everything we deem cool started from the streets, so I look at this phenomenon from a different perspective. Maybe this is because I’m older, but I feel like there is something different between then and now. Kids today want to be fresh and different. There are so many brands out there, but I would like to see a brand that lasts. There are some brands doing really well right now, but unless you are keeping up with it for 20 years, I don’t think it’s “doing well.”

The rumors are endless about the number of shoes you own, can you put them to rest once and for all by telling us how many pairs of sneakers you own? How many of them are Air Force 1’s?

I’ve given away and gotten rid of a lot, but right now it’s probably about 2,400.

I have about 2,000 pairs of Air Force 1s, and 400 pairs of Air Max 1s and Air Jordans. I really like Air Max 1 but there aren’t as many pairs of Air Max 1 out there. It’s funny I’ve got involved in the AM1 Journey because I don’t think [Nike] knew that Air Max 1 is one of my favorites. When Air Max 1 was first released, it was crazy. The shoes had these bubbles that looked cool when you put them on and they were the big thing. Back then, the shoe that you gravitated to immediately were Air Max 1. I’m supposed to be an AF1 fan, but I’m also an Air Max 1 fan.

Considering that you are the King of Air Force 1’s, would you mind giving us your top 5 Air Force 1’s?

1. Classic Air Force 1 [The best Air Force 1 EVER, White on White.]

2. Stash x Nike Air Force 1 [Stash’s Harbor Blues]

3. Mr. Cartoon x Nike Air Force 1 Hyperstrike [Cartoons with the blue and grey spider webs. That’s one of the best pairs of sneakers I’ve ever seen]

4. Nike Air Force 1 “Bird’s Nest”

5. Nike Air Force 1 – “Year of the Dog”

We understand that you are now working with Nike. How did your relationship with them begin?

It started at the end of 2006, beginning of 2007. They were trying to figure out their 25th anniversary and wanted to do an event. They had to gather these shoes for the event. and they asked me if I had some of the models they were looking for because my shoe collection had become legendary. When they came over to make an inventory we got into a conversation about doing an AF1 store, which became 21 Mercer. Ideas were flowing and they suggested making me a consultant. It was under that agreement that I went to Portland for the first time. While I was there, I asked if I could do a sneaker too. Nine months later, I was a consultant. And that’s where it began, the AF 25th.

What is role of a consultant at Nike?

In my case, I might be important because I affect the music culture. I love sneakers, and I am a heavy consumer. I’m not the guy who looks for new sneakers once a month but the dedicated one looking for new sneakers every week. I think Nike sees that I’m a consumer who gets both sides of the story– I understand the brand, but also understand the consumer mentality. I know what’s fresh and I can tell you if you made a mistake. So with Nike, we discussed my ideas and eventually they gave me the opportunity to do it. And when people are actually buying and selling these shoes, it generates a certain energy.

One of the other things you’ve done is that you’ve collaborated with Nike and worked on a number of projects for Nike, which one has been your favorite?

I think anybody who gets to do anything in their lives like, say you make your first album and you’ve been trying to get an album out for ten years, that’s your movie right there. I would say the first collaboration, the 112 Pack would be my favorite so far, because it was the first stepping stone into the door.

Are there any new projects that you can tell us about?

I have the East vs. West Project coming up in September/October 2009 with UNDFTD. Eddi Cruz of UNDFTD did the west and I did the east. It’s called East/West Rivalry. That’s this year, and there will be some more next year. There’s something unexpected. In China there’s the Air Force 25th and the Hyperdunk that will probably never get to the US because they are straight basketball sneakers but they are high up. But Freshness is a friend, so I want to involve you guys in the process of making a shoe.

We know that you’re typically an Air Force 1 guy, but what does the Air Max 1 mean to you? Do you have any favorite Air Max 1’s?

What it means to me is change. When we first saw the air bubble on Air Max 1, the guys I grew up with and I were blown away by the air bubble and the shoe. The shoes were light, fresh, and they made your feet look smaller. It was something new, something fresh. It felt good and special. As we grew up playing basketball and football, we were used to the bulky shoes and Air Max were different from those. They made us feel like we wanted to run and we could run. If you ask me what my favorite is, it’s unequivocally the first red and white pair. I’ve owned at least 30 pairs of those because every time I saw them, I bought a pair. I bought 8 the first time they came out. I think next up would be the blue and white, and it’s funny because I never owned a pair of those and I still don’t. I have the navy blue ones with the USA flag on them, but the royal blue ones always escape me.

I really know my sneakers and I know the history. I know some people may think, “Oh, Clark made some money so he buys some shoes,” and leave it at that. But, I won’t buy something unless I know about it and I really follow it. I know my Air Max and I knew who Tinker Hatfield was.

Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Love God like you would love yourself.

Nike x DJ Clark Kent – 112 Pack

1. Air Force 1 Low Premium

2. Air Max 1 Premium

3. Air Trainer 1 Premium

Nike x DJ Clark Kent – 112 Pack

Air Force 1 Low Premium

Style:
329423-001

Color:
metallic silver/black-nn yellow

Released: 2008

Nike x DJ Clark Kent – 112 Pack

Air Max 1 Premium

Style:
330159-071

Color:
black/neon yellow-metallic silver

Released: 2008

Nike x DJ Clark Kent – 112 Pack

Air Trainer 1 Premium

Style:
329424-071

Color:
black/neon yellow metallic silver

Released: 2008

Nike x DJ Clark Kent – Black Friday

Air Force 1 Low Supreme

Style:
349703-001

Color:
black/black

Released: 2008


Nike x DJ Clark Kent – East vs. West – Rival Pack

Dunk “Gucci” High Supreme LE

Style:
375378-361

Color:
Team Green/Challenge Red-Black

Released: 2009