Complex talked to several people who had visibility on the Dilla Dunks, all of whom either declined to speak on record or requested their names not be used for this story. Nike employees are not allowed to discuss their work with the media without prior approval, and anyone outside the brand involved in the shoes would have signed a non-disclosure agreement.

One person with knowledge of the Dilla Dunks said that the idea for the shoes was floating around at Nike SB as early as 2020. Nike worked on the shoe in 2023, tapping people who were connected with Dilla to inform its design. According to one source, Nike planned to release the shoes in 2024 in conjunction with Dilla Day on Feb. 7, which marks both Dilla’s birthday and the anniversary of the release date of his 2006 album Donuts.

One of the problems, sources say, was that Dilla’s estate was not involved in the project when it first began, and came into the fold too late. Nike’s initial contact for the project, sources say, was not the Dilla estate, which is the sole entity that would be able to greenlight the shoe.

Nike wanted to release the shoe this past February in conjunction with what would have been Dilla’s 50th birthday, but could not meet its deadline to get the shoes produced in time amid negotiations with the estate. The proposed collaboration stalled out from there, according to people familiar with Nike’s plans.

Even though the shoe’s design was nearly finalized, SB’s work on the J Dilla collaboration up to that point was moot.

Nike did not respond to a request for comment on the proposed J Dilla SB Dunks.

James Borden, the court-appointed administrator of Dilla’s estate, was initially responsive when reached for comment, but did not respond to follow-up requests. Borden did not answer any of Complex’s questions about the Dilla x Nike SB Dunks.

As is often the case in the wake of a celebrated artist’s passing, there have been some battles over the usage of Dilla’s work and name.

In a video posted to Instagram in March, Dilla’s brother, Illa J, said there were people pretending to be involved in the estate and speaking on its behalf. He clarified that the estate consists of four heirs—himself, Ma Dukes, and Dilla’s two daughters—and that doing any business with the estate requires approval from all four heirs and the estate’s attorney.

Illa J’s post doesn’t mention the Nike shoes, nor does it appear to be about them, but it speaks to the way people have competed to profit from Dilla’s work, and to the hurdles that a Dilla collaboration would present.

For her part, Ma Dukes says she was aware of previous attempts at making Dilla sneakers happen, but had nothing to do with Nike SB’s recent plans. She’s working with a consultant who is eager to pitch Nike his own design for a Dilla Dunk, but that project doesn’t have any overlap with Nike SB’s Dilla Dunks. And, she says, it hasn’t involved the estate.

An official Dilla x Nike SB Dunk would have fit in the tradition of SB projects designed for left-of-center hip-hop icons. In 2023, Nike SB released a duo of Dunks with Run the Jewels. Some of the most coveted SB Dunks of the 2000s were made in collaboration with De La Soul, who Dilla produced for, and MF DOOM, who said Dilla posthumously appeared to him in a dream and requested they work together.

And Dilla had a legitimate connection to sneakers. There are old photos of him wearing crispy Dunks, and fans on Reddit trying to identify his Nikes. For most of Dilla’s last live performances, during the Frank n Dank European Vacation tour in 2005, he came onstage in a wheelchair with Nike Terminators on feet.

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