In the era of streaming, chart-topping hits aren’t enough. Instead, international stars battle it out for lucrative sponsorships, products that sell out instantly, and collaborations that serve as cultural landmarks. With the launch of NOCTA, Drake’s new sub-label with Nike, the 6 God tees up his long-awaited Jordan moment.
Drake’s love of Nike is nothing new. Besides a brief flirtation with adidas in 2018, the Toronto artist has been Team Swoosh through and through. Officially, Drake’s relationship with Nike stretches back to 2013 when he first inked a deal with Jordan Brand. The collaboration produced a handful of basketball sneakers with luxury details, most of which play on Drake’s OVO black and gold color palette.
Fast forward to August 2020 and the video for “Laugh Now Cry Later,” shot entirely at Nike’s Oregon headquarters, reads as a teaser for something else entirely: the launch of NOCTA, a new sublabel between Champagne Papi and the Swoosh.
Announced on December 2, 2020, the arrival of NOCTA signals Nike’s willingness to bet big on a global tastemaker. Since Kanye West first broke the glass ceiling at Nike in 2009 by becoming the first non-athlete to earn a signature sneaker, the Swoosh has put out shoes with Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, J. Balvin, G-Dragon, and Skepta, among others, aligning itself with hip-hop artists that rival athletes in terms of cultural influence.
West famously left the Swoosh for adidas when Nike couldn’t meet his demands, something he made clear on The Life of Pablo track “Facts.” Since joining adidas and creating a YEEZY empire with Jonathan Wexler, the Three Stripes has successfully reinvented itself, worth nearly 4x what it was in 2015 when West first joined the brand.
With NOCTA, Nike is giving Drake the chance to create his own YEEZY empire, far surpassing anything they’ve previously done with anyone not named Michael Jordan. It has the potential to shift the conversation away from one-and-done deals to conversations about how the best partnerships define the legacies of artists and brands.
The line builds on inroads Nike has made in the last few years as a byproduct of working with artists from around the world. NOCTA cites street style from London, Paris, and Toronto as key reference points, a uniform look consisting of Nike Tech Fleece, gloves, and a hat that Drake asserts has a “real team feel.”
It’s markedly different from the usual sources of inspiration Nike draws on to reach young tastemakers, namely American sports such as basketball and football. It trades in the recognizable silhouettes of both for leaner designs that define everyday style in cities besides New York or Los Angeles. And while Nike has long been popular among youths the world over, NOCTA gives them the kind of preferential treatment fans of hip-hop and American sports have long enjoyed.
Creatively, it takes the gritty realism of UK grime artist Skepta’s Nike campaigns and skews it mainstream. There’s still a Nike uniform at the center of the brand but it’s secondary to the cultural cues contained throughout. Unlike a majority of Nike’s positioning, which seeks to create stories of inspiration around elite athletes, it places the value of the brand in the hands of the consumer: you either get it or you don’t. Half of the launch photos are low resolution. The other half are elaborately staged yet feel organic, like they were shot on a friend’s phone.
On the retail front, Nike announced just months before the launch of NOCTA that it would be redefining its wholesale strategy, moving business online and drastically reducing the amount of doors in order to improve profit margins and ensure brand equity remains strong. Drake’s NOCTA sublabel is among the first times we’re seeing this strategy in action, bringing Nike’s most prestigious products to a limited number of retailers including KITH, END., and One Block Down. If the first drop is any indication, the strategy is working: the collection sold out immediately on the official NOCTA site and nearly every retail partner.
There’s no question Nike is betting big on the Canadian artist but it’s Drake that stands to gain the most from this partnership. Travis Scott may have achieved a commercial hat trick in 2020—hosting a Fortnite concert, teaming up with McDonald’s on a meal and merchandise, and announcing a partnership with Anheuser-Busch on spiked seltzer—but it’s Drake’s slow-and-steady approach that could vault him to MJ status years from now.
Michael Jordan earned his first signature sneaker, the Air Jordan 1, in 1984 at the age of 21, years before he’d arrive as a cultural phenomenon that would go on to change everything from the sport of basketball to street style around the world.
At 24, Drake’s first studio album Thank Me Later debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. So has each of the four albums he’s released since. In between putting out hit records, he joined the Toronto Raptors as “global ambassador,” launched a bourbon whiskey, and bought an ownership stake in esports organization 100 Thieves.
He’s personally worth a few hundred million and reportedly responsible for 5% of Toronto’s CAD $8.8 billion total annual tourism income. He’s as close as anyone can be to MJ status in an era defined by a choose-your-own adventure approach to pop culture where all celebrities and products are an app and a swipe away.
Culturally, Nike’s cosign of Drake could be worth more than all of that combined. NOCTA lets Drake align himself with one of the world’s most popular brands on an ongoing basis—Nike routinely tops Lyst’s quarterly “hottest brands” index. Its scope is unrivaled in the world of clothing and footwear, the literal hallmarks of style, reflected by its status as being the most valuable apparel brand in 2020. With NOCTA, Drake gains a powerful ally that casts a wide net, allowing him to not just set fashion trends but to brand them as well.
Musically, hip-hop artists, always looking to one-up each other, have moved on to corporate partnerships as a means of illustrating their success ever since album sales became all but obsolete. Drake’s Nike partnership is the ultimate flex, one that allows him to credibly compare himself to MJ in ways that artists with the occasional shoe can’t. It’s the kind of flex that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: he’s so successful that Nike committed to him and Nike committing to him makes him more successful.
Financially, although the details of the partnership haven’t been disclosed, if Drake negotiated a contract similar to Kanye’s adidas deal, it could push him into the Three Comma Hip-Hop Club, joining West and Jay-Z at the top. The ace up Drake’s sleeve is his brand: he’s #1 with a side of humor.
Since the early days of his career, Drake’s meme-ability has kept his face plastered across social media channels. Music videos in recent years feel tailormade for memes. Screenshots from “Hotline Bling” pop up every day on Twitter, while “Laugh Now Cry Later” turns the joke in on itself, stopping the video halfway through to address Drake’s sensitivity.
While West’s mercurial nature makes some adore him and others cringe, Drake’s willingness to laugh at himself makes him wholly more marketable. Drake’s relatability combined with Nike’s global footprint positions him to rival MJ’s cultural legacy with Oprah’s everyday likability.
The seeds of NOCTA have been planted and the partnership has all the ingredients it needs to take Drake from a household name to a name everyone has in their household. 30 years from now when Drake’s keeping a low profile at The Embassy, his legacy might be remembered in the form of a 10-part Netflix documentary that lets Millennials and Gen Z reminisce while introducing him to an entirely new audience. At least one episode will be dedicated to his monumental partnership with the Swoosh.