Rapper and singer Lil Nas X is no stranger to disruption in the music scene. But his Satanic-themed Air Max 97s, made by a Brooklyn company, are too much for Nike.
BROOKLYN (CN) — Pastel-hued Marie Antoinette wigs, thigh-high boots and a lap dance with the devil are just a few notes hit by artist Lil Nas X in a wild new music video that has gained nearly 44 million views since dropping Friday.
The 21-year-old, Grammy-winning rapper and singer paired his new video with the release of custom Nike shoes. Keeping with the video’s Satanic theme, the sneakers include a pentagram-shaped charm and contain a drop of human blood in the sole.
MSCHF, a Brooklyn-based company that sells prank products, partnered with Lil Nas X to create the “Satan Shoes.” The company previously customized and sold Nike “Jesus Shoes,” pairs of which contain a drop of holy water.
But the hellish imagery was too much for Nike, which hit back with a trademark lawsuit on Monday in the Eastern District of New York.
“Nike has not and does not approve or authorize MSCHF’s customized Satan Shoes,” the company wrote in its 24-page complaint, noting that it was not involved in the customization of its Nike Air Max 97 shoes.
Alterations to the sneakers, Nike writes, “include at least referring to the shoe as the Satan Shoe, adding red ink and human blood to the midsole, adding red embroidered satanic-themed detailing, adding a bronze pentagram to the laces, and adding a new sock liner.”
Embroidered on the shoes is “Luke 10:18,” referring to a Biblical passage that says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (In Lil Nas X’s new music video, the singer falls from a paradisiacal garden into the underworld, where he performs a lap dance on the devil before breaking his neck.)
As for the human blood, MSCHF representatives told The New York Times that it came from six staff members, who donated — or, perhaps more fittingly, sacrificed — a few drops of themselves.
The blood, mixed with red ink, fills the signature air bubble that cushions the sole of the Air Max shoes. Nike warned in its complaint that making changes to the midsole “may pose safety risks for consumers.”
Nike pointed to social media posts by customers offended by the shoes, some of whom swore off the brand, believing it to have been involved in production. One comment cited in the complaint is from an Instagram user who wrote, “How is Nike not involved when there’s a Nike symbol on the shoe!!!”
Saying the Satan Shoes dilute its brand, Nike seeks to permanently stop MSCHF from fulfilling orders of the sneakers, of which the company sold just 666 pairs. They sold out in one minute on Monday, going for $1,018 per pair..
“As an innovative brand that strives to push the envelope and do the right thing, Nike knows it may not please everyone all of the time,” the complaint states. “But decisions about what products to put the SWOOSH on belong to Nike, not to third parties like MSCHF.”
The lawsuit does not name Lil Nas X, whose real name is Montero Lamar Hill. But the artist has taken to social media in the wake of its filing, tweeting a storm of jokes and memes about the litigation.
Prone to all-lower-case tweets, Hill wrote, “me and satan on the way to nike headquarters,” alongside a video of two people wearing short shorts and thigh-high boots like the ones Hill sports in his new music video, for the song “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name).”
In an email to Courthouse News, Nike said it does not have any further details to share on the pending legal matters.
“However, we can tell you we do not have a relationship with Lil Nas X or MSCHF,” the email continues. “The Satan Shoes were produced without Nike’s approval or authorization, and Nike is in no way connected with this project.”
MSCHF did not respond to a request for comment.
Regardless of the suit’s outcome, Hill, who came out in 2019, is no stranger to disruption in the music scene.
His 2018 song “Old Town Road” spurred a groundbreaking hip hop-country collaboration when it was remixed by singer Billy Ray Cyrus, and turned into a mini-movie that features Hill as a cowboy, dancing and horseback riding his way through an updated vision of the wild west.
The remix, released in 2019, earned Hill two Grammys at the 2020 awards, and his cowboy persona got a blessing from actor Sam Elliot, typecast as an American cowboy in multiple movies, in a Doritos commercial dance-off during the Super Bowl that year.
Cyrus and Elliot represented, for some, a sign of the old guard embracing a young, Black, gay artist as one of their own. In other words, as Hill now sings in “MONTERO,” it’s “a sign of the times every time that I speak.”