It may be a surprise to some, but multi-platinum hip-hop superstar Ja Rule and fashion-footwear mogul Steve Madden have a lot in common — and it’s not just their newly launched shoe collaboration, Maven x Madden.
The duo met through a mutual friend — hip-hop and R&B producer Irv Gotti — and soon, a few trips together to watch the Brooklyn Nets in the NBA playoffs spawned a friendship in which fatherhood, a passion for fashion and life-changing stints in prison emerged as shared experiences.
“The chief is the greatest — he’s the best,” Ja Rule told Footwear News in an exclusive interview during the pair’s appearance at Garden State Plaza in New Jersey on Sept. 12. “We started kicking it. Things just seemed to mesh, and before I knew it, we were trying to put something together.”
The collaboration is Madden’s third celebrity partnership — he’s also worked with rapper Iggy Azalea and R&B singer Keyshia Cole — but this venture is particularly personal.
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“Ja Rule and I are friends, and that’s a big thing for me. He’s a great guy,” Steve Madden told Footwear News. “I recognize that he has amazing credibility, and [working together] felt right.”
Ultimately, it was the “Always on Time” and “I’m Real” rapper’s business aptitude that solidified the partnership, Madden said.
“I was surprised at how hard Ja worked and at what an entrepreneur he is. It’s no accident that he has been so successful in his career,” said Madden. “He backs up his great personality with a strong work ethic.”
It was Ja Rule who suggested that “maven” be part of the collection’s name. The word’s meaning — connoisseur or expert — is indicative of how the rapper views himself and his footwear partner.
“I’m a born maven — that’s another thing Steve and I have in common,” Ja Rule said. “It’s dope that the concept of the shoes matched everything that Steve represents as well. Who doesn’t want to be a genius?”
The six-style Maven x Madden collection incorporates subtle hints of Madden and Rule’s friendship — four styles are adorned with handcuff eyelets and skeleton keys to symbolize the challenges that both have faced over the years.
“The cuffs represent me and Steve’s struggles, and the key represents the outcome — freedom and the keys to success,” Ja Rule said. “I wanted to add those to the shoes as a personal touch and a reminder of where we’ve been and where we’re going.”
If Madden has anything to say about it, the duo will do more footwear collaborations.
“Of course, we’ll see how the line does, but we’ll probably do more with him,” Madden said.
The shoes in the collection retail for $145 to $195.
Check out a few fun outtakes from FN’s exclusive interview with Steve Madden and Ja Rule:
On Ja Rule’s music:
“I actually wasn’t a huge fan during the Murder Inc. heyday, but I am now. I love the music. I love the track he did with Jennifer Lopez. … My favorite Ja Rule track is ‘New York’ — I was in prison when that came out.”
On celebrity collaborations:
“You never know where the collaboration is going to go once you start working with people. Ja was very active in creating the line, which is unique — we used lots of interesting hardware.”
On the Maven x Madden line:
“It’s functional, fun and ‘swaggy.’”
Ja Rule’s Three
On getting dressed feet first:
“You have to start with the shoe. It’s very rare that you get the outfit and say, ‘I’m going to find a shoe to match this outfit.’ That makes it difficult. It’s easier to start with the shoe and then go up. My footwear has always been important to me.”
On how many shoes he owns:
“Too many — it’s in the thousands.”
On his first shoe splurge:
“When I started my career, the shoe [to have] was Jordan. It was probably my first big shoe [purchase]. To this day, it’s still the [popular] shoe.”
Scroll through the gallery for a look at the Maven x Madden collection.