Nigel Sylvester on Making His Air Jordan 4 RM ‘Grandma’s Driveway’ His Most Personal Sneaker Yet

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When he wasn’t on the driveway beginning to develop the skills that would make him one the most famous BMX rider in the world, Nigel Sylvester could often be found inside watching “Family Matters” with his grandmother.

Now, in a campaign video for Sylvester’s latest Air Jordan sneaker collaboration, the actress who played the show’s matriarch, Jo Marie Payton has been cast in the role as the woman whose driveway helped pave the way to his professional career.

The Nigel Sylvester x Air Jordan 4 RM “Grandma’s Driveway,” which releases July 20, is the most personal sneaker yet in his decade of collaborating with Jordan Brand and Nike. In addition to helping design the sneaker, which comes with a nubuck colored to match the emerald green fence around his grandmother’s driveway, Sylvester penned the script read by Payton telling of his journey from the Queens neighborhood of Jamaica to becoming a global superstar.

Sylvester initially had the idea to tell the story of when he first fell in love with his tricycle on his grandmother’s driveway coming off his Air Jordan coming off of the release of his Air Jordan 1 collaboration in 2018, which came with distressing to match the damage wrought on a pair of the Air Jordan 1 “Shadow” he routinely rode in. Both the pandemic and a switch from endorsing Nike to Jordan, where he became the brand’s first BMX rider in 2021, led to the concept being held until this summer.

Sitting underneath the patio on a warm afternoon the day prior to the Fourth of July at Dumbo House in Brooklyn, Sylvester is eager to discuss his first sneaker release in six years. (2018 also saw an additional Air Jordan 1 collaboration, as well as an Air Force 1 that could be customized by fans through Nike ID, and a Jordan Air Ship in 2023 was exclusive to friends and family.)

“That moment was surreal to me,” Sylvester tells Footwear News of filming on the very same driveway where he rode as a child and where his mother, brother, cousins and friends were able to join him on set. “I grew up watching ‘Family Matters’ in that house, so to actually bring [Payton] to the driveway, to the exact spot where I fell in love with bike riding, it was just so surreal on so many levels. When you say, ‘Dreams do come true,’ or I say, ‘Living out of my imagination,’ that’s a true depiction of it.'”

Nigel Sylvester Air Jordan 4 RM Grandma's Driveway
Nigel Sylvester Air Jordan 4 RM Grandma's Driveway

Jordan Brand had already been developing the Air Jordan 4 RM, a riff on the iconic sneaker with an entirely new upper, with BMX riding in mind when it signed Sylvester three years ago. It’s now chosen to enlist Sylvester for the launch of the “Restomod” model, which also features a tiny Swoosh as a tie-in to past collaborations, “Bike Air” branding on the tongue and heel and Sylvester’s name on the left insole. To help connect the sneaker with the past, the black and white sole unit adds red sections to the outsole for color-blocking that matches three of the Air Jordan 4’s original colorways from 1989.

The packaging also includes tissue paper with the photo of the four-year-old Sylvester on his tricycle in front of the green fence, while the box depicts the driveway itself with texture replicated to the touch. An included sticker pack calls back to how he’d use stickers to customize his bikes as a child.

“That blew my mind,” Sylvester said. “Having the actual grooves and cracks on the box — I think those are the storytelling elements, the details, that make the difference between something that’s good and something that’s great.”

In August, a second colorway for Sylvester will release in “Driveway Grey.”

Nigel Sylvester Air Jordan 4 RM Grandma's Driveway
Nigel Sylvester Air Jordan 4 RM Grandma's Driveway

Sylvester is grateful to Jordan Brand for allowing him to executive the storytelling in the way he’s seen fit, from the detailing of the shoe to the campaign. The design process has changed radically from his first collaboration on the Nike SB Dunk High “Stomp on My Pedals” from 2014, when him and DJ Clark Kent ran around the garment district to find the right fabric before landing on a premium Euphoria Nubuck.

A much bigger team was involved in the Air Jordan 4 RM project, and Sylvester says he knew they’d found the right execution the first time he saw the green sneaker on the computer. “The first sample came back, and everyone knew that was it,” he said. “Getting it on the first shot is awesome.”

While he’s no longer sorting through fabric with DJ Clark Kent, Sylvester says he still touches base with the legendary sneakerhead when he’s working on something new. Validation also came from Kith co-founder Ronnie Fieg, who Sylvester says threw on the shoes as soon as he received them. “He was walking around the office like, ‘These shits are crazy.'”

In-person events have been a consistent component of Sylvester’s previous sneaker releases, and while sitting with Footwear News he said final plans to coincide with the Air Jordan 4 RM’s release are still in development. Before those plans come to fruition, though, the BMXer will celebrate his second annual “Go Ride” celebration on Saturday, July 13, by hosting a 15-mile community bike ride in the morning in London followed by another in the evening in New York City.

“I want to do as many in-stores as possible. I want to be amongst the people,” Sylvester said. “We put so much time into the project. I want to be there for the first time people open the box, the first time they put them on their feet.”

Still, Sylvester is aware that the narrative for the Air Jordan 4 RM, as a whole, hasn’t been exclusively positive. Tinkering with the classics can be controversial, and the Air Jordan 4 is right up there with the Air Jordan 1, Air Jordan 3 and Air Jordan 11 as some of the most beloved sneakers of all time.

Nigel Sylvester Air Jordan 4 RM Grandma's Driveway
Nigel Sylvester Air Jordan 4 RM Grandma's Driveway

“Especially nowadays, I feel like we’re inundated with so much information on a daily basis. When people see something online, they make quick judgments and keep it moving,” Sylvester said. “I think when people get the product in-hand they’ll be pleasantly surprised. Any Jordan Fusions or retooling, people can be very fickle with that.”

Following the release of the two Air Jordan 4 RMs in successive months, and now that he’s settled at Jordan Brand with the pandemic in the rear-view, Sylvester is hoping he’ll be able to continue to drop new sneakers at a more regular clip than the six-year wait that preceded “Grandma’s Driveway.”

That is, of course, only provided if the level of detail remains the same.

About the Author:

Ian Servantes is a Senior News Editor for Footwear News specializing in sneaker coverage. He’s previously reported on streetwear and sneakers at Input and Highsnobiety after beginning his career on the pop culture beat. He subscribes to the idea that “ball is life” and doesn’t fuss over his kicks getting dirty.

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