On Sunday the New York Giants faced the Los Angeles Rams at Twickenham, as part of the 2016 NFL International Series. The Giants won 17-10. Hooray. In the long running battle of North American coasts, the East emerged victorious.
The day before the game, we got the chance to hang out with Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz as he went shopping around Oxford Street and Soho. He was in London's shopping mecca to check out the new Air Force 1 Customisation zone at Niketown, which lets sneakerheads adorn their kicks.
After talking shoes at Nike Town, we took a walk around London's other delights, including the world famous Sister Ray record store. Now, Cruz is from the east coast, he plays for the New York Giants, and he was about to face the Los Angeles Rams. So, obviously I asked him about hip-hop's greatest ever rivalry: East Coast Vs West Coast.
"I'm heavy New York, that's where I'm from, that's where I came up. It was Jay Z, it was Wu Tang, it was Nas." Like a lot of people who came up in New York in the nineties to early 2000s, Cruz is also a huge sneakerhead. He told me he reckons he has about 800 pairs, now swollen by his customised Air Force 1's, his "addiction" stemming from a love of hip-hop.
"Every time I saw Jay Z in a certain pair, or every time I saw Puff Daddy in a pair of sneakers, or Wu Tang or Mobb Deep, I wanted to be like that; whether it was Timberlands, whether it was Wallabies, or whether it was Air Force 1s. You wanted to wear those shoes and not be left behind. Rap and hip-hop was so much a part of the sneaker culture that you wanted to stay connected to it."
As he thumbed through records at Sister Ray, he seemed thoroughly impressed by the presence of vinyl. "I love these old school vinyls because they have the song and the instrumental." Might he ever get on the turntable himself? "I kinda want one so I can play these things." He flicks through to a slightly newer LP, Jay Z's Black Album. This was Jay's retirement album right? "Yeah, 'retirement'". Now on this album he shouts out DJ Clark Kent at one point. Aren't you friends with him? "That's one of my close close friends actually."
Were you a fan of Clark growing up? "So Clark and I met much later. I always knew who he was and what he meant for hip-hop, but we became friends later, and he started to tell me about all the things he's done… his catalogue is pretty extensive." As is his shoe collection. Like Cruz, he's a legendary sneakerhead, but there was little time to explore that, as Victor started leafing through the "N" crate.
"Illmatic is a classic obviously. This is the original remastered here? "Insane" … "Made You Look"... That's one of my favourites." Would it be Jay Z or Nas if you had to choose? "I gotta go Jay Z." Speaking of New York greats, Cruz then pulled out a copy of Liquid Swords, GZA's 1995 masterpiece. But is it the best of the various Wu Tang members' admittedly inconsistent solo efforts? "Yeah man, absolutely. Though I like Raekwon and Method Man's work."
We ask how big the East vs West divide was as he grew up – did Cruz ever have to listen to guys like Tupac? "Yeah, only listen to it on the sneak you know?" He chuckles. "When I was coming up, there was a lot of East Coast v West Coast stuff happening, so yeah if you're on the East Coast you vibe with the East. You're super New York, Super New Jersey, and that's what you did."
All of the musicians so far have been legends of hip-hop, stuff he grew up with. But what current artists? "I'm heavy J Cole, Wale, Dave East, Kanye, Drake obviously." What about the UK stuff that Drake is plugging?
"I mean I know guys like Skepta, but that's about it man. I don't know a lot of UK rap, UK hip-hop." After we spoke about Drake, we moved on to the other hip hop virtuoso of the current age: Kanye West. What is Victor Cruz's favourite Yeezy record?
"This one." He's holding a copy of Late Registration. "This one was really part of my youth. This was a good one too - 808s and Heartbreaks - it was underrated though, because it was before it's time. It was before people were hearing rappers singing and doing different melodies. Now it's all they do."
During our time at the store, there were several moments where Cruz would spot an LP that clearly evoked a certain time or memory, and it gave me a brief glimpse at his life before football superstardom. Like when he pulled out a Jay Z single I'd never heard of. "So this is a song, 'Who You Wit' that he did for this movie Sprung, and to even see this on vinyl is crazy."
Hey only £4.99, you should pick it up! "I know I'm like 'what'? This is crazy". It's a cool picture: the thought of Victor, free from pads and helmet, in Paterson, New Jersey, sometime in the 90s, sitting around with his mates watching a VHS of Sprung. But right now, it's about football, and Victor soon had to take off to attend a few pre-game meetings ahead of the next day's contest. Before he left, I got all Desert Island Discs on him and asked which album he'd take if he could only have one.
"It would have to be Reasonable Doubt."
Be like Victor and customise a pair of Air Force One at the NikeTown London Sneakers Cube.