Tom Austin – or Niko B as he is better known – is arguably Newport Pagnell’s greatest export. The UK’s oldest working iron bridge might be a close second.
He broke onto the scene as a streetwear it-kid and member of The Basement: a recipe that enabled his love for hip hop, seeing Austin download Chief Keef instrumentals and adding his own lyrics to them. Such influences encouraged tracks like “Mary Berry,’ the rapper’s debut hit under his stage name Niko B (which is short for Niko Bellic, taken from the fictional protagonist of Grand Theft Auto IV), and it was an instant bop. “Mary Berry” struck a balance between playful and punchy, and it’s as moreish as its namesake’s lemon drizzle traybake.
He can bring a room to tears (of laughter). And it’s this humorous and often self-deprecating take that makes him relatable. In his “Love Island Freestyle” number, which soundtracks TikTok fit checks with lyrics like “You put your girl in a Urus / I’m in the back of the tour bus / Sitting down crying,” Niko B finds the pun in the humdrum of life.
On Victory Lap Radio – a collective of musicians, producers and creatives – his viral vocals even made UK hip-hop heavyweights Dave and Central Cee giggle, with the bar “Took one [toke] and I nearly choked / tears fall on my Prada coat.”
From Basement boy to hip-hop’s rising star, Niko B has experienced a trajectory few other lads from Newport Pagnell could dream of. And what’s been by his side the whole time? Trainers.
Trainers have often been the go-to for Niko B – who favours contemporary takes on culturally relevant styles, such as the Wales Bonner x adidas Samba, or the Corteiz x Nike Air Max 95.
Love island freestyle on Victory Lap radio few months back🥇 shout out chris and kem♬ original sound – ihatetomaustin
Now, Niko B is exploring his love for trainers with eBay and its Authenticity Lab. From trainers to tunes and his nan’s carpet, keep on reading to find out what Culted and Niko B chatted about at the Authenticity Lab pop-up experience.
How did working with the eBay Authenticity Lab project come about?
[It’s been] really, really fun working with eBay on this. I got to do a soundbite, and when you pick up the shoe, you hear my voice. And I love an interactive room so much.
Given you’ll be testing sneakerheads on their knowledge, what’s your trainer know-how like?
My trainer know-how is alright… I think. My gateway into sneakers was buying loads of used pairs on eBay.
What is it about trainers that makes them so widely appreciated in pop culture?
I think fashion in general and pop culture is just like a way to further express yourself, and trainers are one of the most important aspects of an outfit. So yeah, the exclusivity, design aspect, everything just ties everything together.
What is your first memory of sneakers?
It was year 5, and I needed P.E. shoes, but really, it was just an excuse to get my first pair of trainers. It was a random pair of Air Max from Sports Direct. I don’t know the model, but I got them, took them home, placed them on my nan’s carpet and took loads of pictures.
Do you look after your trainers or beat them up?
I either beat them up, or I leave them in the box and never wear them. It’s like there’s no in-between at all. My most beat-up sneaker is the adidas Wales Bonner.
I think they’re the first release – the cream and green pair – I’ve battered them. A leather shoe looks good beaten up; like a Superstar looks good beaten up. I have a pair of adidas Kerwin Frost’s that are bright blue and have pony hair. I would hate to beat up a pair of hairy shoes.
What is your favourite sneaker to ever release?
Oh, this question is so hard. I do like an Air Max. It’s either going to be the Air Max 1 because that is the foundation for every other Air Max, but I love the Freddy Krueger Dunks – they’ve always tickled my fancy.
Music and fashion go hand in hand, and this extends into sneakers. How has music influenced your personal style?
A lot, actually, because I feel like getting into music is dressing like your favourite artist, and you find yourself a bit more after that, but you still have hints of who you’ve copied and who you’ve admired, you know what I mean.
I was a massive Tyler, the Creator fan, so I think I started wearing rolled-up chinos and Vans. Then I developed chinos into baggier trousers and got aspects from other artists that I liked. I loved Mac Demarco!
Who are your greatest style influences?
Kerwin Frost. I like how Kerwin Frost dresses. There’s no one in particular, I just like people that wear what they want to wear and have personal style. I like putting things together that you wouldn’t normally put together.
Is there anything about sneaker culture that stands out to you? Not to use the most overused word in the world, but it does feel like a community?
100%. I met a lot of my friends through sneakers and clothes, and through The Basement, that whole community when we were 14, 15. Just watching the sneaker shopping videos on YouTube, and be like, “I want that pair.”
What makes the perfect sneaker for Niko B?
I love the Action Bronson New Balance collabs a lot because there’s so much personality in one shoe.
I love it when sneakers get sole-swapped, I love a loafer as well. Maybe the upper is a leather loafer, and then the bottom is like an Air Max sole.
Sneakers regularly appear in song lyrics. Is there a shoe-releated lyric that sticks out to you?
I need to delve into my brain. Argh!
I wrote a lyric about shoes the other day, actually. It was a true story as well. I bought a pair of Prada Cups when I was like 14, but because they were so old, they crumbled after the first wear. The lyric is: “I get it back in 10-fold, my Prada Cups crumbled ‘cus the crep’s old.”
What is the best sneaker release of 2023?
Oh, I’m going to have to say these honestly [pointing down to his 2023 Corteiz x Air Max 95 “New York” Pink Beam colourway].
If you were filming a music video tomorrow, what sneakers would you wear and why?
It might actually be the silver Wales Bonner’s. It might be those or a pair of Nike ACG, like mules.
What does the future look like for Niko B? Are there any exciting projects on the cards?
Yeah, lots and lots and lots of music. And hopefully, more of my voice coming out of shoes.
The eBay Authenticity Lab is a first-of-a-kind multi-sensory experience which launched in Autumn, putting sneakerheads’ knowledge to the test. It aims to lift the veil on the sneaker authentication process and celebrate the community’s rich connection to culture, and challenge attendees to use their senses to win sneaker prizes.
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