A Baton Rouge rapper created sneakers inspired by the Hurricane Katrina evacuation that changed his life

John Anthony just finished playing in a football tournament at Milne Park in New Orleans when he learned Hurricane Katrina was preparing to wash over the city in 2005.

His family initially didn’t want to evacuate. Flooding and hurricanes had happened before, so they weren’t alarmed at first.

But on Aug. 28, 2005, Anthony noticed the wind starting to pick up and an eerie feeling in the air. His mother filled up their 1996 Chevy Corsica with as much as it could carry and drove the family to Baton Rouge to seek shelter with Anthony’s grandparents.


“We sat in the car, said a prayer and slowly drove off,” Anthony recalls. “My dad was like, ‘Take a good look at everything, because I guarantee you nothing’s going to be the same anymore.’ Four or five days later, we saw helicopters flying over our neighborhood on CNN. The worst feeling was when we could tell where our house was on TV.”

The 27-year-old rapper didn’t realize it then, but that would be the last time he lived in his childhood home on Mendez Street in the Gentilly neighborhood.

Anthony and his family made Baton Rouge their new home and began rebuilding their lives in the Capital City. But he never forgot the trauma and impact Hurricane Katrina had on his life.

Last November, 18 years after the storm, Anthony paid homage to his childhood home by releasing a pair of sneakers called The Mendez, named after the street he grew up on.

“The shoes represent me trying to give a hug to my younger self.”

[—Local musician and shoe designer John Anthony on The Mendez sneakers]


As a child, he dreamt of having his own footwear line like basketball legends Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson and best-selling music artists like Pharrell and Kanye West. In 2018, Anthony spoke his own speakers into existence in his song “Public Figure,” when he rapped, “Got a shoe in the making, pretty soon I’ll drop ’em.”

Motivated by his lyrics, he started doodling designs for the shoes on a sticky note and identifying factories and designers to work with. After years of working with no days off, saving his money and making design tweaks, The Mendez sneakers were ready to be sold in late 2023. 

“When I first saw the logo on the back of the shoe, I could have fainted,” Anthony says. “It lit a fire under me. The shoes represent me trying to give a hug to my younger self.”

The black low-top sneakers with thick white soles were created for everyday wear. The laces and stitching around the toes are made with reflective piping so light can bounce off the shoes in the dark. The soles’ cut-outs and curves give the shoe a fluid, almost mountainous appearance. Anthony’s “JA” logo is stitched on the back of the shoe and printed on the insole. In the future, Anthony wants to introduce new colors.

It’s not the first time Anthony has told his story through art. The musician released two hip-hop albums, 2022’s Wolves and 2019’s UNCRWND, which also features a song titled “Mendez Street.” Whether he’s writing a lyric or designing a shoe, it’s personal. He has worked with other local artists like Michael Armstead, Lango and MARJON.

“I saw an opportunity for the sneakers to create generational wealth. I can help my family, tell a story and inspire people to follow their dreams,” he says. “It’s about making a dream tangible.”

The Mendez sneakers can be purchased on John Anthony’s Instagram at @uncrwnd_king.

This article was originally published in the March 2024 issue of 225 magazine.