Lil Nas X, Satan Shoes with human blood and Nike's lawsuit: What to know

Give the devil his due: The $1,000 sneakers sold out in less than a minute. But the legal complaint means MSCHF has suspended plans to give away one final pair.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Expertise Breaking news, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, food, shopping and deals, product reviews, money and finance, video games, pets, history, books, technology history, and generational studies Credentials
  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper
6 min read

What could possibly connect rapper Lil Nas X, Nike and sneakers made with human blood? Strap in for an explanation of one of the year's most colorful news stories. You might have seen it referenced on SNL April 3.

The basics

Musician Lil Nas X collaborated with streetwear company MSCHF on a quickly sold-out offering of what the company dubbed Satan Shoes. They not only have a devil-focused theme (more on that below) but contain a drop of human blood (drawn from MSCHF employees), the company confirmed to NBC.

Because the shoes are apparently modified Nikes, the company didn't appreciate its brand being associated with human blood and the devil. Duh. The company filed a trademark claim against MSCHF and wants it known that this isn't officially sanctioned by Nike.

MSCHF defended its work, saying in a statement it was "honestly surprised" by Nike's action.

"Immediately after Nike's counsel sent us notice we reached out but received no response," the company said.

But on April 8, Nike announced that MSCHF has agreed to voluntarily recall the shoes as part of a settlement.

Representatives for Lil Nas X didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Now, let's break this down.

Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X, who's 21 years old, is perhaps best known for his enormous 2019 hit song, the Western-themed Old Town Road. In August 2019, the catchy tune set a record for the longest-running No. 1 single in Billboard Hot 100 history, spending 19 weeks on top before falling to Billie Eilish's Bad Guy. Even if you don't listen to country or rap, you may have heard about the song thanks to Doritos' 2020 Super Bowl commercial, which pays homage to the tune.

In the song, Lil Nas X briefly mentions that traditional Western footwear, cowboy boots. ("Hat is matte black/Got the boots that's black to match," he croons.) But he's now making news for a different kind of shoe.

The devil-themed shoes follow Lil Nas X's release of a devil-themed music video for his song Montero (Call Me by Your Name). The video was posted to YouTube on March 25 and has gotten more than 37 million views in less than a week. (It's not family friendly -- you've been warned.)

Satan Shoes

Trendy, limited-edition sneakers have been a hot item for a while, and streetwear company MSCHF would seem to be firing on all cylinders when it collaborated with Lil Nas X on what they call Satan Shoes. There were only 666 pairs made, since 666, according to the Bible, is the number of the beast, meaning, the devil, or Satan. The shoes are mostly black with red accents and feature devil references. A pentagram charm hangs from each pair, and they also have "Luke 10:18" written on them -- a verse from the Gospel of Luke that reads, essentially, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like lightning."

But the human blood...

The devilish aspects of the shoe design might be enough to disturb some. But the ante went way, way up when actual blood from "about six" MSCHF employees was mixed into the shoe's soles, as The New York Times reported on Sunday.

Daniel Greenberg, one of MSCHF's founders, told the newspaper that a drop of blood is mixed in with ink that fills an air bubble in the sneaker, which is a Nike Air Max 97. He then gave the newspaper an iconic quote when asked who drew the blood: "Uhhhhhh yeah hahah not medical professionals we did it ourselves lol."

It's not the first time a company has done the human blood-added-to-a-product gimmick. Fans of the band KISS will remember that back in 1977, band members also had their blood drawn and mixed with the red ink used to print a Marvel Comics KISS comic book. Would you have expected any less from the musicians who want to rock and roll all night and party every day?

Don't expect to buy a pair

You're not going to be wearing these shoes anytime soon, or even seeing someone else wear them. As noted, only 666 pairs were made, priced at an eye-watering $1,018 (£739, AU$1,334) a pair, and they sold out in less than a minute. 

MSCHF held back one pair, and originally planned to give it away via some kind of lottery or random drawing on April 1. (Yes, April Fools' Day.)

Lil Nas X himself even tweeted about the giveaway, writing, "if u want the 666th pair of the satan shoes quote this tweet and use #satanshoes to be entered and I'll pick someone by thursday."

But in a court document related to the court complaint explained below, the company said it had suspended plans to give away that final pair pending resolution of the Nike situation.

And now, the settlement means even those who already snagged a pair of the rare kicks are being offered a full refund.

Nike lawsuit

If you're Nike, and you recognize your shoe being used in a style that's this controversial, you almost certainly have to step up and say something.

"Nike filed a trademark infringement and dilution complaint against MSCHF today related to the Satan Shoes," a Nike representative said in a statement sent to CNET on Monday. "We don't have any further details to share on pending legal matters. However, we can tell you we do not have a relationship with Lil Nas X or MSCHF. The Satan Shoes were produced without Nike's approval or authorization, and Nike is in no way connected with this project."

In its response, MSCHF said that there's "no imminent or immediate threat of irreparable harm" to Nike since no more Satan Shoes are being made. The company also said it's made it clear that the collab involved Lil Nax S, not Nike, and that those who buy shoes from MSCHF are "well aware of MSCHF's approach to art" and know Nike isn't involved.

Mischief from MSCHF

Streetwear companies live for controversy and hot products, and this isn't MSCHF's first Old Town rodeo. Earlier, it sold out a modified Nike shoe called Jesus Shoes that contained holy water. That shoe's Bible quote was Matthew 14:25, which mentions Jesus walking on water to reach his disciples. The gospel account doesn't specify what shoes he was wearing. In the company's statement, MSCHF defended its right to play off satanic imagery.

"Satan is as much part of the art historical canon as Jesus, from Renaissance Hellmouths to Milton," the statement reads. "Satan exists as the challenger to the ultimate authority. We were delighted to work with Lil Nas X on Satan Shoes and continue this dialogue."

The company went on to say, "we look forward to working with Nike and the court to resolve this case in the most expeditious manner."

Settlement and refunds

And now, the legal matter, at least, has been settled. In addition to offering full refunds for the Satan shoes, MSCHF is offering refunds for the Jesus shoes from 2019, which were also based on Nike's Air Max 97.

"MSCHF intended to comment on the absurdity of the collaboration culture practiced by some brands, and about the perniciousness of intolerance," an attorney for MSCHF said in its April 8 statement, according to Reuters. "Having achieved its artistic purpose, MSCHF is pleased to have resolved the lawsuit."

It remains to be seen if people who already own either the Satan or the Jesus shoes will actually return them for a refund, as the controversy has only made them a hotter commodity, and they could likely resell them for more money to private buyers.

Lil Nas X reacts

A representative for Lil Nas X didn't respond to a request for an official comment. But before and after the settlement, the musician tweeted jokes about the Nike lawsuit. One tweet shows Squidward of SpongeBob SquarePants sitting in a cardboard box begging for money and is captioned, "me after the Nike lawsuit."

And on the day the settlement was announced, Lil Nas X was back at it, tweeting, "y'all keep streaming Call Me By Your Name so I can pay for this damn Nike lawsuit."