In light of Kanye’s new deal with Adidas, the publishing of this piece is right on time.
Part 1 of this series left us with an understanding of Kanye’s place in the world as a creative. It also summarized Ye’s issues with people like Charlamagne tha God telling him he should stick to music, and stop complaining about his “rich nigga problems”.
Part 2 will go further into Kanye West’s “rich nigga problems” (i.e. beefs with billionaires), why we should care about his clothing ventures, and the motivations behind his legendary rants.
Let’s work this out together, starting with Ye’s love-hate relationship with billionaires:
“It’s something different to the way these billionaires run the world.”
By this point, you at least understand the logic behind Kanye’s desire to diversify his creative work. But maybe you don’t get why someone worth 145 million dollars is asking Mark Zuckerberg for money.
DJ Envy made a legitimate point in The Breakfast Club’s 2013 interview of Kanye when he claimed a successful independent clothing venture is doable. Supporting this claim was a reference to Just Don, the independent fashion venture of Kanye’s long-time adviser Don C.
“But you got enough money to do it on your own, like Don C and his hats…It’s not distributed amongst a whole lot of people, it’s smaller. You could do the same thing…with the stuff that you created and started.”
Though successful, does Don C have people lining up for his new releases like this?
There’s no way around it. Kanye’s clothing design has mass appeal and great potential. But expecting him to settle for less, or fund his own production and distribution while competing with larger brands, is absurd. The backing of a corporation like Adidas is the only way he can create and influence on the scale he is capable of.
But doesn’t he hate corporations?
Yes, “Fuck you and your corporations, y’all niggas can’t control me,” was definitely said in ‘New Slaves’. But this is not a denouncement of corporations themselves. Rather, a shot at the people running the corporations he’s been trying to interact with.
When asked about his recent clothing releases at the time (i.e. Yeezus tour merchandise, A.P.C collaboration), West expressed frustration, even disgust, at the limitations of the process without corporate backing. Those feelings were very clear in his 2013 BBC Radio 1 interview with Zane Lowe:
So when I say “Clean water was only served to the fairer skin,” [in ‘New Slaves’] what I’m saying is we’re making product with chitlins. T-SHIRTS. That’s the most we can make! T-SHIRTS. We can have our BEST perspective on T-SHIRTS. But if it’s anything else *claps hands* your Truman Show boat is hitting the wall.”
– Kanye West on BBC Radio 1, 2013 (16:00)
Kanye’s “Truman Show boat” comment is a reference to the movie The Truman Show (1998). Long story short, Jim Carrey’s character (Truman) doesn’t know he’s trapped by a corporation as the star of a reality tv show in an entirely simulated city where all the people are actors. Toward the end, he figures out he’s being played and manages to puncture the wall of the simulated dome city with a boat he used to escape.
In Kanye’s mind, his conversations with leaders of billion-dollar companies like Mark Parker at Nike, or Bernard Arnault at Louis Vuitton, are instances of his boat crashing into a dome that celebrities are placed in to be controlled.
People like Mark Parker do NOT want people like Kanye West in charge of creative production.
CEOs don’t want celebrities running the show. They’d rather use a celeb’s famous face to promote products while keeping all control over how the products get made and marketed. The celebrity gets paid, everyone buys the company’s shit, everyone wins. Right?
Listen to what Ariel Emanuel, head of the entertainment agency William Morris, told Kanye West prior to Ye dropping them as his agency:
I sat with him and said, “Ari, I’m an inventor”. And he goes on to tell me about the way it works. And what he said is, “You are a celebrity…if you can communicate this product, you can make money off the product.”
-Kanye West on BBC Radio 1, 2013 (18:56)
So my opinion is no more than the patina on top of it, when I understand the reason from my core of why something should work all the way through.
-Kanye West on BBC Radio 1, 2013 (19:59)
When Kanye said he feels “…compressed by the idea of what celebrities are supposed to do,” (The Breakfast Club, 2013, 23:24, video below) that is what he meant.
That is why he angrily shouts names of people we’ve never heard of. That is why we have to hear about his “rich nigga problems” nonstop. There are richer niggas telling him he shouldn’t do shit else but be a celebrity.
And to his point about the necessity of support for innovative artists:
If you’re an architect, if you’re a world-builder, if you have all these ideas and you’re Gaudí, and you wanna build buildings. If you don’t get that out, what’s gonna happen?
As a creative, for you to have done something to the level of the Yeezys and not be able to create more. And you CANNOT, you cannot create that on your own. With no support, with no backing.
-Kanye West BBC Radio 1, 2013 (15:27)
When Antoni Gaudí, designer of this World Heritage Site of “Outstanding Universal Value”—whose bio and other works can be viewed here—died 90 years ago, the Sagrada Familia was not even halfway done. It isn’t complete to this day.
But with continued funding from private patrons, its development has never halted. This massive project alone is enough proof of the importance patrons play in big-time creative production.
To a lesser extent, Kanye West’s creative products also stretch into the future. He has intentionally referred to himself as a “futurist” in multiple interviews, including his 2013 Breakfast Club appearance, and the 2013 chat with Zane Lowe.
In the Breakfast Club interview, he explains what that means and gives us more reason to believe him when he says he can’t create the way he wants to on his own:
As a futurist, I don’t always have the facilities to create the way I want. Like when Nike drops the Flyknits, that’s a futurist concept that they had the time to create and put out. ‘All Of The Lights’ is a futurist song. It started as a Jeezy record with horns on it…by the time y’all got it, it was to the level of, like, the Nike Flyknits or something like that.
-Kanye West on The Breakfast Club, 2013 (22:04)
Both ‘All Of The Lights’ and the Nike Flyknits were intense long-term collaborative efforts. And based on what you now know about longevity in the music industry from Part 1, Kanye would rather not spend all of his time experimenting with music when his innovation in clothing could create a much bigger impact.
Not to mention, developing entire lines of edgy designer clothing takes much more money than it does to layer a track, even one as grandiose as ‘All Of The Lights’.
So when Kanye West was not given a deal by Nike after his first Yeezy design, and told, “We’re not sure,” in response to questions about the Red Octobers, don’t you think his frustration makes a little more sense? Don’t you think Ari Emanuel sitting Kanye West down to tell him “how it works,” and Bernard Arnault claiming he doesn’t see a reason to meet with Kanye could be seen as disrespectful?
All of this might explain why Kanye’s feelings toward corporations are complicated. Even then, it’s difficult to see what makes his ideas so worthy of billionaire funding in the first place.
“I have ideas that can make the human race…existence, better. Period!”
One rebuttal to Kanye’s supposed delusions of grandeur is that fashion and clothing are not as important as Kanye makes them out to be. But over the years, Kanye has made quite the case for the importance of the clothing industry.
Does innovation in the clothing industry really matter? How influential can it be?
First, let Kanye try to explain why clothes matter more than music in the first place:
It’s illegal to be naked. It’s not illegal to not listen to music. That is a very high opinion to have…you walkin’ down the street with no shoes, somebody might think somethin’ wrong with you. You walkin’ down the street without a headphone it’s like, “Oh what’s up, how you doin today? No headphones today, cool. No music today.” No shoes? “Look man, what’s going on? You havin’ problems with the family? Why are you…socks at least!”
-Kanye West on BBC Radio 1, 2013 (43:18)
Yes, musical innovation does a lot for culture. But people use clothing all day, everyday! It’s a simple truth to grasp, but it makes the clothing industry seem much more important than we usually see it as.
This explains that awkward Adam and Eve reference in his Breakfast Club interview:
Eve, made Adam, eat a apple. And then it became illegal to be naked. I wanna help y’all with y’all opinion of the law.
-Kanye West on The Breakfast Club, 2013 (30:22)
We might have differences in musical taste, but it’s not something that truly divides people into groups or classes. It is not something we have to put on display to define ourselves.
Considering that, our clothing choices can easily be seen as more important than our musical preferences. But many tend to view music as more culturally prominent.
Kanye took time to explain how class, privilege, and access in terms of clothing are more serious issues than we think in his 2013 chat with Zane Lowe:
So I can spend 2 million on a record and give it out in a democratic way. They [high-end clothing designers] can spend all their time making the greatest dress in the world, and it’s just impossible to hand-make that many.
For real people, the democratic public, the people who have a normal amount of money that work everyday that like nice things, we’ll just make these same cuts and provide this at a democratic cost. The only thing about it that’s different from Nike and Apple is there’s never a time where someone can walk in with some non-Nikes, and you feel less than yourself…But you can have on a Zara pant, right? And a girl walks in with the Celine version, and you feel like shit. That is the problem!”
-Kanye West on BBC Radio 1, 2013 (39:00)
Kanye, a proud slave of high fashion, wants to eliminate the shame and privilege surrounding the ability, or lack thereof, to buy expensive designer clothing.
He uses Nike and Apple as examples of corporations who’s products are a great balance of quality and accessibility. Quality basketball shoes and smartphones are accessible enough to the point where you won’t feel like shit amongst people who own different kinds of shoes or phones.
But designer clothes?
You might think you have a point by saying, “Only wealthy people care about the nuances of designer shit.” But do you?
At the age of 16, Chief Keef was shooting the ‘Don’t Like’ video on house arrest and wilin’ on the same block he grew up in. Even then, he was expressing a fascination with designer products on his debut project Back From The Dead with tracks like ‘Designer’ and ‘True Religion Fein’. This is only a symptom of hip-hop culture’s recent obsession with designer clothes since Kanye became popular.
Look at this graph, courtesy of Genius:
These are some of the most popular designer brands mentioned in hip-hop today. Not only is there an obvious spike in the frequency of their mentions, brands like Givenchy and Michael Kors had no recorded usage in hip-hop until the late 2000s decade! Now we have Young Thug (‘Givenchy’) and Kodak Black (‘Like Dat) slinging these terms around casually.
The youth want these things, but they’re expensive. And once a certain designer brand gets trendy, it’s only a short matter of time before the trend burns out among “the democratic people” (i.e. Gucci, Louis Vuitton).
This also explains the success of Zara and H&M, two brands which, in Kanye’s terms, “came and beat Louis Vuitton’s ass in a matter of short time,” due in large part to their more humble price points on products designed by people from Givenchy and Saint Martins.
So consider the daily necessity of access to clothing. Consider what access to clothing means in terms of social class. Then speculate on what an intelligent Black American male with support could do to change how the clothing industry treats these issues.
Perhaps Ye’s statement on The Ellen Degeneres Show about ending bullying through clothing design isn’t as far-fetched as it seemed at the time (6:25).
Kanye has expressed his displeasure with the overpricing of designer brand products on multiple occasions, and claims to work toward making designer shit more affordable.
But Yeezys aren’t cheap at all. What gives?
Remember why Kanye was so thirsty for corporate backing? You know, to have the resources to design futurist concepts and all that?
Part of the trade-off that comes with a corporation aiding the creation and distribution of your designs is the lack of control over things like pricing. He certainly gains more control over that with a deal like the one he signed with Adidas recently. But it’s still beyond him to assure you that what he creates through a corporation is going to be affordable.
Perhaps Kanye can actually do some good with all of this clothing stuff. But with corporations causing him all of this stress, and the American general public’s irritation with him always increasing, you have to wonder why Kanye West puts himself through all of this.
What does he want? A larger platform to gloat? Or is there a better reason for his passionate speeches about corporations, clothing, and humanity?
“I’m just trying to help”
People think a lot of my motivation is very megalomaniac. To the contrary, completely, I just want to help. From day one.
-Kanye West on BBC Radio 1, 2013 (22:07)
Kanye West does have an enormous ego. But is it as evil as people make it out to be?
No one likes to hear someone repeatedly assert how important they are. But the hatred people feel toward Kanye for his declarations of greatness is more about believing he wants never-ending praise.
But is that really why he went off on Sway? Or gave Zane Lowe an icy glare when going off on Hedi Slimane?
He’s in a place where consumers think he’s already at the top of the mountain, and people on a higher peak covered in clouds don’t want him to go further. When he shouts at us on television talk shows or the radio about how much of a genius he is, it is rarely to feel better about himself. When he references his mother’s former role as a college faculty member, and his dad’s voluntary homelessness, it isn’t to feel better about himself.
He rants about himself to convert people to the belief that there’s more he can do with his creativity than make music. More importantly, that he needs help doing it. We’re just so caught up in the running joke of “Kanye being Kanye”, his antics are all we pay attention to. And we’re missing out on more important things he offers and asks of us.
Someone who only cared about their glory would not frame their work as, “10 years of product that has added to humanity,” (Kanye with Zane Lowe, 2013, 11:58). Nor would they be concerned with “affecting” people rather than getting people to buy what they’re making (Kanye with The Breakfast Club, 2013, 7:55).
All in all, his anger isn’t just about the general public not seeing him as a genius. It’s about his genius being blocked by people that we forget exist. His passion isn’t simply about ego-worship and making music. It’s about making style and unique expression accessible to everyone.
Kanye’s messages don’t come in the easiest pills to swallow. And despite all of these cohesive talking points, there is definitely a lot of rambling to sift through. But considering everything laid out in this two-part series, it is difficult to think of him simply as a cocky rapper who won’t shut up.
If people’s views on Kanye West were more impartial, perhaps the general public would be more invested in the ongoings of large corporations. Maybe it’ll take several more celebrity creatives with softer voices to convince people of Kanye’s truth.
In whatever way the future unfolds, I still bet on Kanye meeting us there with outstretched hands, wearing an oversized sweater and Yeezy Boosts.