Kanye West -rapper to cross-cultural deity

by Ben Freeman

It’s winter 2009 and Kanye West has just potentially sabotaged his career after the infamous Taylor Swift incident. In an attempt to escape from the limelight, which seemed to have a cruel magnetism towards him, ‘Ye rendezvoused with his close friend and fellow creative, Virgil Abloh. The two travelled to Japan, with Kanye in particular searching for refuge from the demonising media. As well as this, the pair wanted to create. Hours upon hours were spent religiously behind computers with a primary intention of – you guessed it – creating.

Once ready to ensue on the pursuit to reconstruct his media image, Mr. West met with Phillip Lim; a world renowned and massively influential fashion designer. Kanye would frequently visit Phillip in his studio, play him beats and ask him to tailor pieces of clothing to his exact specifications. West’s belief in his creativity and vision was exemplified. He wore one of these exact clothing pieces that Phillip had tailored for him (that was originally a women’s suit jacket) in the full feature–length film for Runaway. The motion picture is now largely considered as one of his most artistic pieces of musically infused art. It showed his appreciation for fashion and his unique skill in making things that shouldn’t work miraculously fall in place. This uniqueness, audacity, and bravado distinguished him from the everyday fashion consumer.
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Before long, Kanye was beginning to outgrow the title of simply being a ‘musician’. He was establishing himself as an artist. Every possible exposition of the word “artist” would soon be applicable to a creatively booming Mr. West. Through fame, Kanye made friends with Fendi CEO Michael Burke and soon enough, with the demiurgic mind he possessed, Yeezy was designing for Fendi as a result of an internship. Michael saw the potential in ‘Ye & Virgil and consequently flew them both out to Rome to work on ideas. Here, Kanye was solely focused on conquering fashion. He abandoned his phone as he didn’t want people to contact him. If it wasn’t conducive and beneficial to his creativity, Kanye West simply didn’t want to hear about it.

Musician Kanye West poses for photographers before the Preen by Thornton Bregazzi Fall 2009 collection during New York Fashion Week in New York
Musician Kanye West poses for photographers before the Preen by Thornton Bregazzi Fall 2009 collection during New York Fashion Week in New York February 15, 2009. REUTERS/Eric Thayer (UNITED STATES) – RTXBODP

Kanye’s opportunity was, however, cut short. Although Mr. Burke remained a prominent member of the Fendi family, a new menswear director couldn’t see past Kanye West the rapper. To the new director, Kanye was not a fashion designer – he was a performer. The new director couldn’t accept that, although Kanye was a rapper, he had a vision that was unique and authentic. A vision that would later elevate fashion to previously unseen heights.

Without this disappointment however, Kanye would not have flown out to Hawaii to set up his “rap camp” in 2010. Without this blow, Kanye would not have had the anger, desire and stimulation to search inside the deepest darkest corners of his exceptional imagination. Without this disbelief in Kanye’s vision, we would not have ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’. Is it not ironic? Fendi abandoned ‘Ye for their distrust in his creative vision, and as a result we received an album widely considered to be the most creative and artistic album of this generation.

Whilst Kanye was in Hawaii working on what would become ‘MBDTF’, Nike became eager to collaborate with Mr. West on a second sneaker project. Excited by the prospect of potentially working with Kanye once more, Nike simply couldn’t wait until he returned to engage in discussion. They instead flew directors out to Hawaii to try and make advancements. Upon arrival, they met a Kanye West enhancing his inner-most creative genius. He was said to have indulged himself in magazines of all genres; Manga, architecture and fashion, most notably.

As you’ll probably be aware, the Nike/Yeezy arrangement went ahead. As a result of the deal, the second feature of the Nike Air Yeezys came to fruition. They are inarguably amongst the most desired sneakers to have released in recent years and they withhold a legacy that will remain etched in Nike’s history, regardless of the cataclysmic ending for the Nike/Yeezy venture. So why did sweet turn so very sour? Since the breakdown of Kanye and Nike’s relationship, a number of explanations have arisen. Firstly Kanye felt as though Nike were financially exploiting him. He wasn’t getting the royalties he felt he deserved for a sneaker that was ultimately so marketable and caused unfathomable hype just because of the simple fact that they Kanye’s name alongside them – let alone the reality that he was so prominent in the creating of them. In fact, ‘Ye claimed that for every $1 Nike made off of his creation he made only 10-20 cents. I mean this isn’t a simple argument because clearly Kanye deserved economic recognition for the Yeezys – but at the same time, Nike needed a return for the risk they took to invest in Kanye to begin with. If the Yeezys had flopped, Kanye would have come out – although perhaps less reputable fashion wise – no worse off in terms of revenue. Nike on the other hand would have lost out all the money they had invested in bringing the shoe to life, which includes the designing and physical production of the shoe. It’s a tough one, admittedly.

Kanye also felt that he was treated differently to the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Michael Jordan who Nike would give most of their attention to, with numerous collaborations and signature lines. He blamed this on the obvious fact that he wasn’t an athlete. One thing that really got to K. West regarding this issue was that he was handed very few pairs to give to family and friends. The final straw in the partnership came when Kanye discovered the morally-questionable tactics Nike were deploying to sell other sneakers. Kanye had a close friend in Miami, who owned a sneaker store and through him, Kanye had uncovered Nike’s modus operandi. Before any store were to stock the Yeezy’s, they would also have to stock a bunch of Nike sneaker lines that had previously proven to be commercially unsuccessful. In other words, Nike was using the Yeezy in order to sell a number of failed designs. This resulted in the breakdown of the relationship and ensured that future Nike/Kanye projects would remain just a figment of imagination.

Kanye West Adidas Fall 2015
Kanye West appears with models during the showing of his Yeezy Boost shoe line for Adidas on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015, during Fashion Week in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

After witnessing Nike’s mistreatment of Kanye, in comes Jon Wexler. As Adidas’ Global Director of Entertainment and Influencer Marketing, it is his responsibility to recruit those who he believes would be the best suitors in endorsing the Adidas image. Adidas instilled their faith in Kanye as they believed that he embodied the ethos that the Brand with the Three Stripes stood for. With this, Kanye was given another chance in conquering the industry. According to Jon Wexler, Kanye made it apparent that he wanted a certain responsibility that would have never been provided to him by Nike; full involvement in every process of production.

“He’s gone to the factory in China. He’s dived into understanding all aspects of what it is in the creation process… he’s a scientist,” Explains Jon, who has nothing but praise to speak of Kanye.  Adidas showed faith – the likes of which Kanye had never been trusted with before in the fashion industry. After the two linked up with a number of other creative minds from Adidas, work began to progress. Kanye sent a simple, yet poignant text to Jon – the man who re-connected him with the fashion world. “The world changes now” read the message.

Just last month, Kanye clarified how the connection he and Jon shared was deeper than just shoes. It’s believed that this is because Jon also understood the chi-town culture. “He [Jon] saved my life,” concluded Kanye.

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Fast forward to today, and Kanye’s brotherhood with Adidas is as strong as ever- something that you’ll certainly be aware of if you’ve heard his recent track, ‘FACTS’. ‘FACTS’ exemplifies Yeezy creating some ever polemical music. In tune with his experimental personality, it is known that creative processes will have that hit or miss nature.  ‘FACTS’ was, to me, definitely a miss in terms of both musical quality and even the creativity that we’ve grown so accustomed to with Kanye. Although it won’t be featured on the final cut of the upcoming album,  I feel that throwing shade on Nike, who were certainly a catalyst in Kanye’s mainstream exposure in terms of fashion, is weak – but ‘Ye’s frustration at Nike is certainly understandable. On first hearing the track I thought “this is whack.” But then I reminded myself that divisive music is trademark of ‘Ye. In truth, it would be wrong of me to criticise Kanye for making polarizing music because I love some of his other tracks that have made him the subject of much controversy.

Love him or hate him, Kanye Omari West will go down as one of the most controversial, yet influential and prevailing artists of our generation – if not of all time. A lot of people, me included, have been sceptical of Kanye as an individual. But, irrelevant of opinion, he is a creative genius – it really is as simple as that. The magnetism he possesses has been epitomised by his capability to diversify.

In ode of the incredibly percipient cross-cultural deity and his upcoming project, No Abbot(t) is hosting its own Yeezy season. Over the coming weeks before the release of WAVES you can expect all sorts of articles and pieces with one central theme – the Louis Vuitton Don. Stay tuned.

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