Mr. Kanye West aka Yeezy aka Yeezus has had quite the journey to stardom. From record producer to music artist to music executive, I have been a fan of his journey and admired his tenacity and willingness to believe in himself. Jon Caramanica from the The New York Times once wrote that “Mr. West has had the most sui generis hip-hop career of the last decade. No rapper has embodied hip-hop’s often contradictory impulses of narcissism and social good quite as he has, and no producer has celebrated the lush and the ornate quite as he has. He has spent most of his career in additive mode, figuring out how to make music that’s majestic and thought-provoking and grand-scaled. And he’s also widened the genre’s gates, whether for middle-class values or high-fashion and high-art dreams.”
His musical accolades are indisputable but like many artists in his rarefied air, he too has sought out other ventures to create and expand his brand. Lately, Mr. West will have you believe that he is a legend, an icon of social revolution, a man of the people, a person who can relate to the common individual and seeks to raise everyone up by exposing the SYSTEM. This SYSTEM he refers to is one that fuels the mass consumerism, controls every facet of our lives, and keeps us “enslaved” according to Mr. West. I would like to focus on the interview he did with Sway Calloway from November 2013, which in my opinion, illustrates what Kanye West is actually about, the real Yeezus exposed if you will. If you haven’t come across this interview by now, please view it in it’s entirety at here . It is around 34 minutes long but the fireworks begin starting around 16:00 of the video.
After an introduction befitting an icon from Sway Calloway, the host delves into a myriad of topics but of them, I want to highlight the source of Kanye’s frustrations which were the stalled sneaker deal with Nike, the failed push to create, promote, and market high fashion clothing with the likes of François-Henri Pinault (CEO of Kering), Marc Jacobs, and others.
These are a sample of the many things that he said during this interview and whether or not one can attest to the validity of his claims, one can agree that it takes a certain level of bravado to convey such a message. Kanye also realizes that relevancy is an integral part to creating and cementing his brand and ultimately his legacy. From the failed negotiations with Puma, Adidas (he does eventually ink a deal with them), and the stalled negotiations with Nike on increased distribution, Kanye West rails against the ownwership of those respective companies for trying to “marginalize” him. His frustration boiled over when the the host (Sway) questioned him as to why he couldn’t find another avenue to bring his ideas for footwear and clothing to fruition. In that segment, he reveals that he lost approximately 13 million dollars in trying to bring his clothing line to life due in large part to not having the education or the knowledge of that industry. He seemed befuddled as to how those high fashion types ( Marc Jacobs, Francois-Henri Pinault, etc.) could be so obstinate in seemingly disregarding his accolades and stature as being Warhol, or Martin & Malcolm combined, or even as the number one most impactful artist of our generation. Why are they standing in the way of his movement, his greatness, HIS legacy? In his eyes, THEY should be happy to have someone of his ilk in their midst and their failure to recognize this obviously draws his ire. Then comes the statements about “we are all slaves”, slaves to a SYSTEM (which was defined earlier in this piece). “This industry that I’m trying to get into, nobody’s ever broken down”. Are these statements from Mr. West musings of a revolutionary or reflections from a jilted lover, one who is bitter because he did not get what he desired from the SYSTEM? I will opt for the latter.
It is rather shameful that Mr. West would ally himself with revolutionaries and pioneers that came before him when discussing a SYSTEM that he helps to perpetuate. He opines about the sneaker deal that languished at Nike but forgets to mention that several sneakers had been released starting in 2009, with a sample suggested retail price of $245. Is that pricing appropiate for the self-proclaimed man of the people to peddle to his people? Does this make it more affordable for them to purchase? Does it help to break them out of slavery Mr. West??? Nope. It is purely to line his pockets and his coffers and that my friends, is when the SYSTEM seems to work just fine for Mr. West. It becomes a problem when he and others like him do not benefit from it in the modes that they envision. He goes on to further attack some of the moguls in high-fashion for colluding to marginalize him and keep him from his greatness..and THEY don’t realize that they are keeping him from being him! The nerve of those people in the SYSTEM, propping up the SYSTEM, and feeding the SYSTEM to keep HIM from having the same place in the system as THEY hold. Do they know who Kanye West is?!
The fact of the matter is that there exists certain thresholds, barriers, and/or glass ceilings in various segments of society and industries that people of color are struggling to establish a secure point from which to maintain growth. The hypocrisy of Kanye West is that he will like to have you think that he is the victim and concurrently, he is the representative of the common person in the fight against the rising prices and the blatant consumerism that has come to be a well-known hallmark of capitalism. The truth of the matter is that Mr. West and some others like him aim to be on the other end of that bargaining table to inflict the same sort of damage on the average consumer, to maintain the status quo. Instead of being given prices, he wants to be able to dictate the pricing so he can reap the same rewards, profits, and acclaim as the Jacobs and Pinault’s of the world. He only rails against the SYSTEM when the SYSTEM is not benefitting him. Case in point, Nike did a surprise release of the Nike Air Yeezy II shoes (also called the Red October’s) on February 10th, 2014. Kanye West was asked what he thought of this and he stated “The idea that those Yeezys sold out in eleven minutes, yeah that’s good for my ego. But the problem is that there’s 20,000 of ya’ll, so that’s not good for my people. And the reason I made the decision between Adidas and Nike, is because Adidas said, “I can make more product for more people.” I’m not here to be some type of novelty that you put in a glass box. So you could say that you’re the company that released the Yeezys and then can’t nobody get them so you get them fake ass, all-red-everything else that you’re dropping.”
He was referring to the new deal that he inked with Adidas that differed from his prior deal with Nike which stipulated or capped the maximum amount of shoe wear that was to be produced. Nowhere in his aforementioned statement did he discuss lowering the pricing of the footwear. In fact, he laments the fact that he wasn’t able to release more shoes for “the people”. Even more glaring is that the same participants in the SYSTEM that he complained about are the same individuals with which he inked the new deal with at Adidas. It now appears that the SYSTEM is working just fine for him now. You are on your way Mr. West…