i amn 2009, Kanye West was riding high. 808s and Heartbreak – his fourth studio album and a marked departure from his soul-based, hip-hop sound – proved a resounding critical and commercial triumph. A foray into clothing design led to a Paris Fashion Week sneaker show with Louis Vuitton and a shoe line with Nike, a first for a non-athlete.
West’s dorky producer didn’t become a rapper to step out of Jay-Z’s shadow. He became something greater: a true star. The only person who could stop Kanye was Kanye – or Ye, as he likes to be known late.
Now his empire lies in a smoldering heap in the wake of the 45-year-old artist’s October media blitz.
West himself said he lost $2 billion in one day this week.
First there was the smear campaign against his ex-wife Kim Kardashian, then the White Lives Matter fashion statement in Paris, then his complete transformation into an alt-right puppet. And that, combined with West’s fusillade of unprovoked anti-Semitic commentary, beginning with Tucker Carlson’s hour-long sit-down with the Kushner family in early October, cost West his various portfolios.
Gap, JP Morgan and Creative Artists Agency are among the partners who quickly cut ties. West took a dig at the podcast appearance, claiming that Adidas — which West teamed up with after leaving Nike — wouldn’t drop him no matter how anti-Semitic he claims he is.
But a week later, Adidas also went their own way, costing the company $246m in potential fourth-quarter earnings. Overall, West’s Yeezy line accounted for 8% of Adidas’ bottom line. No wonder it took them a week to break up with him.
We’re a long way from the days when a Kanye drop meant something else entirely, a deeply immersive sound collage from the vanguard of pop music’s new wave. After years of being typecast as a producer, despite having a hand in Jay-Z’s seminal Blueprint album, West transitioned into MCing in 2003 with The College Dropout – which not only set him apart from gangsta rappers of the era, but preppy style and Calm down idolatry. Two years later he combined that break with the Billboard blockbuster Late Registration that marked a sea change in pop music.
West may not have been a gangsta in the mold of 50 Cent, but he was tough in his own way. He had his own near-death moments, a 2002 car accident that broke his jaw. During an emergency surgery, a metal plate was inserted into his chin and his jaw was wired shut—a fortunate outcome that would nevertheless have troubled an aspiring rapper. But West put the experience to good use, rapping over Chaka Khan’s speeded-up hit. That single, Through the Wire, became the lead single from The College Dropout and announced West as a talent who couldn’t be stopped.
Long ago West was a cultural giant — bigger than Chicago rapper Common, bigger than Russell Simmons at the Def Jam label, bigger than Diddy in business, bigger than the late designer Virgil Abloh, a complex relationship that inspired a South Park parody. And once the West’s pride grows large, it becomes impossible to feed. Interrupting Taylor Swift’s winning moment at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, marrying a Kardashian (Marilyn Monroe with her Walt Disney, he once crowd), sleeping with Donald Trump and whining about slavery being “a choice” — none of this satisfied West. . (The rapper has spoken publicly about having bipolar disorder. Medical experts underscore that mental health struggles and bigotry are separate issues.)
And yet, surprisingly: He survived almost every controversy until Adidas changed their numbers and things came to a head this month. Now, with nearly all of his associates gone, West is barely off the Forbes billionaires list. He is a toxic asset. Even right-wing pundit Candace Owens won’t have him on her show now — and West was supposed to buy the right-wing social network Parlor Off her CEO husband. Loyal fans who took West’s antics as a judo move to get out of deals with his clothing brand must have been disappointed to hear West made an unsolicited visit to Skecher’s LA office and was kicked out. “I don’t think in a million months that a board of directors would ever allow a business to touch him again,” said Matt Baker, chief strategy officer at brand management firm Deutsche NY.
Where the rise of the West has defied the odds, its fall beggars belief. No American icon has ever self-destructed so spectacularly – not actors (Mel Gibson, Isaiah Washington), TV personalities (Matt Lauer, Bill O’Reilly), sports heroes (Michael Vick, Joe Paterno) or even tabloid targets (Britney Spears, Lindsey). Lohan). Even Roseanne Barr, who once dressed as Hitler and eventually got her own TV reboot shut down after a racist one-liner about former White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, didn’t have her fingers on as many feet as West — not only desperate for a new partner, but a New divorce attorneys, too. Camille Vasquez, the attorney who acquitted Johnny Depp, won’t even touch West.
In recent days West has judged an apology on Lex Friedman’s podcast, another defaced version of the phrase “if I’m offended.” But that didn’t make things better for the students at his briefly shuttered Donda Academy, or justify the stigmatization of George Floyd – or stop him from making more offensive speeches. But with Yee down to billions and JP Morgan unwilling to loan him against his net worth or otherwise engage in a classic rich man’s tax avoidance game, the only entity West is willing to engage with soon is the IRS — and to them, Heartless is more than a West anthem. . This is also the modus operandi.
Kanye West had it all – wealth, power, status, autonomy. But in the end it wasn’t enough. No one predicted it would turn out so dramatically. And yet there is no telling how far he can fall.