Kanye West: “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business”

Kanye West’s life is a permanent buzz. Every disc – more than 20 million albums sold and 100 million downloads – is an event. The release of each of his sneakers makes fashion bloggers go crazy and they sell out in minutes. On December 2, his adidas Yeezy Boost 350 was named shoe of the year by the trade journal Footwear News. In September, his second ready-to-wear fashion show – an absurd military-inspired collection sold exclusively at Barneys New York and Colette in Paris – captivated the fashion world. Pope Anna Wintour was in the front row. In turn, Kanye (pronounced kanh-yee) West has proclaimed himself Yeezus (for God’s sake), genius and the next president of the United States, comparing his creative aura to Steve Jobs, Picasso, Thomas Edison and Walt Disney.

Absolutely no limits

At 38, his fortune would fluctuate between 80 and 150 million dollars. He is married to Kim Kardashian, planetary bimbo with 53 million followers on Instagram. While waiting for the birth of their son, announced on December 24 (!), fans and bookies speculated for weeks on his first name: Legend, Christmas… Finally born on the 5th, the heir is called Saint. Her older sister, 2, North. Kanye West, polymorphic artist (music, fashion, design…), knows no bounds. And he loves it.

“The hottest, trendiest, most everything artist … Kanye is over the top all by himself!” laughs Michaël Amzalag, from the duo of graphic designers M/M (Paris), who imagined a collection of scarves with the rapper. Kanye in Swahili would mean “the only one”. In April, Time magazine crowned him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world – the “Titans” category. “Kanye would be the first to tell you that he has his place on this ranking,” writes Elon Musk, ego of a different kind that split on the occasion of an unexpected tribute. This guy is not afraid of false modesty, and he is right. It is his belief in himself and his incredible persistence that got him to where he is.” The founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors calls him “the boundary breaker”. In fact, since the day when, at the age of 7, little Kanye saw his rendition of Stevie Wonder sabotaged by a one-armed technician during a talent contest, he has never stopped proving that all the talent and hard work was worth it. “I could have won!” he’ll rue the day of the cursed contest. West comes back (and wins) the following year. So all the following years…

To begin with, however, there was no thirst for upward social mobility in this Atlanta native, raised in Chicago. No unknown father or poor childhood in a ghetto. Certainly, his parents, a photojournalist and former sympathizer of the Black Panthers, and an English professor at the University of Chicago, separated before he was 3 years old. But without tearing. “If, with my teacher’s salary, we didn’t have a middle-class income, Kanye grew up with middle-class values ​​— and hope,” says his mother, Donda, a central figure, who died in 2007.

Very early on, his son excelled in class, drawing fruits and vegetables in contrasting colors and capitalizing on his unapologetic temper. When he travels for a year with his mother in China, his companions are fascinated by his skin color and his breakdancing skills. He took the opportunity to improvise performances at school and indulged in lamb skewers, his cuddly sin at the time. At 20, a Sunday telemarketer, he managed to sell his mother the week’s deal without her recognizing him. “If you’re taught that you can’t do something, you don’t do anything,” the rapper preached in an interview with the BBC in 2013. “Me, I was always taught that I could do anything.”

Jay-Z, his “soul brother”

Start by pushing the doors. All doors. First in music. Kanye West will attend two years of art college in Chicago. Visual art interests him. But the music haunts him. At 15, he recorded a single—Green Eggs and Ham, after the American children’s book landmark of the same name—in a studio for $25 an hour. As a 20-year-old, he wants to try his luck. His mother gives him a year to break through. His bars under his arm, these musical sequences that a rapper puts his text on, he is (already) laying siege to the big houses: Dion Wilson (No ID), producer from Chicago, his sidekick Jermaine Dupri… His touch and his personality fly . In 2000, his path led him to Roc-A-Fella Records, the house founded by Shawn Corey Carter, better known as Jay-Z, already a star and an experienced businessman. His future “soulmate”. West will be behind certain hits by Alicia Keyes, Janet Jackson, John Legend… At 23, his career as a producer is mapped out.

But Yeezus dreams (necessarily) of a solo career. On October 23, 2002, an event will serve as a revelation: after a night of filming in Los Angeles, West falls asleep at the wheel, his car overturns. His jaw is broken, part of his face is disfigured… But he’s alive. The accident strengthens his belief that God is watching over him and that he is wasting time neglecting his true mission. Fifteen days later, with his jaw set, he sang and recorded Through the Wire, the first single from his album as a singer. Released in 2004, The College Dropout (the one who dropped out of college) won him three Grammy Awards, the cream of music awards, out of the 21 he has. As much as Jay-Z.

Sequel to Shock Excursions

“If people love him, it’s not because he’s the best rapper, but because he gives everything, all the time, everywhere,” says Julius Bailey, a professor of philosophy and author of a book about the Western phenomenon’s impact on American culture. . Half the measure, it is true, the rapper does not know. His proposal to Kim? In a baseball stadium, privatized for the occasion (estimated cost of operation: $200,000, 15 carat ring not included). His collaboration in Vuitton with Marc Jacobs? He renamed himself Martin Louis the King Junior – in reference to the famous non-violent civil rights activist for black Americans from the 1960s. Fun wink to promote a sneaker sold between 600 and 800 euros.

But what delights his fans (and detractors) are his shocking and rarely clever outings. Thus, in 2009, when he jumped on stage during the MTV Video Music Awards, to dispute the award of singer Taylor Swift, arguing that Beyoncé (wife of Jay-Z) deserved it more. In 2005, recruited by TV to raise money after Hurricane Katrina, he took on the US president: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people!” The channel will disconnect the antenna. Bush would later call the streak “the worst moment of his presidency.” West will apologize…on form. The opportunity to deliver his unique take on the concept of redemption: “Saying sorry is something you can do often. It gives you the opportunity to express your opinion, then apologize… While taking the opportunity to express your opinion back.”

Mixed reception in fashion

The universe of fashion – otherwise codified – the rapper wants to conquer it with this technique with his foot in the door. Fendi, Yves Saint Laurent, luxury shoemakers Pierre Hardy and Giuseppe Zanotti… “His tactic is to get in, says Mathias Augustyniak, the other half of M/M (Paris). He paid for the luxury by walking around the big houses just to chat, learn, feed… From industrial espionage to the top!” West has always loved fashion—as a high school student, he blew his back-to-school wardrobe budget on designer gear.

But fashion doesn’t necessarily stick to the character and his fanatical beliefs. When he first arrived at APC, the workshop of Jean Touitou, a minimalist and smart stylist, the switchboard operator took him to a chorister who had come to work in the house’s recording studio. The two APC Kanye capsule collections will sell like hotcakes. “Kanye is a creator who comes from the culture of sampling and free expression, praises Touitou. He is a brand, a genius and a friend that I enjoy working with.”

Elsewhere, the welcome has not always been so cheerful. “His clothes and models look like prisoners of war! Critic Cathy Horyn wrote in September. These dull and worn clothes prove that West cannot be taken seriously in any way.” Few houses tell their experience with Yeezus. Admittedly, the industry quickly understood the interest in this consumer gondola head – at the end of 2013, the image of the Birkin from Hermès, offered to Kardashian and customized by the painter George Condo, made the rounds on Instagram. But she doesn’t adjust well to such an unpredictable guest star. “Hi, my name is Kanye, I like beige, greige, taupe and aubergine” are the only words the artist released as a first contact with M/M (Paris). “He likes strong relationships, testing and pushing people to the limit, you have to resist him,” adds Mathias Augustyniak. Even Touitou admits to having indicated to him “very clearly the limits”.

Marital co-branding

In 2013, when he judged his royalties too low, West slammed the door on Nike. After decreeing that he would no longer work for Vuitton, accused of overselling his sneakers, he reached out again. Warm welcome. West is calling for a boycott of the brand. This did not prevent its owner, Bernard Arnault, from attending one of his charity concerts in March at his Vuitton Foundation…

“I’m not a businessman… I’m a business!” West sings in one of his hits. These days, it’s still the co-branding with his wife, Kimye, according to the media, that makes the most noise. Last year, their wedding mobilized media around the world. The marriage contract – the first for him, the third for her – was concretized by the lawyers. love marriage? “He loves her, but we never choose each other by chance,” says Julius Bailey. Seeing how much Kanye idolizes the brand built by Jay-Z and Beyoncé, we imagine he dreams of the same — better.”

The interested party confirms in a way: “I am beginning to grasp what I can create and bring to the world”, he admitted this summer. Confessions of a brilliant artist … or an ultra-opportunistic businessman? “I don’t care if I’m remembered. What matters is… what I can do with my voice. Our children were born into a broken world. It’s up to us to clean up and repair the damage .”

In May, the Art Institute of Chicago awarded him an honorary doctorate for his “transformative and gender-bending work,” a diploma once awarded to Jeff Koons and Patti Smith. For once, the media immortalized him with a smile. Yeezus isn’t done talking about him. Last year, sentenced to community service for punching a paparazzi, he chose to teach fashion at college. In 2013, after supporting programs against school failure and illiteracy, he founded La Maison de Donda in Chicago to promote young people’s access to artistic education. And it wasn’t for the buzz.

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