Kanye West, also known as Ye or Yeezy, is widely considered by critics and music fans to be one of the greatest rappers in history. Besides creating top-charting songs and albums, Kanye West has also produced and contributed to numerous singles and albums that would also top the charts in various countries around the world.
While Kanye West is a prolific rapper and songwriter, a lot of people today know him more by his clothing lines and collaborations with different fashion brands. Because of his influence in the fashion industry, Kanye West is considered today as a big fashion icon that sets trends in the industry. To learn more about Kanye West, here is a guide to his early life, his career as a musical artist, and his impact on the realm of fashion.
The Early Life of Kanye West
Kanye West was born on June 8, 1977, in Atlanta, Georgia. His parents are Ray West, a former member of a political organization called the Black Panther Party, and Donda C. West, a professor of English at Clark Atlanta University. West’s parents divorced when he was three years old, and after the divorce, West stayed with his mother in Chicago, Illinois. West would move with his mother to other locations besides Chicago, and these locations include Oak Lawn, Illinois, and Nanjing, China, where his mother was teaching at Nanjing University.
Kanye West developed a passion for writing and creating songs at a young age. At the age of five, he already began writing poetry, and by the third grade, he started rapping. In seventh grade, he started writing his own songs, which he would sell to other artists. Kanye West would later meet producer No I.D., who would later become West’s mentor and friend.
After graduating from high school in 1997, Kanye West received a scholarship to study at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, where he took painting. West later transferred to Chicago State University to study English, but he would eventually drop out in order to pursue a musical career. Kanye West’s decision to drop out of college displeased his mother, who was also teaching at Chicago State University during that time. However, his mother later accepted her son’s decision, and she would even manage some of Kanye West’s endeavors, including the non-profit Kanye West Foundation, which was founded in 2003.
Kanye West as a Musical Artist
In 2004, Kanye West released his debut studio album, “The College Dropout.” This debut album was recorded between 1999 and 2003, which was quite a long recording process compared to most albums. However, West’s hard work and dedication to releasing the album paid off, as The College Dropout debuted at number two on the US Billboard 200, and it sold more than 440,000 copies in its first week of release. The album would win the 2005 Grammy Award for Best Rap Album while also being nominated for Album of the Year.
Kanye West would continue to create and produce chart-topping albums, like Late Registration (2005), Graduation (2007), and 808s & Heartbreak (2008), which was regarded as a departure from the signature rapping and composing style of West that was present in his first three albums. His experimental style of writing music would continue through his other albums, such as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010), Yeezus (2013), The Life of Pablo (2016), and Ye (2018). He would explore gospel music in his album called Jesus is King, which was released in 2019. He would follow up the said album with Donda (2021), an experimental gospel album that was dedicated to Kanye West’s late mother, who died in 2007.
As a musical artist, Kanye West is one of the best-selling rappers of all time, as he was able to sell more than 160 million records. In addition, West also won 24 Grammy Awards, joining Jay-Z as having the most Grammy Awards of any rapper. Six of Kanye West’s albums were included in the 2020 list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time that was created by the monthly magazine Rolling Stone.
Kanye West as a Fashion Icon
Kanye West already had a desire to enter the fashion industry early in his career as a musical artist. In 2006, he launched his own clothing line that was eventually canceled in 2009 after developing the brand for years. In 2007, Kanye West designed his first sneaker collaboration with Japanese fashion company A Bathing Ape. The collaboration featured the brand’s Bapesta shoes, which featured colors and designs that were inspired by West’s third album, Graduation (2007).
In 2009, shortly after canceling his clothing line, Kanye West collaborated with popular shoe brand Nike to create the Air Yeezys, a shoe designed by West and a group of select designers that took inspiration from various retro Nike shoes. Through the collaboration, Kanye West became the first non-athlete to have a shoe deal with the Nike brand. It was also in 2009 when West launched his first shoe line with luxury brand Louis Vuitton, particularly during Paris Fashion Week.
In order to further pursue his passion for fashion design, Kanye West moved to Rome in the fall season of 2009 to become an intern for the Italian fashion brand Fendi. Two years later, Kanye West launched his women’s fashion label at Paris Fashion Week, but it was unfortunately not received well by many critics. However, Kanye’s second fashion line the following year (which was also unveiled at Paris Fashion Week) was deemed to be better than the previous line.
On December 3, 2013, Kanye West and Adidas officially confirmed a new collaboration deal that will feature an extensive line of footwear. The Adidas Yeezy line was officially launched in February 2015, along with Kanye West’s Yeezy clothing line that had shirts, jackets, and pants. The first collaboration shoe released by West and Adidas is the Yeezy Boost 750, which looks like a mid-top pair of boots and was first released on February 21, 2015. A low-top version of the 750, which was called the Yeezy Boost 350, was launched on June 27, 2015.
The Adidas Yeezy line is considered to be one of the most successful collaborations between two entities in the realm of fashion and footwear. Besides being successful financially, Kanye West’s Yeezy line was also a trendsetter that forced other brands to follow, copy, or take inspiration from West’s designs.
In May 2023, Adidas announced that they had terminated their partnership with Kanye West due to the latter’s antisemitic remarks that he posted on Twitter. In addition to terminating the partnership, Adidas also revealed that they were going to sell the remaining stock of the Yeezy shoes, and a significant portion of the profits would be donated to various charities, including the Philonise & Keeta Floyd Institute for Social Change and the Anti-Defamation League.
After the termination of Kanye West’s deal with Adidas, he has yet to sign a deal with another fashion brand, and it is speculated that West was more focused on recording songs or tracks for a new album.
Despite not having much of an impact in the fashion industry today compared to a few years before, Kanye West remains an important figure in the fashion industry, as he was able to popularize simplicity as a form of high fashion during a time when extravagance was becoming oversaturated. It is unknown where Kanye West’s career as a fashion designer would go after the end of his collaboration with Adidas, but with his popularity still at an all-time high in the realm of music, it is possible that he can make a comeback in fashion in the near future.