Revealed: The Secret Behind Kanye West’s Longevity In Hip-Hop! Kanye West once told a joke about his tendency to blow up if he is not given the recognition he deserves. On his Late Registration song “Diamonds,” he self-deprecated that he “complains about what he is owed / And throws a tantrum like he is three years old,” but concluded, “You gotta love it though — somebody still speaks from his soul.”
That bias— though largely satirized and meme-d into the ground by social media, is part of the reason he’s still around today. Years after his records stopped cracking No. 1 on the Billboard charts and he sidelined many of his top collaborators (including a significant portion of his fan base) his denial to take “no” for an answer made sure he remains at the frontline of pop culture.
However, with only a bunch of musical releases in the last couple of years, what still keeps him there is neither his beats nor his rhymes. Rather, it’s something a section of social media ridiculed him for — his fashion and sneaker designs. His versatility has proved to be the secret behind his longevity, and now, he’s the man laughing all the way to the bank.
Back in 2004, when the rappertook radio and MTV by storm, his interest in fashion was not only evident but also steadfast. The college dropout maintained that he’d be among the top designers in fashion, making style choices that were considered improper at the time. When jerseys were big, he dressed in pink polos and blazers with jeans. When hip-hop buttoned up, he went totally luxury, and then, old-fashioned.
Each time the rapper made one of these dramatic, fashion left turns, hip-hop went along with him, oftentimes quite quickly and enthusiastically. So, it makes sense he believed he could take such trendsetting inclinations and carve out a second career in the design world. It was also some sort of a rap rite of passage to drop a clothing line at the time after all with the likes of 50 Cent, Eminem, Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, Eve, Nelly, Pharrell, and T.I. all having done so.
Kanye’s inborn stubbornness wouldn’t allow him just do a clothing line — although he tried one, by the name Pastelle, that didn’t quite find its way off the ground. He instead insisted on applying to internships at Louis Vuitton and Raf Simons, working his way up from the bottom, and ultimately earning his credentials in that world.
Although his rejections were numerous in the early stages,his intellectual curiosity pushed him to try his hand in sneaker design. He partnered with Nike in 2009 for the Nike Air Yeezy, and ended up releasing one of the most coveted shoes in the history of sneakers, Nike’s first non-athlete signature, and a turning point in hype beast culture. However, in typical Kanye fashion, (pun intended) he wanted more creative control and moved on after a second iteration that turned out to be even more popular than the first.
A few years later, using the creative experience he’d acquired at Nike, he switched to Adidas, where he released the Yeezy Boost line. He also entered another partnership with Louis Vuitton, where he “learned to design wome n’s shoes for 2 years” by apparently sneaking into the Giuseppe Zanotti factory.
Kanye finally secured the much needed internship, as well, at Fendi and after a few months, decided that, it wasn’t for him. This exhibited his flexibility about his opportunities despite his interest in high fashion.
Ultimately, all his versatility would lead to a ten-year deal with Gap last year, where he will have his own clothing line, Yeezy Gap, and offer “modern, elevated basics for men, women, and kids at affordable prices.” The deal allows the rapper the flexibility of selling both high and low, while the Yeezy deal makes him one of the most notable names in footwear — and one of the most remunerative, with Bloomberg reporting a $3 billion valuation for Yeezy last year.
Kanye’s versatility has been the one attribute driving his success all along. While he could have maxed out as a producer, he chose to become a rapper. When his tastes changed, he went bigger with the sound, bringing in collaborators from all over the music world. Instead of being satisfied with his musical stardom, he continued to pursue even more of his passions namely: fashion, sneakers, design ensuring his brand could never be limited to just one product.