how kanye west went broke

The rapper’s financial troubles are less a product of his hedonistic lifestyle, and more a result of trying to follow his fashion dreams.

by Wendy Syfret
19 February 2016, 3:00pm

Image via @Noisey

A few days ago Kanye West took to Twitter to, depending who you ask, have a total melt-down/pull the PR move of the year so far. Over a series of impassioned Tweets he detailed his financial struggles and announced he was in 53 million dollars in debt. If you're wondering, what can 53 million dollars get you now days? That's roughly Kim Kardashian's net worth. Something her momager Kris probably had in mind when she started telling the press that Kim and Kanye keep their finances very separate. Kim is, thank God, fiscally fine.

Other than launch countless think pieces about couples filing their taxes separately, the very personal announcement appeared to be a keyhole view into the trappings of celebrity. After all, if the most famous man in the world can be broke, surely the whole notion of fame and success is as fragile as a house of cards.

Except, while Kanye is known for lavishing his daughter with tiny furs, his money problems were more complex than a love of the finer things. As he explained over Twitter, he fell into trouble while trying to grab hold of every creative dream he ever had. While it's easy to laugh at a man who said, "Yes I am personally rich and I can buy furs and houses for my family," there is something familiar in his lament, "I don't have enough resources to create what I really can..."

This cash black hole is less the result of a lifestyle that inspired lyrics like, "10 thousand dollar fur for Nori, I just copped it / Your baby daddy won't even take your daughter shoppin," and more a result of overreaching. 

The truth is that while the Kanye machine reportedly cleared a million dollars a show during his 2013-14 Yeezus tour, and his unbroken run of successful albums saw him bring in $72 million pre-tax over the last three years, his fashion dreams have long been his Achilles heel. His first venture, Pastelle in 2009, was abandoned after seven months and his follow up 2011 self-titled women's line also floundered. While his work hasn't always been successful, you have to give the guy credit for putting his money where is mouth is. Even more viable efforts like hisA.P.C capsule collection were ultimately a strain when the rapper decided to put $30 million of his own money into the project.

Things seemed to pick up when Kanye teamed up with adidas; the partnership was built on him having creative control and a considerable share in the inevitable profits. Not only was it a great commercial move, with the backing of the sports apparel giant he appeared to have his best chance at finally developing a fruitful clothing line.

But while Yeezy has been a huge media success, it was one that included increasingly elaborate performance-showings. These ambitious offerings would become some of his most expensive projects-and continued to be personally funded to assure he got exactly what he wanted. The first season alone saw him shell out $16 million of his own dollars.

While the debt is surprising but understandable, the larger question is what does it mean right now? After all, this is a man who is playing with tens of millions the way most of us play with coins. Also, his earning potential is seemingly limitless.

Financial experts have suggested that like many high-end investors, Kanye may very well have divided his personal assets and savings from their venture funds. This is how heads of large companies can declare bankruptcy without actually going broke themselves. While he said the debt was personal the lack of bankruptcy talk does suggest otherwise.

His pleas to Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Larry Page seem to be focused on his ability to continue to work at the level he wants and take risks without relying on investors, rather than feed his kids. After all, judging by the response to The Life of Pablo it's not an outlandish statement to say Kanye can recover from this. But at this stage, he can't continue working and experimenting this way -- which appears to be his real concern.

At the time of writing Mark Zuckerberg's only reply has been liking software engineer Steve Grimm's Facebook status: "Dear Kanye West: If you're going to ask the CEO of Facebook for a billion dollars, maybe don't do it on Twitter." But Kanye fans have been more receptive, even setting up a GoFundMe page to help clear his debt. Currently it's sitting on $4900, but you know, every little bit helps.


Text Wendy Syfret
Photo via Twitter

Kim Kardashian
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