the a-z of kanye west
On the rap icon, celebrated designer, possible presidential candidate, and textbook Gemini’s 39th birthday, we look back at everything that makes Kanye Kanye.
Photography Kate Owen
A is for Art: West has often spoken about how his creative passions and capacities range far beyond the music industry; he's long been stoked on all kinds of art. He's tapped cult Japanese multimedia artist Takashi Murakami, American contemporary painter George Condo, and more recently, Belgian collagist (and longtime Raf Simons collaborator) Peter de Potter for album covers. He screened his nine-minute Steve McQueen-directed "All Day/ I Feel Like That" music video exclusively at the LACMA. And he tapped LA art weirdo Cali Thornhill DeWitt to create his TLOP merchandise. Also see V, for Vanessa Beecroft.
B is for Bling: In 2010, West confirmed suspicions that his diamond smile is not in fact a cap or grill, but his permanent teeth. He calmly explained to Ellen DeGeneres that he'd ripped out a few of his bottom chompers and installed a permanent row of ice: "I just thought that diamonds were cooler." (At the time, E! News asked some dentists if they thought he was for real; "It borders on malpractice to remove a healthy tooth," one of them said).
C is for "Chipmunk soul": The nickname given to Kanye's early production stylings, which shaped his groundbreaking debut album, The College Dropout. The young Chicagoan would craft a beat using pitch shifted vocal samples from old soul and R&B cuts, like Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire," which morphed into his now-iconic "Through the Wire." But after the technique exploded in popularity in the mid-2000s, West reportedly felt too dependent on it and decided to pursue a different sound. Since then, he's been using more experimental and unexpected samples by artists like Aphex Twin and Arthur Russell.
D is for Doctors Donda West and Seuss: When Kanye was 13, he co-wrote a rap track called "Green Eggs and Ham," and begged his late English professor mother — one of the most profound influences on his life — to pay for studio time at $25 per hour. "We went to the place, and it was just this little basement studio," Donda said in 2007. "The microphone was hanging from the ceiling by a wire hanger. But he was so excited, I couldn't say no."
E is for Equinox: The culty gym where, according to one memorable TLOP lyric, Kanye would like to know if every bad bitch is a freak or not.
F is for Fatburger: She might have ordered fish fillet, but Kanye didn't; turns out he's more of a burger guy. In 2010, he bought the franchise rights to 10 Fatburger restaurants in Chicago under KW Foods LLC, one of his holding companies. Four years later, Kim K got 10 Burger King franchises of her own as a wedding present. Why he hasn't tried to snap up a couple In-N-Outs is beyond us.
G is for Gap: The College Dropout classic "Spaceship" was in part inspired by teen Kanye's stint as a sales associate at the mall brand. These days, West seems to have nothing but appreciation for the classic San Francisco retailer. He mused about the brand's impact on his interest in fashion in his Paper Magazine cover story — "When I was working at the Gap at 15, I don't think I had any desire to actually make clothes, but I always felt like that's what I wanted to be around. I loved the fabrics, I loved the colors, I loved the proportions."
H is for Hedi Slimane: The apparent subject of Kanye's Yeezus track "I Am a God." In an epic, hour long interview, West told BBC 1's Zane Lowe that he didn't take too kindly to YSL mandating he could only attend its PFW show if he didn't turn up to all the others: "Yo! Nobody can tell me where I can and can't go. Man, I'm the number one living and breathing rock star. I am Axl Rose; I am Jim Morrison; I am Jimi Hendrix."
I is for Iris Apfel: If you've seen the 93-year-old style icon's hilarious and heartwarming documentary Iris, you'll recall the time she expertly flirted with West at the 2011 CFDA Awards. "You're killing it. You look so good tonight," he told Apfel, who was slaying a lime green look that evening. "Oh, thank you. My goodness," said Apfel, "Coming from a handsome young fellow — wow, that's cool." Yes.
J is for Jetsons: Little known fact: West is lowkey obsessed with The Jetsons. "I was just discussing becoming the creative director for the Jetson movie," he proclaimed in a three-hour Twitter rant back in 2012. But according to Vulture, he definitely hadn't been: "There is no such thing [as a creative director] on a movie," explained The Jetsons producer Denise DiNovi, who added that there wasn't even a Jetsons movie. It is true, though, that West has been speaking to Warner Bros. about the film for "much of the decade." "The last two years I had various forms of communication from the studio that he had this real love and interest in The Jetsons as an artist," explained producer Donald De Line.
K is for Katherine Hamnett: When it comes to his design inspiration, West has been known to namecheck beloved Belgian designers like Dries Van Noten, Raf Simons, and Martin Margiela. But perhaps the most profound influence on his Yeezy collections is British eco-warrior Katharine Hamnett. Though both parties have kept pretty tight lipped about the extent of their collaboration, Hamnett has confirmed that she opened up her archive to West. She even sat #frow next to Lorde at Yeezy Season 2.
L is for Louis Vuitton Don: West's old moniker, inspired by his days carrying a monogrammed backpack full of old disks and demos to the recording studio. Though he once designed a series of sneakers for the brand, his relations with the French house have somewhat cooled in recent years. Though a few months ago, West did express his affection for its current creative director, Nicolas Ghesquière, so maybe there's hope for a rekindled flame yet.
M is for Manners: "Pardon me," West excused himself in one Hot97 interview, "I'm coughing on the chardonnay I'm drinking out of a plastic cup right now."
N is for Nicki: Just one month before releasing her explosive first full-length, Pink Friday, Nicki Minaj leant a merciless verse to "Monster," a hit from West's 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. A taste of what was to come, the track was also an early indicator of the binary-breaking impact Minaj would make on modern music. Years after its release, West revealed why he almost cut her career-making bars: "because I knew people would say that was the best verse on the best hip-hop album of all time or arguably top ten albums of all time. And I would do all that work, eight months of work on Dark Fantasy and people to this day would say to me, 'My favorite thing was Nicki Minaj's verse.'"
O is for Oh, crap: On the series finale of the tragically short-lived talk show Kocktails with Khloe, West joined his wife, John Legend, and Chrissy Tiegan to shoot the shit, pretty literally. West recounted an instance in which North flushed his iPhone — which contained all of his unrecorded TLOP raps — down the toilet. Devestatingly, "no Apple Genius was genius enough," to salvage the verses, West said.
P is for Pastelle: Before Yeezy, there was Pastelle — well, kind of. West's first foray into fashion was a preppy-athletic line slated to launch in 2009. West himself teased the collection's arrival by wearing samples to fashion shows (Dior, in 2008), in magazine editorials (a VMAN feature styled by Kim Jones that same year), and, most memorably, on stage at the American Music Awards. But Pastelle dissolved before it even launched. It's rumored that West's protege Ian Connor will resurrect the long-lost label and release some of its original designs later this year.
Q is for Queue: Wherever Kanye is, expect a massive line. His recent impromptu Webster Hall concert was shut down by the NYPD before it even started, when crowds on the streets reached mob levels. We met some of his most dedicated disciples at Yeezy Season 3, who endured snaking security lines to pay homage to their god.
R is for Rolls Royce: Since moving from Chicago to Kardashian HQ in Calabasas, West — like all Los Angelanos — has doubtlessly been spending a shitload of time in a car. But he doesn't really seem to mind: Desiigner told i-D his first meeting with his new label boss took place in a Rolls Royce outside of LAX, where they blasted TLOP demos. Makes sense; two years earlier, West's meeting with Seth Rogen went a similar route. After the actor appeared in a parody "Bound 2" music video, West "cornered Rogen at a New York hotel and invited him to his limo van for a listening session," to see what he thought of the full record.
S is for Shutter Shades: Kanye has set many a trend, but there are two that will definitely puzzle anthropologists 200 years from now: leather jogging pants and these things.
T is for Twitter: West's preferred method of communication — a platform on which he's known to expound hilarious, sensationalist, and at times politicized proclamations on a whim.
U is for Universe City: Kanye's musings didn't always arrive 140 characters at a time. He used to run a fully amazing blog, Universe City, an often all-caps catalogue of his favorite things, including modernist furniture, fashion magazine scans, and adorable tidbits about designers like Margiela. Noisey swiped some winning screenshots, but a good bit of the long-defunct site (including its Murakami-designed homepage) is navigable through Web Archive.
V is for Vanessa Beecroft: West's favorite artist rivals his own capacity for controversy. West and Italian performance artist Vanessa Beecroft have collaborated for nearly a decade, starting with a live installation to mark the release of 808s & Heartbreak. Beecroft has worked on all three of West's Yeezy fashion week presentations, including last season's massive Madison Square Garden installation, apparently inspired by Rwandan refugees.
W is for Will Ferrell: Kanye's first casting choice for that Jetsons film would almost certainly be Will Ferrell, an actor he affirmed, "has reached walking living breathing god status!" "His existence is a blessing," West added in a Twitter dispatch inspired by his second viewing of Zoolander 2 earlier this year. Watch the Throne fans will recall a memorable Blades of Glory sample in his mega-hit "N*ggas in Paris," and he has a long-spanning Step Brothers obsession.
X is for XXX: Another Kocktails with Khloe tidbit: West has "never watched porn with the sound on." "I lived with my mom in high school then I lived in my mother-in-law's house...there's kids next door and stuff. I am all about the storyline," he explained.
Y is for Yeezy: West's line of oversized, utilitarian basics, and instantly sold-out sneakers which, after just three seasons, has become the hottest ticket at NYFW. Produced in collaboration with adidas, Yeezy's legend has already been solidified in its insane spectrum of cultural influence: bodegas have started slanging its knockoffs.
Z is for Zeen:
Text Emily Manning
Photography Kate Owen