On the morning of Wednesday, October 26th, a middle-aged man wearing a blue hoodie and camouflage baseball hat paid an unscheduled visit to the Los Angeles headquarters of the footwear company Skechers. He was immediately escorted off the premises, along with the camera crew he had brought in tow.
For Kanye West, once the biggest name in rap music and a star of the fashion industry, it was another humiliation in a week piled high with ignominy.
Until a few days ago, West — who legally changed his name to Ye in 2018 — was living proof that, if you’re famous and rich enough, “cancel culture” does not apply. He has supported Donald Trump’s presidency, feuded with Taylor Swift and claimed that “slavery was a choice”.
Criticism grew, and mental-health problems became ever more apparent, but whatever he said or did, the 45-year-old’s status as a giant of both hip hop and fashion seemed unassailable. Though it is some years since he released a truly essential piece of music, he is regarded as one of the great auteurs of hip hop, an artist who has poured his turmoil into monster hits that have wooed critics and filled venues such as Dublin’s 3Arena. And he has been a huge presence in fashion: as of last year, his eye-catching collaborations with Adidas, Gap and others had propelled West’s fortune north of $6 billion. In two highly competitive industries, where there is always a hot new thing, West was untouchable.
But he has finally gone too far, after a series of anti-Semitic comments turned his brand radioactive. (Not that this has dissuaded him from reportedly considering a bid for Parler, a social-media app popular with right-wingers in the US.) Adidas, his long-time fashion collaborator, ended its relationship, after West had claimed it would not dare cut ties. It was just the latest lifestyle corporation to abandon him, following Gap and the high-fashion line Balenciaga.
The assumption is that he called on Skechers in a desperate attempt to revive an older relationship with the company — which said it had “no intention of working with West”. A few hours later his downfall was confirmed when his likeness was removed from public view at Madame Tussauds in London. Kanye’s cancellation was complete.
West has had a tumultuous career since breaking through in 2004 with his chart-topping album The College Dropout, which he followed with hit singles such as Gold Digger and Touch the Sky. Yet if he has flirted with self-destruction in the past decade, even by those standards his recent acts of professional self-sabotage have been breathtaking.
West’s road to ruin began as he turned up at Paris Fashion Week in a T-shirt bearing the slogan White Lives Matter. After an attempted intervention by his friend Sean Combs, the former Puff Daddy, West made several anti-Semitic comments on social media. Instagram and Twitter were quick to suspend his accounts.
Gap then said it was removing West’s Yeezy line from its stores. At that point Adidas said it was placing the relationship under review. West, though, felt he could push through the controversy. “I can say anti-Semitic s*** and Adidas cannot drop me,” he had told a podcast last month.
Until this week that confidence was well placed. Alongside music and fashion, West’s main claim to infamy over the past decade has been his enthusiasm for saying the unsayable. That journey into notoriety arguably began in 2006 when, in a Rolling Stone interview, he compared himself to Jesus, saying he had to “suffer for his success”. Three years later he picked a fight with Taylor Swift, interrupting her acceptance speech at an MTV awards show to say the accolade should have gone to Beyoncé (who was watching in deepening mortification).
Swiftgate was followed by a succession of eccentric and provocative behaviour. He called Swift a “b***” on his 2016 song Famous. That same year he came out in support of Donald Trump’s run for the White House and interrupted a concert to launch a verbal assault on Beyoncé and her husband, Jay-Z, before walking off stage. He was hospitalised shortly afterwards, having suffered a psychiatric breakdown. Later that year West was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Amid all this the rapper had also become half of the world’s biggest celebrity couple since Brad Pitt and Angelia Jolie. He and Kim Kardashian tied the knot at Forte di Belvedere, in the Italian city of Florence, in May 2014. Their fairy-tale relationship then took a turn for the surreal when West decreed they should spend their honeymoon in Castlemartyr, in Co Cork — and, later, Portlaoise, where he dragged Kardashian to an afternoon screening of an X-Men film at the local multiplex.
Kardashian was initially a rock of support for West, with whom she has four children. But amid that deepening eccentricity — including a bizarre run for US president in 2020 — their relationship foundered, and in February 2022 Kardashian filed for divorce.
But even as West’s life took on the aspect of a tragic soap opera, he soared as a creative force. His fashion lines with Adidas and Balenciaga remained, until this week, coveted by collectors. He earned millions by previewing his albums Donda and Donda II at stadiums in the US, miming along to the unfinished records in front of crowds of upwards of 60,000 people (who had paid concert-ticket prices for the privilege of attending).
West named Donda after his mother, who died in November 2007 at the age of just 58. She had taken ill after a liposuction and breast-reduction procedure. West was devastated, and he poured his hurt into his 2008 album 808s and Heartache (his vocals muffled behind a robot-like AutoTune effect). Observers have noted that his eccentricity became more pronounced after her death.
Whatever the reasons for this extreme behaviour, West has almost certainly entered the endgame phase of his career. Along with Adidas and other fashion brands, his bank JP Morgan Chase has cut ties, as has his agent CAA. An artist who once rapped meaningfully about touching the sky is watching his horizon shrink, the lights going out one by one.