After one of the ugliest months of his career, Kanye West’s long list of business associates is once again faced with a choice – stay with him, knowing he could unleash a hateful tirade against any of his soon-to-be ex-wife at any moment General – or finally break the connection to the music superstar.
The 45-year-old rapper, now Ye, has partnered with some of the biggest global companies in music, fashion and tech throughout his career – including Apple, Adidas, Def Jam, CAA and The Gap. Even after years of flirting with far-right politics, including supporting and meeting former President Trump, he remained a sought-after collaborator.
In the past, Ye’s outbursts have often been partially excused by his battle with bipolar disorder. But its recent actions have become impossible to defend or ignore, and some brands like Adidas have started to back down.
“That’s not Will Smith’s slap in the face,” said Travis Knox, an associate professor at Chapman University. “His comments are so racist, so anti-Semitic, he’s not going to get over it anytime soon. There is no possibility.”
Just last year, West’s wife Kim Kardashian filed for divorce, prompting West to take public action against her and her family. West threatened then-boyfriend Pete Davidson (including a sham murder in the music video for “Eazy”), and the Grammys canceled his scheduled performance at the April ceremony, citing “regarding online conduct.” Kid Cudi, his longtime friend and collaborator, also split from West this year, saying, “It’s going to take a … miracle before this man and I are friends again.”
Over the past week, West’s behavior has been completely unraveled. At his YZY runway show during Paris Fashion Week, he posed alongside far-right political commentator Candace Owens, who wore a “White Lives Matter” shirt (a slogan popularized by fascist and neo-Nazi groups). After facing widespread criticism, he posted that he would be doing “Go death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE,” prompting Instagram and later Twitter to pull the plug on his accounts. He then went on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, made more anti-Semitic remarks, including alleging conspiracies surrounding the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. And in unaired footage, he said someone planted “fake kids” in his home “to sexualize my kids.”
Adidas, which makes its popular Yeezy line of shoes, said in a statement last week that given its recent outbursts, “after repeated efforts to resolve the situation privately, the decision has been made to put the partnership under scrutiny.”
West responded on Instagram, writing, “F- ADIDAS I AM ADIDAS ADIDAS LOVED AND STOLE MY DESIGNS.”
Of course, West remains a formidable force in pop music. Every album but his debut The College Dropout in 2004 has topped the Billboard 200, including 2021’s Donda, which received a Grammy Album of the Year nomination. Leading up to “Donda,” he threw public “listening parties” at soccer stadiums in Atlanta and Chicago, which were streamed live on Apple Music (he was heavily criticized for bringing out special guests DaBaby and Marilyn Manson, both of whom were on scrutinized for bigoted language or alleged abuse). His sold-out December show with Drake at the LA Coliseum confirmed he’s still a formidable concert magnet, one of the few hip-hop acts who can credibly headline major global festivals.
But his A-list status as a live act could falter. He canceled headlining performances at two festivals this year — the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival and Rolling Loud Miami — at the last minute, giving promoters just days to secure a top new act.
Tariq Cherif, co-founder of Rolling Loud, told The Times in August: “Until Kanye did it, we never had a headliner and we don’t take that lightly. The platform we built deserves respect and we didn’t like it. We knew he wasn’t ready to be a headliner, so we had to respect that and find a replacement. It’s unfortunate and we did our best.”
CAA, who currently represents West regarding touring, declined to comment on his current relationship with the artist. Nicholas Gravante, West’s attorney, did not respond to requests for comment about their current working relationship. Representatives from AEG Presents, Coachella’s parent company, and Live Nation declined to comment on West.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear who will release West’s next album. A source familiar with his deal with longtime label Def Jam said he has fulfilled the terms of his record deal, leaving him as a free agent. Despite his string of 10 consecutive No. 1 albums, it’s uncertain whether a major record company, some of which are publicly traded, would take on the baggage West brings with him. (West, of course, could choose to release future albums without the backing of a traditional record label, like he did with February’s “Donda 2,” which was tied only to his own $200 Stem streaming device.)
Leading streaming service Spotify, which temporarily stopped promoting country music star Morgan Wallen after he was caught using the N-word on video in February 2021, continues to feature West’s music on a number of its internal playlists. Spotify representatives have not responded to requests for comment.
Other top entertainers have recently been recovering from public transgressions. Wallen has returned to sold-out arenas and televised honors from the Academy of Country Music after using a racial slur. After years of racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic ranting, Mel Gibson is directing and starring in major films. Brad Pitt’s career has yet to suffer after ex-wife Angelina Jolie accused him of choking their child on a flight. After winning an ugly defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife Amber Heard, Johnny Depp arguably became more popular than before in some circles.
West still has a certain outlaw cachet in the high fashion world. At Paris Fashion Week, industry luminaries such as Anna Wintour, John Galliano, Balenciaga designer (and West collaborator) Demna Gvasalia and Tiffany & Co.’s Alexandre Arnault (son of LVMH boss Bernard Arnault) all attended his runway event on March 3. October part. where he wore the White Lives Matter shirts. As Galliano himself proved with his own anti-Semitic outburst and comeback in 2011, if the fashion industry believes in your talent and commercial viability, you’ll get back to work.
It’s unclear who is currently endorsing his clothing line, but West said at the Paris show, “We’re starting our own house tonight.” He later told Women’s Wear Daily: “Why should I make a deal? I lead the culture. … That’s what happens when you start your own business, you can’t rely on these big companies to convey your vision.”
In September, West ended its association with clothing retailer The Gap, citing distribution and retail issues. “Yeezy notified Gap of its concerns in August and gave the company a contractual period of 30 days to address its violations,” Gravante told CNBC at the time. Mark Breitbard, Gap’s Chief Executive, wrote in a company memo, “While we share a vision of bringing quality, trend-led, and useful design to everyone through unique Omni experiences with Yeezy Gap, it’s not how we work together aligned to make that vision a reality.”
Big brands know that creative minds like Ye can sometimes be unpredictable or problematic. However, according to Americus Reed, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, companies will struggle to justify partnering with him again following his recent outbursts.
“It’s the death knell of celebrity sponsorship,” Reed said. “Celebrities don’t get paid to speak their minds, they get paid to uphold the brand and they get paid not to jeopardize the brand.”
That’s even true for media brands who might want to listen to him, or at least document his recent volatility. Andscape reported that Ye’s recent appearance on The Shop: Uninterrupted, which was moved to YouTube this year after airing on HBO, citing the CEO of the company producing the series, SpringHill’s Maverick Carter.
Carter told Andscape, “I believed he was capable of a respectful discussion and he was willing to address any of his recent comments. Unfortunately, he used “The Shop” to repeat even more hate speech and extremely dangerous clichés. We have made the decision not to air this episode or any of Kanye’s comments.”
Even right-wing flamethrower Carlson had to edit out irrational ramblings from West’s two-part appearance on his show. Vice released leaked footage in which West claimed Planned Parenthood was created “to control the Jewish population. … When I say Jew, I mean the 12 lost tribes of Judah, the blood of Christ, the people known as the black race, really are. These are our people. The blood of Christ. I believe in that as a Christian.”
Some of the relationship ruptures appear to have been provoked by the artist himself, long before his most recent racist outbursts.
Last week, Owens tweeted that JPMorgan Chase had ended its banking relationship with Ye. The claim gained traction in right-wing media as evidence of West’s alleged “termination” by financial institutions.
“I found out earlier this morning that @kanyewest has officially been kicked out of JP Morgan Chase Bank. I was told there was no official reason, but they also sent this letter to confirm that he has until the end of November to find another place for the Yeezy empire to bank.” Owens tweeted Thursday. She shared a screenshot of the letter.
A person with knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to speak publicly said the letter was dated September 20, before this latest round of outbreaks.
West is one of the few artists who has the resources to open his own retail stores, self-release albums and book sold-out gigs. Last year, Forbes estimated his net worth at $1.8 billion, which stems mostly from his sneaker deal with Adidas (despite West’s claim, Forbes said he’s not the richest black man in America).
But whatever goodwill West may have retained for his artistic vision and commercial prowess is now in real jeopardy, Reed said.
“Once you start getting out of hand, attacking the CEO, and engaging in all kinds of extreme behaviors,” Reed said, “you’re making yourself radioactive.”