We're damn near halfway through summer, and Kanye West still doesn't have a bonafide hit. The tender "Only One," West's first of several recent Paul McCartney collaborations, came, made listeners eyes water, and slipped off the charts. Rihanna's "FourFiveSeconds," featuring Kanye/McCartney (our generation's Lennon/McCartney), came, stayed for a bit once the inevitable DJ Mustard remix hit, and eventually slipped. Then the pugilistic, grime-indebted "All Day" came, but ultimately slipped too (McCartney also had a hand in that one, but that's neither here nor there).
The aforementioned three singles weren't bad; they just didn't stick in the way a Kanye West single usually does. Which leaves us with a conundrum: There's a Kanye West album, tentatively titled SWISH, coming soon without an indisputably strong lead-in. This is a first in human history. We've approached the sands of bedlam. You would be well within your senses to panic. But take a look at West in 2015. He actually comes off as a sane human when he's off the stage. He ignores his duties as Beyonce's guardian and apologizes to Beck. He sheds tears at reasonable times (like, you know, someone's death). And he readily jokes about something as tame and un-rock star-like as being a dad.
It may be weird to see him like this, but I bet you'd have peace of mind, too, if you'd just dropped a sneaker as successful as the Boost 350.
Released Friday night, the Yeezy Boost 350 was priced at $200 (easily the lowest price point of any Kanye-affiliated shoe), and sold out in hours, proving that West was making good on his promise to offer a reasonably affordable mix of comfort and high fashion. Yeah, they sort of look like the Nike Roshe Runs crossed with the adidas Tubular, but that's fashion for you. Nobody gives Rick Owens shit when his sneakers kinda look like Skechers.
On Noisey: Why Is Kanye West's "Only One" So Good?
West's mindset today is a far cry from 2013, when he set out to burn down the universe. His celebrity and attempted moves into the fashion industry were met with continuous roadblocks. He's a king in hip-hop, but to many in fashion, he was a rapper who didn't belong in the upper echelon of high fashion. He also claimed Nike wouldn't grant him royalties even though his Air Yeezys were an unqualified success. 'Ye was enraged, so through interviews and his Yeezus tour, the public was treated to sanguine rants that blasted Nike, taught many who Hedi Slimane was, and made becoming the "Tupac of product" a thing. He also gave us a little album called Yeezus, an avant garde bi-product of colliding with the roadblocks that stand outside music. Hell, even Lou Reed liked the thing.
West said he had to get his money on Jay Z's level, but people were less enamored by that reasonable (well, reasonable for West) goal and more thrown off by his flagrant lack of tact. West—sometimes playing Michelangelo, sometimes playing Steve Jobs—spoke with rhetoric laced with hyperbole. He eventually landed on a deal with adidas, which was supposed to be the start of great things: A high-quality clothing line. Widely available apparel. More 'Ye. More 'Ye. More 'Ye.
His Yeezy Season 1 line was showcased at New York Fashion Week earlier this year. Although it earned a mixed response, West countered by saying, "We're still on mixtapes" to Paper magazine. Which I guess means we still haven't seen the College Dropout equivalent of his sartorial efforts, yet. Following that metaphor with his kicks, the Yeezy Boost 750 is kind of like DJ Envy's Dream Team Paid in Fullmixtape, which featured a pre-College Dropout Kanye trading bars with the whole Roca-A-Fella clique. It didn't light the world on fire, but it proved that he could actually rap with the big boys. And I think the Yeezy Boost 350 is kind of like Get Well Soon, the mixtape that made everyone recognize that Kanye wasn't just alright on the mic, he was on the verge of changing the game forever.
The 750 was more of a Yeezus tie-in than a functional shoe; the fit was a little awkward, the zippers were breaking only after a few wears. The 350 features a more streamlined, eye-pleasing design, and it looks like it is made for the human foot. Both sold out, but the former was met with sneers and jeers. The latter was met with… well, still some sneers, but those were mostly from Kanye haters. Still, there were more reluctant nods of approval and far more praise. The Boost 350 is a sign that Kanye the Creative is rising in the place of simply Kanye the Musician.
But why does West continuously need to prove himself to us despite all of his achievements? Well, he is too good—he spoiled us. He had six straight great solo albums, a streak unheard of in hip-hop. Each, in its own way, signaled a sea change. College Dropout led a backpacker insurrection. Late Registration made hip-hop orchestral. Graduation zipped hip-hop and electronic music up together like a sonic BAPE hoodie. 808s & Heartbreak accidentally birthed Drake's touchy-feely lane. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy led to a surge in rap maximalism. Yeezus made caustic, industrial rap cool for everybody, not just hip-hop's fringes. But you already know this stuff. West's discography is so good that it overshadows his other creative accomplishments. Take Watch the Throne, his collaborative album with one-time mentor Jay Z. It would have been a high-water mark for virtually any other rapper in the game if not for the greatness that had preceded it.
Recently, West has made it a point to start distancing himself from the term "rapper" and favors Vogue over Vibe these days. Although this wrongly implies that hip-hop is some lesser form culture, one can argue that his hip-hop accomplishments obfuscates of his other creative achievements. His appropriation of imagery from Jodorowski's The Holy Mountain is both grandiose and a marvel in design. DONDA's designs (album covers, marketing campaigns) proved it was more of a legitimate creative house than a vanity project. And you remember how much of a frenzy there was over those Red Octobers, which to this day will set you back a cool $4,750 at Flight Club.
West's struggles in fashion are ignominious, but they aren't an anomaly in his resume. Jay Z didn't even believe in West when he first started trying to rap and now West has arguably eclipsed him. Even if West's musical hot streak cools down a bit in 2015, all signs say that we are watching the inception of something greater—West transferring the awesomeness he brought to hip-hop to a bigger, broader canvas.
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