Kanye West is one of the most popular and highest-paid musicians in the world, but if you want to know the key his wealth, think sneakers. His money is mostly in his Yeezy sneakers.
Born in Atlanta and raised in Chicago, West got in trouble in middle school for sketching sneakers in class. His mom, a college professor, took him to see the Japanese cyberpunk film “Akira” which inspired him with its shapes and color palettes. His dad, a former Black Panther, took him to auto shows, where he fell in love with Lamborghinis. “There’s a little bit of Lamborghini in everything I do,” Kanye said in a Forbes interview. “Yeezy is the Lamborghini of shoes.”
Dropping out of college, Kanye became a producer for Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records before launching a solo hip-hop career. His albums reflected on racial injustice and had higher-education themes. West’s musical success gave him a chance to go back to his first love — sneakers.
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Here are 10 things about Kanye’s billion-dollar Yeezy empire.
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Hip-hop has connected with footwear almost since the genre was born, from Run-D.M.C.’s Adidas shell toes in the mid-1980s to Jay-Z and 50 Cent’s Reeboks two decades later. West was the first to do it at Nike on the level of an NBA superstar.Forbes
Kanye is obsessive, wrote Forbes staff writer Zack O’Malley Greenburg. Greenburg was asked to wrap his Air Jordan high-tops in cloth booties when he visited Kanye’s home for an interview. “I’ve never seen anyone that pays such attention to detail,” Kim Kardashian West told Greenburg. Kanye fixates over sneaker details and prefers a limited, carefully chosen number of products with an endless array of colors. For example, the chunky-bottomed Yeezy Boost 350s, which come in dozens of varieties of the same shoe, accounts for the bulk of Yeezy’s sales.
The Yeezy name comes from the “Kanyeezy” nickname Jay-Z gave West in the introduction to a 2003 song.
West’s Yeezy shoe line, which he launched with Nike in 2009 and then moved to Adidas in 2013, is closing in on the Jordan empire, Forbes reported. The Jordan line does about $3 billion in annual sales. Yeezy did about $1 billion in the past year and is expected to exceed $1.5 billion in 2019.
Kanye is in partnership with Adidas, which pays him a royalty of up 15 percent on wholesale plus a marketing fee — considered an unprecendented deal. He earns 5 percent royalties on net sales of his shoes and apparel, according to New York Times. Before Adidas, West was with Nike. “At that time, Nike refused to give celebrities royalties on their shoes,” West said. When Adidas found out West was dissatisfied with Nike, he was invited to Germany and signed on in 2013. Adidas is the largest sportswear manufacturer in Europe and the second-largest in the world, after Nike. Michael Jordan is thought to get royalties closer to 5 percent, though he doesn’t own his brand, according to Forbes.
He still owns 100 percent of Yeezy. That could help propel him to billionaire status, although he suggests he’s already there. “Yeezy, the newest billion-dollar baby,” West raps on Pusha T’s “What Would Meek Do?” West is on the cover of the latest issue of Forbes, released online July 9 and scheduled to hits newsstands on Aug. 31
Forbes pegs Kanye’s pretax income at $150 million over the past year. His team said the number is even higher, partly due to his Yeezy apparel.
West is No. 3 on the Forbes list of 100 Highest Paid Celebrities of 2019, beaten only by Taylor Swift at No. 1 and Kylie Jenner No. 2. Trailing West in the No. 4 spot is Argentine pro footballer Lionel Messi and No. 5 is English musician Ed Sheeran.
Yeezy Season 1 released in 2015 with a collection of stripped-down, ready-to-wear-style apparel drawing on military clothing and flesh-toned colors. The prices ranged from $600 for sweatpants to $3,000 for jackets, according to Highsnobiety. The apparel did not sell as fast as sneakers and Adidas said it would no longer be a part of Yeezy apparel. West said in 2018 that he was in talks with Louis Vuitton for a $30 million apparel deal. He tweeted in 2018 that “Yeezy will become the biggest apparel company in human history.”
In 2016, Kanye announced on Twitter that he was $53 million in personal debt. He canceled a lucrative arena tour and checked into a Los Angeles hospital for more than a week, sleep-deprived and with symptoms of temporary psychosis, Vanity Fair reported. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 39. Kanye doesn’t think of being bipolar as a disability, he said during an interview with radio host Big Boy: “Like I said on the album, it’s not a disability, it’s a superpower.”
The past year has been by far the best stretch of Kanye’s career, according to Forbes. Kanye said religion helped turn him around by “being in service to Christ, the radical obedience.” That and being bipolar. “He sees his diagnosis not as a hindrance but as a ‘superpower’ that unlocks his imagination,” Greenburg wrote. Kanye rejects being called crazy. “There’s a lot of people that have been called that ‘C’ word that have ended up on this cover,” he told Forbes. West has channeled his intensity profitably, particularly when it comes to sneakers, Greenburg wrote.