Kanye West Covers GQ Magazine, Cover Story
He just married the girl of his dreams. And his dream of being a fashion designer? That’s coming true now, too. Oh, and there’s also a new album on the way. (We’ve got the details.) So what comes after being the most confrontational man in America? We’re about to find out…….
Kanye West has been married for ten days, and he has that new-husband way with the ring still, pulling it on and off like it’s something he might yet undo, or do again. The ring is gold, and understated in a way that not much else about Kanye West is. He sits in the lobby of New York’s Mercer Hotel—the same hotel where he and Jay Z recorded most of Watch the Throne—reflecting on the distance he’s come. “I am a black American male from Chicago,” West says, “who had my rehearsal dinner at Versailles and then got married in Florence with a view of the entire city.”
He is one year removed from Yeezus, the record that took all of West’s prodigious pop gifts and made a show of immolating them one by one. He is one year removed from telling anyone who’d listen that he was going to burn the entire fashion industry down, or at least he would once they let him through the door. Now they kind of have: He’s got a capsule collection with A.P.C. out now; a line with Adidas that debuts with footwear this fall; and somewhere off in the distance, a new menswear line. He’s also got a new record—maybe even a full-on pop record, though he hasn’t decided yet. He knows he is no longer the most popular man in rap. “Currently that spot is taken,” West says. “Let’s be honest—he got last summer.”
“You know. There’s only one person.”
“Yeah. He got last summer. And I’d never given it up till last summer.” Now he’s thinking about taking it back. “It’s a real question for me. Do I want to?”
Meanwhile, he’s reckoning with what it is to be a father and a husband and a decent human. He’s happier now—”You see I haven’t name-dropped and said a bunch of negative stuff about people,” he says at one point—but no less homicidally competitive or less convinced that he’s the next Steve Jobs. He’d like to spend more time with his family. He’d also still like to build amusement parks. It’s a contradiction, one he’s only begun to resolve. And all the while, he can’t go outside with his wife, Kim Kardashian, without having his photo taken. His entire waking life has become a performance, a manifesto, a fashion shoot.
Most of the time, he’s cool with that fact. But not always. “I hope we don’t see no paparazzi today,” West says. “Because I’m still getting acquainted with these jogging pants I threw on. Like, ‘That’s not my statement!’ “
You got married a week ago. You’re the lead subject in practically every tabloid on the planet right now. Are you comfortable in that position, having that many eyes on you? That wasn’t my goal. My goal is just to be respected as a man when I walk down the street with my family. I don’t care what your job is, you’re not gonna talk down to me, you’re not gonna try to get a rise out of me. I’m a man first. And in establishing that, some interesting things have happened. [laughs]
Like that TMZ video from last year, where you’re walking with your pregnant fiancée with your head down to avoid the paparazzi, to the point where you walked into a sign and hit your head. Then TMZ made fun of you for walking into the sign. How do you live like that?It’s difficult. And then put on top of that the idea of going and taking meetings with people, and people say, “We don’t want to work with you, because we saw you get mad about running into the sign.”
Does that kind of mockery feel like an effort to de-fang you? But also, there’s no fangs. I don’t have fangs. I’m a porcupine. I’m a blowfish. Like, I’m a—what’s the fish that blows up?
A blowfish?Yeah. I’m a blowfish. I’m not a shark, I’m a blowfish. So that perfect example about me hitting my head, it’s like a blowfish. I wasn’t coming out of my house going to a paparazzi’s house to attack them. I’m defending my family in front of my own house. I’m defending my name as someone’s screaming something negative at me. That’s a blowfish. People have me pinned as a shark or a predator in some way, and in no way am I that. I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone. I want to defend people. I want to help people.
Can I read you something? The New York Post’s Page Six has an account of your wedding that reads, in part: “Kanye returned one hour before the wedding and didn’t like the all-white bar that was in front of the Gold Toilet Tower. He took a saw and started sawing it in half himself. Two men held the bar stable as he sawed, and sawed, into the bar, defacing the entire front, screaming at everyone around him. He said it looked like a bar from Texas. Then he ordered two pieces of raw wood to be nailed onto the front of the bar. Once the wood was in place, ‘Now,’ he said, ‘it’s art.’ The Italian construction teams looked at this guy and couldn’t believe what they were seeing.”For the person that wrote that, were they involved with anything last year that was as culturally significant as the Yeezus tour or that album? They didn’t even talk there about the photographs, or the dress, or Andrea Bocelli singing, or the marble tables. They’re like: “It’s a gold toilet.” No. The bathrooms—that usually would be a porta-potty—were wrapped in a fabric that was neutral to match the fort. The bar was terrible, and the wedding planner didn’t approve it with me. I was having issues with this wedding planner the entire time on approvals, and I get there and they threw some weird plastic bar there. So the same materials that were used to cover the bathroom, we said, “Let’s just use that, because this is all we have to make the bar look better.” Which it did, in the end. And anyone knows that you cannot pick up tools yourself, because of—what are those rules about the workers?
Unions?Yeah, unions. You can’t do that. It’s illegal. That’s false.
Then they say you gave a forty-five-minute toast to yourself.And what I talked about in it was the idea of celebrity, and celebrities being treated like blacks were in the ’60s, having no rights, and the fact that people can slander your name. I said that in the toast. And I had to say this in a position where I, from the art world, am marrying Kim. And how we’re going to fight to raise the respect level for celebrities so that my daughter can live a more normal life. She didn’t choose to be a celebrity. But she is. So I’m going to fight to make sure she has a better life.
How does it feel when you read something like that account of your wedding or you see a photo of you looking glum at a zipline go viral? My feelings don’t matter anymore.
Of course they do.No. One of the things that I said at the speech was, anyone that’s at this table has had to defend me or Kim or both of us at some point in their life. Ask a boxer: “In the third round, when he hit you from the side on your ear, how did that specifically feel?” You wouldn’t ask a boxer that. Because you know they’re there to fight. Meaning now you know I’m here to fight. I’m here to fight for the re-education of what celebrity is. To say, “Yes, we are celebrities, but yes, we’re also innovators, we’re also inventors, we’re also thoughtful.”
But that’s sad to me. You should be able to be a human with feelings, too. That’s fine. But that’s not the case, is it?
Is that the way you feel, that you’re always in the ring?Yeah. I’m sitting right here, it’s a fight. I’m fighting with the way I line my words up together and the way I place a sweater on top of a T-shirt. At this point, people know what’s up. People know I’m smart. And people know that, whether it’s SNL or Jimmy Kimmel, it’s a trend to take the piss out of celebrity—just as much of a trend as wearing a gray hoodie or driving a Prius.
But you voluntarily married into a celebrity family, right? In 2014, there are no bigger tabloid stars than Kim Kardashian.In the speech, I talked about the idea of collaboration and all the people involved working together and being able to change things. Meaning there was a time for two or three years where fashion designers wouldn’t give Kim dresses. There was a time they wouldn’t even let me be at shows. Now the idea that Kim is in a Givenchy Couture dress is raising the communication. Because people would be more apt to be like, “Celebrities don’t really have style. Celebrities can’t dress. Celebrities are less educated.” But they haven’t had the chance to be able to break through and have Carine Roitfeld sitting right there. Carine Roitfeld is the Walt Disney of what Tumblr is today. She is the Kanye West of what Tumblr is today. She’s the single most important person to what street style is today. And she was at the wedding seven seats down from Kim, who is one of the number one fashion plates of today. So I said, “Wow, Carine is seven seats down from Kim. Farnaz [Farjam], the producer of the Kardashians and the producer of The Real World, is four seats down from [director] Steve McQueen. And four seats, because in between them is Hosain [Rahman] from Jawbone.” This is what I talked about. That was not a forty-five-minute speech to myself. Do you realize what that means for those people to be in that close of a proximity to each other?
But if you read a lot of the tabloid coverage, the implication is: Kim and her family are bringing you down. Jay Z and Beyoncé didn’t show up at your wedding because of them. That kind of thing. All that, I wouldn’t even speak on. It doesn’t even matter to me whatsoever, who would show up. Because the most important person to show up there, to me, was Kim. And that’s all that matters to me. I had to fight for that for seven years. But the fact that these other people showed up that are from such different worlds but have done such dynamic things—they’re all, in a way, equal to what Kim has done in TV or what I had done in music. I was so moved that I just wanted people to stop and think they weren’t sitting at a table full of fashion people, they weren’t sitting at a table full of celebrities, they weren’t sitting at a table full of movie directors. It really was a representation of the way we receive information today, post-Internet. And so Page Six can’t overshadow the main point: Carine Roitfeld was sitting next to Kim Kardashian. That alone to me is like the same moment when I brought Mos Def to the studio with Jay Z. It’s about the people, and the fact that they’re from different walks of life, and that they’re working together and not discriminating against each other. There was a class system, and now there’s a creative class system, and I think that’s what you were talking about a bit—the class system of creativity.
And my point was, they leave Kim out of it.And my point is, they were all at her wedding.
A skeptic would say that’s because of you.But when an Instagram photo gets 2.3 million likes—
Your wedding photo, which is currently the most liked photo on Instagram ever. That’s because of who?
I don’t know.Don’t say you don’t know! It’s because of Kim. Meaning there’s no photo that I would have put up by myself, or next to one of my smarty friends, that would have got that amount of likes. So now you take this photo that has that amount of likes, and it has a flower wall from the same guy who does the Lanvin shows, and it has a couture Givenchy dress and Givenchy tuxedo in it. That’s the point. Now the thing that is the most popular is also communicating the highest level of creativity. The concept of Kimye has more cultural significance than what Page Six could write.
Why’d you decide to get married? Saying “Hey, I like Kim” isn’t as inspiring to people as us getting married. And anyone that’s in a relationship knows that in order to get to the point to get married and then to be married and to then carry on, it needs that work put into it. Right now, people look at it and it’s like, “Wow, that’s inspiring.” Meaning that love is infectious. You know, God is infectious—God flowing through us and us being little-baby creators and shit. But His energy and His love and what He wants us to have as people and the way He wants us to love each other, that is infectious. Like they said in Step Brothers: Never lose your dinosaur. This is the ultimate example of a person never losing his dinosaur. Meaning that even as I grew in cultural awareness and respect and was put higher in the class system in some way for being this musician, I never lost my dinosaur.
Kim is this girl who fucking turns me on. I love her. This is who I want to be next to and be around. And then people would try to say, “Well, you know, if you’re a musician, you should be with a musician, and if you want to design, you need to be with a girl from the design world.” I don’t give a fuck about people’s opinions. Because when a kid falls in love with an airplane or a bike or a dinosaur—especially if you’re an only child and it’s not because of the book that the sibling was reading—it’s like, fuck, you mean to tell me that the dinosaurs walked the earth and stuff like that?! That’s amazing! You mean to tell me that these giant multi-ton crafts can fly that fast and that loud, and they can flip, and there’s danger, the possibility of them exploding? That’s fucking cool! You mean to tell me that this girl with this fucking body and this face is also into style, and she’s a nice person, and she has her own money and is family-oriented? That’s just as cool as a fucking fighter jet or dinosaur! And just as rarely seen.
That’s a lovely way of putting it. I feel like you’re stronger as a team. Because when you know you have a team player, it’s not one on the world anymore. At least it’s two on the world.
Two and a half, if you want to count your daughter.Yeah, and then two and a half, eventually. It’s like having some eyes in the back of your head. That’s one reason why, when people try to spoof or talk shit, it’s like: But you’re mad because basically Kim is the type of girl that, her entire life, if you were in school with her, most people would be studying and up late nights, but for some reason she would have the skill set to go and grab the one book, turn to the exact page, and just magically say, “That’s the exact answer.” Or she could wink at the person who had done all the work and get it done anyway. And the point of life is getting shit done and being happy.
Are you the father you hoped you’d be? There’s that song on Watch the Throne, “New Day,” where you and Jay Z talk about your unborn children, and you basically say: “I want my kid to be completely the polar opposite of me.”And the joke was that I was supposed to say on the song, “Come on, Jay, you know we’re both gonna have daughters.” And I’m so mad, because you know when I pop that creative-genius shit? If I had had that, that could’ve been my one moment where I’m like: “Okay, fuck all the conversation. Look at that. I called that one.”
How do you feel about Yeezus now, a year later?I think Yeezus is the beginning of a completely new era of music. It was all new rules. It just broke every rule possible. None of the ideas were popular ideas. Even “Bound 2,” when the video came out, I think people’s apprehension—I mean, it’s the same as any other Kanye West video. You just have colorful bears running around. It was completely morphed and weird and psychedelic and really druggy. I would have just liked to have had more nudity in it. That’s the only thing. I just want to do crazy, colorful shit like that that has more nudity.
What about “New Slaves“? Do you think people would react differently to that song if it came out now? It’s funny, because when the Clippers situation happened, people started bringing up that song again. Sometimes you do things in the same way that a designer might throw out a new cut or a rapper might throw out a new concept, and people might not be into it at that time. If “New Slaves” had come out right after the Clippers incident, it would have seemed more timely. So the thirty meetings that I was having where I was going through a lot of these “Stay in your place” type conversations—”Stay in your box, this is what you do, you can’t do anything else”—that led me to the point of creating “New Slaves” and “Blood on the Leaves” and the entire Yeezus album, and to make the album basically like a protest in music, where it only has like four melodies on it—you know, other people weren’t in that place. Obviously certain things are more digestible for mass consumption. But it was interesting. That song that I do feel is the best rap verse of all time—
Which song?“New Slaves.” The second verse. I argue that it’s the best rap verse of all time. It’s the Coming to America or Anchorman of a verse. You know, it’s got the funny shit. It’s got the antagonization. It’s got patterns. It’s got social and political consciousness. It’s got struggle. It’s got bravado. It’s everything that a rap verse is supposed to be.
Were you mad when Rick Rubin came out and said that you did half the vocals on Yeezus in two hours before hopping on a plane? Yeah! Because yeah, I rapped them. But I worked on them for like eight months! And the thing is, I had to finish the verses in order for the album to come out, and it’s game time. I didn’t freestyle those verses. That shit was worked and processed and Disneyfied and everything. By the way, those lines are super scary and serious, and everything that I’m saying on Yeezus is super politically direct, so I think that it’s funny that you said that, because I think he needs to clarify that to people—that I didn’t make it up in that time. I just said them in that time.
When you said what you said last year about the fashion industry and your frustration with it, did your phone ring after that? It did move the needle. Only positive came from it. Maybe I’m not as good friends as I could have been with the Saint Laurent designer. And now I don’t get the red-and-black versions of the white-and-black pants that are in stores, or whatever I would have got as a musician. But other than that, that communication was real. Alexander Wang made sure that I was able to go to a Balenciaga show, and I was never allowed to do that before because I was a celebrity. Listen to what I’m saying—me, as Kanye West: I guarantee you, I’m more than 50 percent responsible for every men’s shoe that they sell. Me, the singular person. More than 50 percent responsible for every Balenciaga shoe they sell. And they would say, “You can’t come to the show, because you are a celebrity.” But all honesty, no ego, I have a level of influence, and I have a level of respect for the designers. And we move product on that Barneys floor.
There’s an analogy to music, right? You provided the sales template there, too. You can’t listen to rap now without hearing music that sounds like your old music, right?It sounds exactly like that.
What does that mean in terms of putting the new record together? Do you want the pendulum to swing back and do something more pop, like Twisted Fantasy or Graduation? I think just my usual pattern is like that. It’s like a pendulum. The pendulum gains momentum by swinging in the other direction. Even lyrically, I think about certain lines that I say on my new single, which is called “All Day,” that usually Jay would say, but Jay’s not on there. So I say, All day, nigga, it’s Ye, nigga. Shopping for the winter, it’s just May, nigga. Ball so hard, man, this shit cray, nigga. You ain’t getting money unless you got eight figures. Right? Jay would have said that. And then eventually I would have came in with, like, whatever I come in with. But the balance of a meal is that when people walk in, they want water first. People definitely weren’t getting water first on Yeezus. I do fight with myself to say, “Keep fighting.” But also, you know, you can’t win every single fight. It’s a long war, and if you’re out there trying to, like, blow up every single building, you won’t win the war.
Yeezus seemed to be a moment when you maybe let go of wanting a Grammy. You let go of wanting record sales, in a way that seemed uncharacteristic for you.When I was sitting and trying to do a collaboration with the Gap, in the meeting, when they’re like, “No, because you’re a celebrity, and you have a bad reputation, and you don’t know anything about clothing, so we don’t want to do this”—in that meeting, there’s no extra single that I could have done that could have got me that deal. There’s no extra Grammy that I could have won that could have made it more real. And that’s the reason why I had to express the way I feel. Which all rhymed just right there. But Yeezus was extremely purposeful. And what came from Yeezus: Paparazzi are nicer to me. The entire fashion industry is nicer to me. I do have a collaboration coming out. Young designers that would go and work at a house now look and say, “Wow, maybe we could potentially work at Donda. Maybe we could work for Kanye. Maybe that’s a real thing.” Because designers that are geared up to only want to work at a French fashion house are completely under the perception that it wouldn’t be cool to work for a celebrity.
But it’s such a delicate dance, right? At a certain point, maybe you have to go back and you have to sell some records, win some awards, to maintain your spot in music.Man, it’s crazy. And having to take all of your energy, or a lot more of your energy, to focus on fashion. And while you’re focusing on that, such-and-such just keeps coming for the spot.
And I might complain about how hard it is in clothing, but also I think it’s great that it’s so hard. Because the barrier to entry is really, really, really, really high. And I’m literally trying to do—back when I did Watch the Throne, and the fashion, I think it was just too much for people. It was just too crazy. It was just too crazy to do Watch the Throne, “Niggas in Paris,” shoot a surround-vision film in Qatar, show the film in Cannes…
Put a kilt on.Yeah, kilt. Then do two fashion shows with Jourdan Dunn, Joan Smalls, Irina Shayk, have Diddy, Anna Wintour, Riccardo, Kim at the show, and drop the Yeezys? It felt like every single industry that I was trying to tap into looked at every other industry and everyone held hands. It was like, “Fuck that. No. This is just too crazy.”
So what’s the lesson you take away from that?History’s gonna be harder to make than I thought.
In 2010 you put out My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, released a new record every Friday, you were on Twitter all the time, you were still blogging at that point… You lived a whole year in public. Yeah.
But you fell back from that.Both me and Kim had to learn how to communicate as a team. These are two LeBrons, you know? Meaning she could do shit that a girlfriend in a relationship could never do. Obviously. And I could do stuff that a guy in a relationship could never do. So if you look at half my tweets back then, they were always, like, funny tweets that I wouldn’t be able to say now. It wouldn’t be respectful to my relationship. It’s interesting, as I’m delving into being married: Like, what is my verbal creative communication? That’s another thing I really like about clothing and film—you could still communicate with a film, because it’s not you. But when you’re a reality star or a rapper, you are the film.
That’s been true for you, right? The year 2010 was really just a different kind of movie.Yeah. It was more Wolf of Wall Street.
You’ve said that one of the reasons you did Watch the Throne was that you wanted to learn to communicate in the easy way that Jay Z communicated. Do you feel like that experience helped you at all? Yes! It’s picking up skill sets that give you longevity. That’s what I like about Jay. He has longevity. He’s still at the top of relevancy from the way he moves, the way he interacts with people, his ability to brush things off of his shoulder and just win at life. He’s the poster child of winning. And I think I was the poster child of, like, fighting and winning. But you always saw the fight. And with Jay, you always saw the win.
Another gifted communicator in your life is Kim. Have you learned from her?That’s funny that you’re saying that. One of the reasons why I think that me and Kim are very powerful together isn’t just the concept of celebrity or this mega rap star and this mega-beautiful pop star. It’s something I explain to my girl: She is who she is. I am who I am. We have advisers and friends and everything, but those people are who they are and we are who we are. And what I had to learn from Kim is how to take more of her advice and less of other people’s advice. There’s a lot of Kim K skills that were added. In order to win at life, you need some Kim K skills, period.
How close are you, fashion-line-wise? A year away? Five years away?It depends. I think the people that are in the positions of power are starting to see or recognize that it’s more than a celebrity thing, it’s more than a music thing, and that there is something there. There’s people who do celebrity lines. It’s what they do. They’ve signed up to sit at a different table and to be in a different business than the people who do high-end lines.
It’s the difference, presumably, between what you’re doing for Adidas and what Pharrell or 2 Chainz are doing for Adidas.Yeah. And you haven’t even seen what I’m doing for Adidas!
Right. But—You just know.
What about the new record? How far away is that?I don’t know, man. I hope I can get one of these songs out in the next couple of weeks, just to have something up and running. But I think most likely September. I go back and forth. Like, should it be September or should it be October? Should it be November? When Beyoncé was working on her last album, she took a while. I was thinking it could somehow come out in June, like Yeezus, and just kill it for the summer. But then I’m like, I have to work on Adidas and be with my child.
But you have a lot of the first single already? Yeah. This time three years ago, here at the Mercer, working on “Niggas in Paris,” at this time in early June, it was apparent it was still not finished. I had the “married at the mall” line, we had “that shit cray,” Jay had his verse… Jay finished his verse. He always finishes, and my shit is always kind of open. Like, “Okay, now I’ve got the Will Ferrell sample, so I need to say something that finishes the verse. But people have to not know what it means.” [laughs] So it’s like problem-solving to get to the point where you’re saying, “going gorillas.” It’s difficult sometimes.
But now, for the new album, one new thing could change everything. I had an idea of the way I wanted to do the album. And then I got a new song that’s so good that the album has to be balanced against it. This song is a song that can be in the club like “Don’t Like” or “Niggas in Paris.” Whereas before I was working on the album and I had these beautiful songs, they were just more songs. They weren’t saying, “Okay, tuck your whole summer in.” They were just saying, “Hey, I’m a great musician, I make these beautiful songs, and they have all this meaning, and nobody can make anything that means this much.”
I feel like people have no idea if you’re ever actually happy, or what makes you happy.Well, when I work on an album, it’s fun at certain times. There’s some accomplishments, and sometimes there’s a bit of frustration. And it’s usually like a nine-month process, right? This is a multi-lifetime process that we have now embarked on. Meaning starting now, you’re just starting to see a glimmer of what the idea of West will mean. So right now, at this age and with this visibility and with the skill sets that Kim is now giving me, I think I have a good chance of success in building something that has longevity, high integrity, high success rate, and is very fulfilling, not only for me creatively but also in adding fulfillment to people’s lives. Adding ease. Adding wonder. Adding magic.
But does happiness arrive at the end of that rainbow? I think people genuinely wonder that.Well, you build your happy wife, happy life, happy home, all this stuff, right? Everybody that’s in a relationship that has ever worked on a home knows one of the most frustrating processes is actually working on the home. So when people would see me last year, two years ago, unhappy, I was in the process of building the home.
But what makes me happy is land, and we’re on a boat now. This is Christopher Columbus. This is uncharted waters we’re on. We’d be super happy to be on land, and also a little bit like, “Ah, the journey’s over!” But I feel like, we got the Vogue cover, Steve McQueen won the Oscar, we finally got married… You know? We have a child. We’re a family now. I am an arbiter of taste, and people think that I have the ability to make things cool—or if I’m doing it, it should be cool. And I feel that this stuff’s starting to be cool. And that feels good to me. Because I don’t like walking around with people thinking I’m doing uncool shit, because there’s nothing I’m doing that’s uncool. It’s all innovative. You just might not understand it yet. But it’s cool. Family is super cool. Going home to one girl every night is super cool. Just going home and getting on the floor and playing with your child is super cool. Not wearing a red leather jacket, and just looking like a dad and shit, is like super cool. Having someone that I can call Mom again. That shit is super cool.