Who Will Survive in America: A Kanye Roundtable

A discussion among four staffers about everything Yeezy’s taught us.

Kanye is clearly not afraid to bring high art to populist products like music videos and album artwork; fashion is just another way to put his specific, genius stamp on accessible art. But, as he said in a recent interview with his friend Sway (above), this is seen as distasteful, and even shameful, coming from a rapper:

[When you're] trying to learn about clothing, you got the whole hood calling you a f** for even liking clothes or being at the runway shows. [...] Then you got your constant public perception being brought down. [...] Then you got shoes like the Nikes [that Kanye designed] selling at $80,000, and the head [of Nike] won’t even get on the phone with you. [...] You got every single door closed on you.

This is not a request for pity—it’s a demand to be treated with the same respect as other people of his stature, regardless of his race or his main profession. In addition to his wildly successful Nike designs, Kanye has collaborated on two collections with the French label A.P.C, designed shoes for Louis Vuitton, Bape, and Giuseppe Zanotti, and has a collaboration planned with Adidas. That’s all in addition to the two collections he showed at Paris Fashion Week in 2011 and 2012. If any other person—celebrity or not—had a résumé like that, there would be no question as to whether they “deserved” their own line. But the rules are different for Kanye.

“I think this is in part because he’s a person whose work is of enormous cultural importance to poor people and people of color,” Amy Rose said, “and he isn’t afraid to openly discuss his feelings on race and class politics in America—two things the notoriously racist and wealth-motivated fashion industry might not appreciate.”

Despite this disrespectful treatment, Kanye remains an impassioned fashion fan. Here’s Julianne:

One of my favorite moments this year was watching Kanye perform at Madison Square Garden, where he digressed into an angry monologue about the recently appointed creative head of Yves Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane, and how he was still mad that “Hedi” had tried to ban him from seeing the shows of “Phoebe” [Philo, of Céline] and “Raf” [Simons, of Dior] at Paris Fashion Week. Just as I was thinking, Like 350 people in this 20,000-person arena even know what the hell he’s talking about! my friend, who was in a different row, texted me, “What is he talking about?” But Kanye just wants everyone to be on his level, and that level is excellence.

At the end of their interview, after Kanye had spent AN HOUR bringing every question around to fashion, Lowe asked him why he’d want to spend (read: waste) his time pursuing clothing design, when he could be doing things that people would perceive as more “important.” Without any hesitation, Kanye responded: “You can’t tell me what dreams to have.” That made me cry the first time I heard it, because it felt like the summation of all his life’s work: Everything he’s ever done, he’s achieved in spite of people telling him there was something better or different or more “right” for him, and this is exactly what makes him the brilliant, innovative, and globally adored artist he is today.

That particular interview is also great because Kanye dedicated himself not only to advocating for and defending himself and his dreams, but also to professing a similarly deep respect and understanding for his listeners, reiterating what he’s been saying for years—that his work and career is really not all about him, but about all of us:

Go listen to all my music. It’s the codes of self-esteem. It’s the codes of who you are. If you’re a Kanye West fan, you’re not a fan of me, you’re a fan of yourself. You will believe in yourself. I’m just the espresso. I’m just the shot in the morning to get you going, to make you believe you can overcome the situation that you’re dealing with all the time. [...] I’ve always felt I can do anything. That’s the main thing people are controlled by: thoughts, the perceptions of themselves. They’re slowed down by the perception of themselves. If you’re taught you can’t do anything, you won’t do anything. I was taught I could do everything, and I’m Kanye West at age 36. So just watch the next 10 years.

Kanye inspires us to be creative and reminds us that we have something important to say, no matter how we choose to say it. And when I say “us,” I’m including Kanye himself. He needs that reminder to continue speaking his truth to power, even if the consequences might include being excluded from some music industry events or Fashion Weeks. His work gives voice to people without a platform, people too scared or quiet to speak for themselves. As Amy Rose remembered:

When I saw him perform, the number one message he had for the audience was to trust our convictions, and it came across as genuine and heartfelt, not self-help-y (I have a very low tolerance for “motivational” speeches). After a 15-minute monologue about disregarding anyone who tries to shut you down, he finished by saying, “The truth is inside you, and it always has been.” He was crying, and so was I—that bond between Kanye and the audience was like nothing I have ever felt, for real, because his belief in himself and in all of us was so palpable.

That’s the root of this conversation, really: It’s not just about Kanye West, the person, and it’s not just about the music or the clothes or the videos or the album art. It’s about pushing yourself to think harder—to be better—and to give your creations to the world and hope they follow that example and do the same. This is the truth at the heart of Kanye’s message. I’m so glad he’s never stopped challenging expectations in pursuit of his dreams, because his dogged insistence on seeing his artistic vision through has given the rest of us a new creative standard to aspire to, an ideal about which we can all say with certainty, “Yeezy taught me.” ♦


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  • maryjanesandconverse March 11th, 2014 7:53 PM

    this article is perfect ♥
    sums up all my feelings about yeezy

  • woahmeredith March 11th, 2014 8:39 PM

    So like for actual years now I’ve been considering getting “Yeezy taught me” tattooed on me somewhere, because Yeezy did teach me so much. Racism, Hip-hop, dreams, fashion, and I’m eternally grateful for his work. But then it also sounds like Yeezy taught me some other things, sexual things, in the context of the skit…. so maybe not?

  • tturnthenoiseon March 11th, 2014 9:26 PM

    TO BORROW WORDS FROM AMY ROSE I FEEL LIKE I’VE BEEN PUNCHED IN THE GUT IN THE BEST WAY POSSIBLE <3 <3 <3 thanks Rookie wowza I'm speechless. Excellent job, Brodie

  • sadie lidji March 11th, 2014 9:32 PM

    kanye 4eva and eva

  • socialspecial March 11th, 2014 10:22 PM

    Wow, hadn’t thought about him that way, really made me see him, his art and everything he stands for in a new light, thank for the different view in things rookie.

  • irismonster March 11th, 2014 11:31 PM

    yayyy (or should i say kanyay? hehe) i love this all so much. i was brought to kanye very recently by lorde and south park and will not ever go back. he really is a genius, i hate the fact that when i tell people i like kanye, they just assume i mean it in an ironic way. i don’t.

  • jamiesond March 12th, 2014 3:38 AM

    really a genuinely good read I started around 11 now it’s 230 am CT that’s crazy but It is true growing up you want to be great/famous/rich or whatever else but Kanye West and countless others wanted to make a name for themself and make a product/craft that they are happy with and make it something with character and essence and truth that all comes together into “dopeness”. (yeah i like this)

  • Aili March 12th, 2014 9:10 AM

    It’s difficult to form an opinion of him. Definitely a controversial artist. I think it’s great that he’s creative, speaks about racism and defends his dreams. But what disappoints me, which wasn’t mentioned in the article, is his use of fur. It’s really cool when people wear whatever makes them happy, but I don’t think it’s justified in the case of wearing fur for fashion. Art shouldn’t make animals suffer.

  • onlykhenzo March 12th, 2014 12:24 PM

    This has summed all of my feeling about Ye and even my internal struggle of ‘can I be a die hard fan girl but not like that he said this or did that’. I’d also never considered other perspectives of the ‘Imma let you finish’ incident of ’09.

    This roundtable could not have come at a better time. I’ve been feeling really uninspired or just disenchanted about the stuff I’ve been doing lately but this just granted me a sense of purpose.

    “… it was such a long road, a constant struggle, and a true labor of love to not only convince my peers and the public that I could be an artist, but to actually get that art out for the world to hear… I wake up every day trying to give something back to you that you can rock to and be proud of. Ten years later I am still the same kid from Chicago, still dreaming out loud, still banging on the door. The doors may be heavier, but I promise you WE WILL BREAK THEM.” @kanyewest, 10 Feb 2014 (ten year anniversary of The College Dropout) ~~~~~ so many feeeeeelllsss

  • the_smartorialist March 12th, 2014 2:43 PM

    “They classify, you know, my motivational speaking as, like, rants.”
    Kanye West

    YOU GUYS. I have been waiting for this article for forever. Kanye-loving feminists always.

  • xosabrinarose March 12th, 2014 4:14 PM

    This article is actually perfect. I LOVE Kanye so so much and this summed up why in the best way possible.

  • painting_the_roses_pink March 12th, 2014 4:46 PM

    110% I’m showing my bae this article! Kanye is his idol. He’s also wants to go into the music industry, he works so hard producing and mixing hes almost always in the studio. I liked Kanye’s music, but I’ve never really delved deep into researching him as an artist. Thank you so much for this article rookie <3

  • rhymeswithorange March 12th, 2014 7:14 PM

    Whenever I tell people I love Kayne they are always surprised.
    I will just have to tell them his music is “academic texts that deserve to be studied as key reference points about art, fashion, race, fame, architecture, film, technology, and music, all of which he speaks about frequently and brilliantly”- totally agree!
    Also agree that his use of women is not great, glad that was brought up.

  • amescs March 14th, 2014 4:12 AM


  • flocha March 14th, 2014 6:00 AM

    yesss I have only just got into Kanye recently (kinds late to this party haa) but I totally love his message and his music, and tbh whatever you think about him you can’t deny that the music world would be boring as hell without him

  • farawayfaerie March 14th, 2014 12:05 PM


    “There’s a psychology to success. I was reading all these biographies and watching documentaries about people who are successful. It seemed like the only thread amongst everybody is that unflinching, “Yes, I can do this and I am the best.” It’s a personal rhetoric that you can develop. Like, if you go and tell journalists, “I’m the future of music,” then people start printing that. So I’m just going to tell everyone I’m making the future of music. I’m going to force the situation to happen.”

    That’s exactly what Kanye’s doing, and people have been doing this for ages. Here Boucher even says that it’s the attitude every successful person needs, and yet Kanye is put into a ranting box of who does he think he is, it’s not his place to be successful