Kanye West is without any shadow of a doubt, single handedly, the biggest superstar in the last 20 years. He’s dominated the music and fashion industries since his entry, never faltering and managing to keep millions of eyes captivated – even through all his ridiculous antics. He’s often lauded as crazy, labelled as insane, and villainized by the media, but even then his fandom has stood true, leading Ye to be a central figure in today’s culture. While he wrote the lyric “No one man should have all that power” over a decade ago, his power level has skyrocketed since, truly cementing himself as a timeless, multi-hyphenated, global superstar.
Most recently, Kanye has made waves in the music industry through the release (or lack thereof) of his newest studio album DONDA, which broke news as he filled an Atlanta stadium with fans, with 24 hours notice, without any advertisements, purely by word of mouth – that’s power. In the fashion world, His eponymous label YEEZY is just as successful, consistently pushing boundaries and making headlines in a way only Kanye can, while collaborations with the likes of adidas and GAP are as groundbreaking as ever. In the latter example, Kanye’s GAP partnership has been revealed to have surged the GAP stock price by 40%, and also have gained the brand around $30 million of free advertisement. We thought it best that we take a look back at some defining moments from Kanye’s career; it’s simply impossible to get them all in one place, so we won’t even try.
KANYE’S FIRST COACHELLA – 2006
In 2006, at 29 years of age, Kanye was following up on a second Grammy win with Late Registration, with Gold Digger and Touch the Sky truly becoming classic anthems. In Kanye fashion, he was announced for the Coachella lineup a mere 48 hours before the show, performing on main stage in a massive moment not only for the Chi-town rapper, but also Coachella, marking a shift away from being a purist rock festival and becoming a mixing pot for every and any genre. Ye typically attracted the “biggest crowd so far”, with his set including hits from his two debutant albums.
LIVE AT THE BRIT AWARDS WITH STORMZY AND SKEPTA – 2014
Debuting a new song All Day at the 2015 Brit awards is a big enough headline, but the manner in which Ye performed resulted in a massive butterfly effect. Behind him, a crowd of UK rappers, dancers and legends joined Ye for the performance, with Skepta, Stormzy and more on stage. Both artists later went on to reference the performance: Stormzy’s legendary track Shut Up features a lyric “Onstage at the BRITs, I’m a backup dancer” as part of a larger scheme on rap beef, while Skepta’s song Shut Down features an intro wherein a woman complains of “A bunch of young men all dressed in black dancing extremely aggressively on stage – It made me feel so intimidated and it’s just not what I expect to see on primetime TV”. This later went on to be a source of controversy when Skepta performed the song a year later only to be muted by the same primetime TV channels that received the complaints.
KANYE & TYLER, THE CREATOR’S RUNNING RACE – 2011
A perfect illustration of Ye’s eccentric, fun-loving attitude, is his relationship with Tyler, the Creator. Tyler is (or was) known to be a loudmouth, reckless and fun, often being called “the complete opposite of Kanye”, who is frequently demonised or mocked for being deadpan and not smiling. He has his moments, though – check out a foot race between the two rap heavyweights below. The race took place after their performances at the 2011 Coachella festival, which saw Ye perform My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in a big comeback moment after 808’s and Heartbreak which had been criticised heavily and called a fail.
THE LIFE OF PABLO TOUR’S FLOATING STAGE – 2016
The Life of Pablo was a turbulent time for Kanye, with the dark album being released alongside a slew of criticism from media outlets questioning Kanye’s mental stability. In one of his most famous set designs ever, Ye’s entire performance came from above, on a large floating stage that moved around the arena as he performed. This spawned many viral moments, including one where a fan climbed on shoulder to grab the stage and try get to Kanye’s level – Ye appears to push him off from a distance, with many joking that he used the force to send him back down into the crowd.
KIDS SEE GHOSTS @ CAMP FLOG GNAW – 2018
Kanye’s relationship with Kid Cudi led the duo to complete a full collaborative album together, calling themselves Kids See Ghosts and producing music featuring a perfect blend of their two cultivated styles. At Tyler, the Creator’s Camp Flog Gnaw festival in 2018. Ye and Cudi performed in a floating glass box a a callback to Kanye’s aforementioned TLOP stage design. The 45-minute set (below) contains anthems from the fan favourite album as well as classics from each superstar like Pursuit of Happiness.
RUNAWAY, LIVE IN SYDNEY – 2014
Runaway is one of Kanye’s most recognisable songs, and here we see the artist messing around and having fun playing it live. Kanye’s style is also notable here, with the rapper donning a (Courtney MC designed, I believe?) crystal mask which went on to take the fashion world by storm.
A RETURN TO COACHELLA WITH MJ’S P.Y.T – 2011
Not only did Coachella 2011 see Ye race Tyler, the Creator, but it also birthed one of the best performances we’ve ever seen from the artist. In a 90-minute masterclass of audience captivation and entertainment, Kanye absolutely kills the performance, with each and every song, stage design, and outfit change being a case study of excellence and dominance. The pick of the bunch is debatable, but for us it’s the mix from Flashing Lights to Good Life with a hint of Michael Jackson’s Pretty Young Thing in there – it’s absolutely masterful and one of my favourite Kanye moments of all time.
A FULL CIRCLE MOMENT WITH VIRGIL ABLOH – 2018
Kanye’s entrenchment into the fashion world sees him create with YEEZY, GAP, and a host of other big names, but we can’t talk about Kanye in fashion without mentioning his long term friend and collaborator, Virgil Abloh. The duo met in ‘09 as interns at Fendi (yes, Kanye did an internship in 2009 with Fendi) and have since been close friends. At Virgil’s debut fashion show for Louis Vuitton’s SS19 collection, we saw the duo together afterwards in tears in an emotional, full circle moment for arguably the two biggest names in the fashion and music world right now.
NI**AS IN PARIS, IN PARIS – 2012
What is perhaps the most “Kanye” Kanye moment is the live performance of “Ni**as in Paris”, in Paris, which was performed a ridiculous 11 times in a row. The concert had ended already, but the crowd kept wanting more, and Jay & Ye were keen to impress. The duo performed the cult classic song 11 times and not a single soul left the arena. That is superstardom – I’m praying for a Watch the Throne 2.
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See also: WILL KANYE PULL A KANYE OR IS DONDA REALLY DROPPING SOON?