The prodigal son of pop music is so popular that he essentially embodies all that is pop music. Try explaining to someone how an artist could inspire their own currency. Not just a cheesing face lathed onto some recycled denim, a full-blown Medium of Exchange. But there you have it; CoinYe, a meme-worthy cryptocurrency that was inevitably axed by West’s militia of lawyers. Currency, film, music, and populist fashion. In 2015, the board is set for hip-hop’s biggest and most controversial success to make moves. What comes next in West’s artistic career, however, is a still a mystery. Without a confirmed release date, the pied piper of viral rap even changed his upcoming record's title from So Help Me God to SWISH, adding on Twitter that he "might change it again but that's the name now." The parade of media that surrounds this record has also been of note, as Kanye's numerous magazine spreads and web headlines have him set up to revoke previous brand loyalties and to cast himself as the "role model" we once knew.

Tired of being tugged around and growing ever impatient, we sought to explore the prolific artist's past brand endorsements and, with the help of some friends, make our own predictions about who Ye might rep on the lyrics of SWISH.

Tracking and forecasting the brands in Kanye West's albums. Image 1.

Ross Delvin


Tracking and forecasting the brands in Kanye West's albums. Image 2.

Lena Hawkins




Brand predictions for




Samuel Muglia
trend forecaster at Macy’s:

Off the top of my head, I would include #JeremyScott/Moschino #PublicSchool #Tesla #OculusRift #TraderJoe's #CarnivalCruise #Tiffany's #BonMarché #Merci #CorsoComo #HoodbyAir

Eli Lehrhoff
sound artist and Kanye scholar:

#Hennesy #Givenchy #AlternativeApparel #Adidas #Walmart (to make a comparison to the common man) #Nike (to drop the Air Yeezy’s) #Carhartt #BetseyJohnson #GuoPei #SangBleu

Sarah Owen
trend forecaster at WGSN:

#Balmain #Adidas #LouisVuitton #Coachella #ElonMusk #HediSlimane #CalvinKlein

Jónó Mí Ló,
artist and musician:

#Jerusalem #Adidas #Apple #Christianity #BlackIsraelites #MilitaryGear


#AppleWatch #HoloLens #AdidasSuperstar #Avengers #DjiPhantom #MarinaAbramovic #SmartWater #Samsung, #WholeFoods #YS #Tesla #Snapchat #Hasselblad #Tesla #Ello (it's like the Tidal for Facebook) #LabgrownFur #Huawei #Xiaomi #KehindeWiley
#YungLenox #TheWitcher3

Tracking and forecasting the brands in Kanye West's albums. Image 3.

The brand. The symbol.

West's career is characterized most by acting like a child, a “rebellious adolescent” permanently trying to subvert what he thinks is expected of him. Popular psychologist Dr. Rachel Kitson links this to Erikson’s theory of “role confusion,” where a young person discovers “who they are” through a process of trial and error. Erikson’s stages of development are particularly applicable to West, starting with “Initiative vs. Guilt”. Prone to outburst, contradiction, and eclectic shifts in opinion, his music reveals a passion for high risk, high reward endeavors, a trait that reveals why his critical favor has even surpassed that of Jay Z, the Floyd Mayweather of rap (minus the battery). He burst onto the scene as a powerhouse producer with five tracks on Jay Z’s The Blueprint. refers to it as “the album that began to turn Jay Z from a rapper into the rapper.” They sarcastically add: “some dude from Chicago with a funny name did a lot of the beats.”

For “Izzo,” West pitched up a sample of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” making a melody that ingeniously stuck to the tip of everyone’s tongue. Reimagining hits became West’s signature style when he first started peddling out beats, an easy way for him to guarantee himself a sale. Jay Z signed him to Roc-A-Fella, who released College Dropout.

Over 100 brands was mentioned by Kayne in his songs.


The brands of
College Dropout




#StarterCoats #streetwear #MarcJacobs #AirForceOnes #Rolex #CartierPasha #JacobAraboJewelry #Gap (worked there in high school, expresses desire to close the loop) #Beck “My teacher said I’se a loser, I told her why don’t you kill me” #Hennessy #RalphPoloBear #LouisBackpack #RocAFellaChain #GeorgeForemanGrills #BossSP404


Despite his affiliation to the Roc, it was evident West was an individual, with few peers who shared his vision. West’s style sense reflected his subversion of popular soul tropes – instead of sports jerseys, he repped the Polo Bear with his baggy jeans and Air Force Ones. With this he often wore a Louis Vuitton backpack, connecting his aspirations of wealth to his college days, where West clearly felt his potential was squandered, and his intellect unrecognized. He knew a pink polo shirt would allow him to connect with a larger audience, but the significance to his Dropout look laid in his rejection of hip-hop’s “rulebook.” From the start, West knew that hip-hop would stagnate if it didn’t progress.

Hip-hop was conservative and weary of how its success of the genre could become capitalism’s gimp (spoiler alert: it totally did). This affinity for high society permeated rap music, and metastasized over the course of the 2000s into a cancerous haze of empty braggadocio.


The brands of
Late Registration




#Gucci #KFC #GeicoCarInsurance #Tyco #Hyundai #DaytonRims #Ellesse #ChevyCaprice #GilScottHeron #Arm&Hammer (cooking crack) #JesusPieces (with Jacob the jeweler) #Patron #Cristal #Chandon #Coogi #RubyTuesdays #PastelBandana (his own brand) #LandRover #TacoBell #SpikeJonze #HypeWilliams


The Jesus piece and Nikes remained by the release of Late Registration, but the ivy-league casual uniform was swapped for an increasingly ridiculous onslaught of suits and sunglasses. “Ultra Travolta” is how he later described it. Product placement on that album was implemented carefully. There’s Gucci, LV, and Pastelle, Ye’s abandoned streetwear project. References to high fashion and expensive labels were still devices of a conscious commentary on rap and its vices. In this stage, West’s musical successes and experiments are juxtaposed against his thirst for knowledge, acceptance, and the ensuing media debacles that arise as a result.


The brands of




#TakashiMurakami #DaftPunk #Delorean #ChristianDior #Bape (Kanye collab shoes) #CadillacCTSV #Ferrari #Lawrysseasonedsalts #TrystNightclub #Prada #Reebok #Bacardi #Corona #NoDoz #Hermes #HugoBss #Tudor #Goyard #MercedesG500 


With Graduation, West triumphed rap as a genre that could comment on its obsessions and aspirations when he competed for Neilson Soundscan’s top spot with 50 Cent. He appeared in A Bathing Ape’s 2009 lookbook. Full-face zips with cartoonish skulls, heavy G-Shock watches, and primary colors marked Graduation’s “Superflat” influences. Takashi Murakami did the album artwork and also coined the Superflat movement, which decrees the cultural divide between high and low as having “flattened.” Ye would flaunt Dior and Fendi, and Hermes, but also sported a G-Shock when he guest-edited Complex Magazine, an endeavor Complex editor Peter Rueben described as putting the “mic in micromanager.” This issue is one of the first instances in which West was given creative control to meditate on his influences and endorse his contemporaries. Reuben described him as “seriously hands-on” and spoke to West’s attention to detail and work ethic, which would only develop over the course of his career. In a Spike Jonze video of West and Hype Williams, that same attention to detail, as well as an inflated but misunderstood sense of self, is clearly visible.

Expensive and popular streetwear brands like Bape, LRG, and Supreme – coming from both the Japanese and American camps – received success in these years, combining the bold colors and adolescent imagery of youthful rebellion in the city with high art. Takashi used his animated characters in many mass-produced collaborations, a trend which continued with KAWS, who started in graffiti, but moved on to a number of high profile brand collaborations and designed the artwork for Kanye’s next album, 808s and Heartbreak. Graduation represented the height of his career at this particular arc, the shutter shades fad (designed by Alain Mikli), and his increasingly prominent role as a rap tastemaker. He abandoned soul samples, and began to embrace collaboration, notably with Daft Punk.


The brands of  
808s and Heartbreaks




NO name drops except for one mention of the standards: #Gucci #LV #YSL (and how they cannot bring you happiness)
#Roland808 #Auto-tune


Kanye’s next album was an awkward stage. In the face of crippling personal loss, West inadvertently broke the rap mold by singing over new wave beats and eschewing samples almost entirely on 808s and Heartbreaks. Except for one verse, there’s zero product placement on 808s. As a rapper who chooses his brands to make a point socially, or to establish a bond between himself and a fellow creator, this signifies West as abandoning any influence in favor of introspection. West proclaims, there's no "Gucci I can buy, No Louis Vitton to put on, no Y.S.L that they could sell," before remarking on his getaway car, the Benz. 808s was hesitantly received at first, but the use of Auto-Tune and the Roland-808 drum machine catapulted both products back into the music market, where today they remain, gleefully oversaturated.

The album reveals an emotional frailty that lay behind an artist on a power trip with delusions of grandeur. Erikson identifies this as the “Industry vs. Inferiority” stage, where a child’s realization of their abilities is set up against their inability to capitalize on them, or to be recognized for them. West battled to ensure he was ever-present and ever-relevant, collaborating with Louis Vuitton and Nike on an extremely successful shoe line, and showing up to every fashion show of the year decked to the nines in custom suits and Goyard briefcases, with posse in tow.

Inferiority and an obsession with the idea that hindrances to his success were due to his race drove West to play the character many people still see today – an overrated egotist. But there is intense fear betrayed behind West’s Golzinne glower. Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. Fears every artist needs to conquer in their own way.


The brands of
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy




#LamboMercy #Serato #PheobePhilo #ChryslerLeBaron (also called The Phantom) #Armani #Vegas #GreyGoose #Malibu #GuiseppeZanotti #Spalding #Cheerios #MTV #Prada #UnitedAirlines #DiorHomme #Coogi #TheOscars #MPC2000 #AstonMartinDB9  #LamboAventador #Paris #JohnMichaelBasquiat #GeorgeCondo


West returned triumphant from a self-imposed vacation (exile is a bit melodramatic) to Hawaii. He cleaned up, and adopted monochrome suits designed by Philip Lim in black and red. This has been called his “rosewood movement,” in which Kanye attempts to repair his public image and reestablish himself as a role model. He addressed his colossal ego and put his nay-sayers to shame on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It used every skill he possesses: his sampling prowess, his clever sense of self-deprecating humor, his awareness of social issues, and his noted ability to get the very best out of the artists he works with. For the artwork, he enlisted one of his favorite painters, George Condo, who is known for depicting scenes nightmarish and impressionistic.  

The music critic Ann Powers addressed a prominent theme of “the exhausted cry of one…fueled by consumer culture’s relentless buzz, but finally left unsatisfied," and it is here that West begins to become disillusioned with the fashion and art world he once worshipped. Although the film for “Runaway” was well-received as an experiment in musical film, West’s womenswear debut in Paris was not, and he was discouraged from any further fashion endeavors by fashion’s elitist in-crowd. This album is according to West, the final LP in what he considers his “old period.” His personally sense of style was current with his runway line, and featured rich leather and flowing cuts of black fabric. This is Kanye trying to emulate the designers he loves, and subsequently being rejected for it. Both MBDTF and Yeezus see Kanye struggle in what Erikson describes as “Identity vs. Role Confusion”; the most important formative stage of a child’s life, and West’s period of artistic anarchy. Here is where he began to cultivate his own aesthetic. The SNL performance for “Power” is a good example; austere and unforgettable: an all-white stage, resembling a crib, or the belly of a coffin, with Kanye West and his Horus chain in the foreground and his “chorus” at his flank.


The brands of




#Trojancondoms #Tron #VirgilAbloh #StarWars #SKS (rifle) #RangeRover #Pyrex (also by Abloh) #ChristianLouboutin #Instagram #iPhone #Forever21 #FightClub #Corolla #Blackberry #Bentley #AlexanderWang #Maybach #711 #VanessaBeecroft


The entire Yeezus tour was equally unforgettable, mostly due to controversial rants and outbursts. West the perfectionist would often restart songs multiple times for arbitrary reasons, and break into long-winded diatribes about his many enemies in the popiverse. On the other hand, the elaborate staging for the Yeezus tour was both a triumph for West’s theatrical impulses – there was a Greek chorus, a Yeti, Jesus, and an array of allegorical devices – and for his design aspirations. West fully committed to Margiella’s aesthetic of anonymity, allowing himself to be hidden behind masks fantastical and over-the-top. Artists have tried on multiple occasions to let “the music speak” by hiding behind masks, with varying degrees of success, but the Yeezy tour saw West dismantling himself as a self-idolizing megalomaniac, a consumerist, and a man of extreme pride. It may have been all for the sake of the show, but since then, Kanye advanced towards a new sense of artistic maturity.

As West navigated the critical polarization of Yeezus, he constructed a new identity, one that would reply to a request to work with Louis Vuitton, the namesake of backpack rap, with a firm “no.” Gregory Holt, an expert on branding and consumerism, attributes the most recent power shift in branding to social networkers:

The biggest shift in branding has been the growing dominance of social media. Entertainment brands (not only musicians but actors, sports stars etc) have thrived.  And so it makes good sense that the most ambitious entertainers are leveraging their phenomenal cultural power to launch a variety of businesses. The big consumer marketing companies, on the other hand, have no idea how to evolve their branding models to work in digital culture. So, as a desperate default, they end up relying more and more (and spending more and more) to ride piggyback on entertainer brands ("properties" as they call them).  I don't think the commercial brands get any kind of return on these massive investments.  So these deals aren't going to last.




The future



Brand predictions

Samuel Muglia
trend forecaster at Macy’s:

Off the top of my head, I would include #Jeremy Scott/Moschino #Public School #Tesla #Oculus Rift

Eli Lehrhoff
sound artist and Kanye scholar:

#Hennesy #Givenchy #Alternative Apparel #Adidas #Walmart (to make a comparison to the common man) #Nike (to drop the Air Yeezy’s) #Carhartt #Betsey Johnson #Guo Pei #Sang Bleu

Sarah Owen
trend forecaster at WGSN:

#Balmain #Adidas #Louis Vuitton #Coachella #Elon Musk #Hedi Slimane #Calvin Klein

Jónó Mí Ló,
artist and musician:

#Jerusalem #Adidas #Apple #Christianity #Black Israelites #Military Gear


Jian Deleon, deputy style editor for Complex Media, sees West as a floodgate, through which high fashion can be diffused into the mainstream.

Kanye West is in the stage of his creative career where he wants to be a luxury brand. He wears a lot of clothing by Haider Ackermann, performed at the Fondation Louis Vuitton during Paris Fashion Week last season, where he debuted his "ALL DAY" music video directed by Oscar winner Alexander McQueen, and recently showed up with Kim Kardashian to the Met Gala where they both wore custom Roberto Cavalli by Peter Dundas. On the one hand, he lives in a very exclusive world, but his whole career has been trying to bring that level of taste to everybody. It's why he's working with Adidas, why he worked with Riccardo Tisci to design album covers, it's a way of making something more accessible without necessarily watering it down. He's positioning himself as the conduit.

Whatever the avenue, 2015 will be the year Kanye fully saturates the market with his artistic philosophy. Every form of physical brand promotion will be secondary to West’s message, which is positive reinforcement to those who wish to diffuse artistic sensibility and emotion throughout society, and vehement negation of anyone who stands in his way. His new album may be a half-assed affair with so much focus going into apparel, but it will be a hit. It won’t win him Album of the Year, and Ye will get chafed. But I have faith in the stability of his foundation with Adidas, his fellow designers, and G.O.O.D Music. He’ll recognize his duty as a role model and father, and continue to reinforce his message of artistry and individualism in his music. The only difference will be onstage is not a boy, nor a young man, scared, angry, and defiant, but a grown man or the makings of a grown man, who wears his heart in his chest. Not on his sleeve. Or nailed to a cross.