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The Sneakers That Powered Kanye West’s Music

Kanye West x BAPE

For the past two decades, Kanye West's sneakers have often coincided with – or even paid homage to – the release of an album (like the BAPE collaboration of 2007). We take a look at the sneakers that have powered Ye’s vast music catalogue.

Kanye West x BAPE STA – The College Dropout

The ‘College Dropout’ BAPE STA was Kanye’s first sneaker to hit retail. Repping the iconic bear logo, and a colour scheme that paid dues to his album art, the design merged Kanye’s formative styling with his newfound fixation on Japanese streetwear. The BAPE STA returned to shelves when the Kanye-affiliated RSVP Gallery opened in 2009, but they’ve long since disappeared into collectors’ treasure troves.

Kanye West x Reebok S. Carter Low – The College Dropout

An odd detour in Kanye’s sneaker career, the S. Carter ‘College Dropout’ is a relic of JAY-Z’s forgettable Reebok collaboration series from 2003. He was the first non-athlete with a signature sneaker deal, and personally connected Kanye with the ‘Bok. The four colourways are all period-specific to Ye’s early colour palette. For whatever reason (good taste, presumably), all four shoes were cancelled, making these samples exceedingly rare. A few promo pairs, however, did make it out alive. According to urban legend, one lucky punter found them on the shelves at Sportie LA. Today, these anonymous Reeboks manage to look gaudy, bland and weird, so they’re strictly for Kanye completists, though resale prices remain surprisingly high.

Kanye West x Louis Vuitton – 808s & Heartbreak

Between 808s & Heartbreak and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye dropped the Louis Vuitton colab. It was peak Kanye. ‘Who do you know with two thumbs in their own Louis shoe?’ he asked rhetorically in an online video. (The answer was: ‘This guy!’) So enamoured with LVMH that he called himself the ‘Louis Vuitton Don’, Kanye likely regarded this project his crowning achievement. Of the three models, one was named for his music partner Mr. Hudson, another for his long-time barber and creative consultant Ibn Jasper, and the third for Yeezus himself. The pink and grey combo was a strong look, and while many sneakerheads baulked at the $1000 retail price, any resellers who ponied up on release day would now be very happy with their investment.

Air Yeezy 2 – Yeezus

Closing in on the release of Yeezus, Kanye West dropped one of his most coveted sneakers yet. The Yeezy 2 was built on the Air Tech Challenge II midsole, with a spinal heel that recalled Batman’s armoured suit. Egyptian symbols added mysticism, but if these Yeezys were godly, they were wholly Old Testament. Like Kanye at the time, the model was markedly more aggressive than anyone anticipated. When it dropped in 2014, the infamous ‘Red October’ rounded out the trilogy and set a new benchmark for desirability. Mooted as a peace offering from Nike, the release was too little too late – Kanye had already moved on to bigger and better things.

Yeezy BOOST 350 V2 – The Life of Pablo

As he did with The Life of Pablo, Kanye decided that just because his product was already on shelves it didn’t mean the evolutionary process was over. Unfazed by glittering awards and solid sales, he continued to tinker with the Yeezy BOOST 350 until he arrived on the V2, a remix that featured an elevated profile, burlier midsoles, and a new knit pattern that allowed for more nuanced colour ideation. The inaugural ‘Beluga 2.0’ gave the Yeezy line its first self-referential colour scheme, and the onslaught of releases that followed balanced limited hype against increased distribution. We’re not at a stage where everyone who wants Yeezys can have them, but if there’s one model that can make that grandiose plan hatch, it’s the BOOST 350 V2.

Yeezy 500 – Ye

The voluptuous Yeezy 500 arrived with one of the most simple and effective marketing campaigns in recent history. Porn stars, celebs, and digital influencers wearing Yeezy Season 6 apparel were shot paparazzi-style getting out of cars, exiting gas stations, and strolling LA streets. The 500, which featured prominently in the viral snaps, was a sight to behold. Lashings of suede and mesh sat above bulbous midsoles rounding out a rotund silhouette only Ye’s most devoted disciples could vibe on. Knowing this, Kanye made the ‘Super Moon Yellow’ version available only to those who also purchased an exclusive $760 apparel combo. Conversely, the ‘Blush’ 500 was available to anyone with a heartbeat and a credit card. According to Yeezy Mafia, more than 60,000 pairs were allotted to the States and Europe alone. Of course, 2018 was an epic year for Kanye in the musical production side of things, his eighth studio album Ye dropping in June, 2018.

Yeezy 700 V3 – Jesus is King

2019 was a holy, holy year for the Yeezy label. The neck-cranking Yeezy 700 V3 stomped into the zeitgeist alongside Kanye’s maiden gospel album, Jesus is King. Again blasting the sneaker and music industry with unrestrained creativity, Mr Ultralight Beam himself gifted a pair to DJ Khaled back in 2018 in a video shared to Kanye’s official Twitter account. It was the first time we laid eyes on the silhouette, the third iteration of Kanye West’s indomitable dad shoe seen in a starburst of extraterrestrial colourways since its debut. Manufactured with a bootie construction, the Yeezy 700 V3 routinely incorporates glow-in-the-dark RPU overlays alongside the PU encapsulated EVA midsoles.

Yeezy 450 – Donda

The slow-tease of Kanye West’s upcoming Donda album continues to draw a crowd on social media, the mercurial mastermind recently announcing a third livestream event with Apple Music. While the hype train for Kanye’s music stalls and steams in equal measure, Ye’s sneaker catalogue invariably metastasises, 2021 finally seeing the debut of the Yeezy 450. After being teased for three years, the extra-terrestrial silhouetted debuted in its inaugural ‘Cloud White’ colourway on March 4, 2021.

This article was originally published on August 20, 2021.

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