Kanye West is officially the richest Black man in the United States.
According to multiple media outlets, the 43-year-old rapper-producer is worth an estimated $6.6 billion, with over half coming from his clothing and sneaker line Yeezy. West’s billionaire status became public back in April of 2020.
For those who were once die-hard fans of the “Through the Wire” rapper, this is a bittersweet achievement. We want to celebrate Kanye’s financial conquest as a Black man in a society that sees very few men of color reach an illustrious economic standing.
But, his tumultuous marriage to now ex-wife Kim Kardashian, controversial remarks on slavery, and his semi-naive support of former president Donald Trump are still wounds that haven’t closed for many of his supporters — especially within the Black community.
Examining Kanye’s metamorphosis into Hip-Hop’s boss billionaire requires looking at the many demographics and platforms that helped him get there. They each may not have been directly responsible for Kanye’s fortune, but endearing himself to these specific groups expanded his influence and visibility.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the things Kanye West used to his advantage to help him assume “Power” as America’s richest Black man.
For most of 2018, Kanye was the personification of the Black friend that bigots mention when called out for being racist. His relationship with former President Trump saw one of Black culture’s most defiant and profound voices become a recruiting mascot for Republicans looking to sway Black voters to join their party.
Watching West praise Trump for being a great leader while wearing a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap was an image that devastated and disturbed many.
As sickening as Kanye’s man-crush on Trump was, it did give him access to an audience that might not have even heard of him before making his feelings for the 45th president public. Right-wing talking heads praised West for his bravery and intelligence, and it allowed him the platform to begin his candidacy for his friend’s job as commander-in-chief.
Kanye has always made mention of God in some capacity in his music. He asked God to shield him from Satan on “Jesus Walks” and declared himself a deity on the aptly named Yeezus album. However, Ye’s connection to religion and spirituality has lately been under scrutiny.
His Sunday Services walk the line between a free space for devoted worship and expression and a charismatic cult with a talented performing arts program. West and his congregation’s non-traditional approach to Sunday Morning church is another attempt at trying to curry favor with a group that has a monolithic way of thinking that can be easily manipulated by showing the slightest interest in their faith.
Kanye’s newfound devoutness to Christianity may indeed be sincere, but the release of his gospel album Jesus Is King felt more like another one of his musical phases than a quest for spiritual salvation.
Questions surrounding Kanye’s mental state emerged after the death of his mother. His erratic behavior started to become more frequent after her passing and soon became a common occurrence. Kanye was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2016. But instead of becoming a knowledgeable advocate helping others cope with their mental illness, he has dismissed and invalidated it.
In his bizarre interview with Charlamagne Tha God, Kanye opens up about his mental health struggles. He feels that his mental illness is an enhancement and not a debilitation. He labeled his manic episodes as “breakthroughs” and not “breakdowns,” and therapy for him is talking to people closest to him with an emotional bias rather than a certified professional. This is a very dangerous example to set for others dealing with the disorder.
Kanye’s take on mental health is embedded in his intentions to appear “normal” while not tending to his mental faculties accordingly. Embracing his illness is courageous and inspiring, but it sends the wrong message to those who share his affliction and need serious help.
Kanye acquiring a billion-dollar fortune through his Yeezy line is a feat that many in Hip-Hop who have had clothing lines wish they could’ve accomplished. He is now the household name in footwear and fashion he’s been trying to be for years. But Yeezy’s success is contingent upon the loyal hypebeasts who patron SoHo pop-up shops who know everything about fashion but don’t know how to dress.
Aside from maybe a few pairs of sneakers, the Yeezy line is a complete abomination. The dystopian futuristic clothing isn’t something you can wear anywhere except when you’re running errands on laundry day. Kanye’s fame and notoriety are the reasons a kid from East New York would even consider purchasing a $300 shirt with the torso cut out. The sad part is that Kanye knows this and willfully profits off it..
Kanye’s meteoric rise helped bring long-overdue attention to the Chicago Hip-Hop scene. Not only did he inspire a group of upcoming artists like Lupe Fiasco and Chance The Rapper, but he also brought recognition to overlooked and under-appreciated emcees like Twista and Common. His hometown pride was one of the things fans in and out of Chicago loved about Kanye.
But in 2018, amidst his MAGA meltdown, Kanye was called out for his abandonment of the youth charity started to honor his late mother called Donda’s House by his friend and longtime collaborator Rhymefest. Rhymefest revealed that West wasn’t contributing financially to the organization and forgot about the place that helped him become a superstar.
In September of that year, West came back to his hometown and claimed that he was never leaving and that he and Chance are working on a new album. There have since been no updates on his permanent return to The Windy City or his joint album with Chance.
Many in Hip-Hop didn’t know how to perceive Kanye West when he debuted as a rapper. Rappers were either former proponents of illegal street activities or skilled lyricists looking to dazzle crowds with wordplay and not flashy personas. But somehow, Kanye found a balance between the two while ushering in a new production style that swept the genre.
As Kanye’s career evolved, so did his intentions when it came to Hip-Hop. Kanye went from an arrogant yet loveable underdog to an egotistical prima donna. After obtaining all of the things he once rapped about, Kanye seems to be more content with being the epitome of success than the voice for the average Joe.
Kanye’s days as a college dropout in a Louis Vuitton knapsack made us believe in ourselves and challenge the establishment. Sadly his disconnect from the culture and fascination with status has made him the thing he wanted to be all along: the richest rapper in the world.