For better or worse (mostly worse) Kanye's Twitter feed has acted as a sort of ongoing bonus track to The Life of Pablo these past two weeks, a real-time director's commentary on his thought process around the album. His tweets have distracted us and given us insight, but even for Mr. West, the social media revelations of the past few hours have been remarkable.
On Saturday, he admitted that he's a staggering $53 million in personal debt, a number that might at first seem like the product of an unthinking Twitter rant but actually fits in line with statements he's given throughout the last year and change.
In Kanye's Yeezus-era interview with Jimmy Kimmel he first said that he was pouring his own money into his creative pursuits, and then in an interview with BET last year he said that he was $16 million in debt, a number that now feels like child's play compared to the $53 in baggage he's currently carrying. Could it be true? Not even MC Hammer could blow as much money as Kanye's made from music. Millions of albums sold, production for others and a thriving label may not buy you a bigger pool than Drake, but he's certainly not hurting. No, it's clear that all this debt has been piled up purely in the pursuit of fashion.
Ten years ago Kanye was furious that rap's gatekeeper's wouldn't let him in, now that he's conquered rap he's turned his fury towards the fashion gatekeepers that are locking him out. But fashion's refusal to bring him onboard isn't just philosophical, it's financial. Like a record label, a fashion company would be able to provide Kanye with the infrastructure he wants to mass produce a profitable clothing line: access to materials, factories, distribution, placement in stores, etc. He's so obsessed with the fashion infrastructure idea he's even rapping about it.
“Tell Adidas that we need a million in production. I done told y’all all I needed was the infrastructure.” - "Facts"
Kanye's so intent on making it in fashion he's hemorrhaging money trying to match established clothing brands, and while we don't have exact figures, it's clear that Yeezy clothing isn't exactly flying off the shelves. It's certainly not bringing in significant profit, if any profit. Fashion has obviously become Kanye's white whale. (The thing he's going to obsessively pursue to prove a point, even if it means his own destruction, for those who didn't pay attention during high school English class.)
That might help explain some of his recent moves around TIDAL, who might be paying Kanye an additional fee for extended exclusivity in addition to whatever he makes as a limited partner in the company. From Kanye's perspective it's undoubtedly a short-sighted move. By the time the album's more widely available most will either have downloaded TLOP through back channels, lost interest, or will hit that cancel button once their free trial ends and they start seeing that monthly TIDAL charge on their credit card. And from TIDAL's perspective the Yeezy bump is certainly welcome but equally short-sighted. Holding music hostage is hardly a recipe for long-term success. But from the perspective of a man $53 million in debt and a company watching Spotify and Apple Music pull further away every day, it may feel like a necessary move.
Kanye's not just depending on Jay Z's financial savvy to fund his creative endeavors, though, he's diversifying his portfolio by attempting to publicly shame Facebook founder and multi-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg into giving him one billion dollars.
It's not quite clear what 'Ye would do with the money, exactly, which is likely why Silicon Valley's movers and shakers aren't falling over themselves to write him a check. I won't pretend to know what goes on inside Mark Zuckerberg's mind, but it's easy to see why a data-driven entrepreneur would avoid funding a man whose business plan is to "make dope shit" and who had lost over $50 million so far making said dope shit. Kanye seems to want Zuckerberg to give him a blank check to make whatever he's currently inspired by, which would undoubtedly result in a cooler world, but it's hard to fault Zuckerberg for not pouring money into a man who might use that money to rap about bleached assholes and having sex with Taylor Swift.
Of course, there is one financial resource that Kanye hasn't tapped yet, or perhaps he's already tapping. Kim Kardashian's estimated to currently be worth $80 million, and while it's unclear how closely the two's finances are intermingled, Kanye's clearly not shy about claiming the profits from Kim's endeavors as his own. It's apparently a "we" situation.
"Plus Kimoji just shut down the app store, uh! / And we made a million a minute, we made a million a minute (We did)" - "Facts"
For the moment Kanye's financial troubles appear to be isolated to the fashion world, but a worse case scenario might see him refusing to let his fashion dreams die even as debt continues to pile up, and that in turn could have some serious implications for GOOD Music. Then again, maybe Kanye really will be able to harness his ultra light beams and take over the fashion industry, too. Right now, the trick is figuring out how to pay the bills with those ultra light beams, with or without Mark Zuckerburg.