If anyone ever questioned Kanye West’s desire to be a prominent figure in the fashion world, they certainly don’t now. After a ranting interview with Zane Lowe followed by a Twitter feud and then dialogue with Jimmy Kimmel, West’s very intense relationship with fashion has taken center stage. The truth is, though, the self-proclaimed Louis Vuitton Don with the “couture level flow” has always wanted recognition for his sartorial skills. Dating back to his debut a decade ago, fashion has been one of Yeezy’s most rapped about subject matters. Here, we offer up 20 of the best fashion-inspired lines from Kanye West’s music.
“Yeezy season approaching
Fuck whatever y’all been hearing
Fuck what- fuck whatever y’all been wearing
A monster about to come alive again”
Within the first seconds of Yeezus, Kanye makes it clear that he’s not just frustrated about music but about fashion as well, kicking off the biggest motivator behind the album. Essentially a “fuck you” to established fashion designers who don’t recognize he’s among the best. Kanye reminds everyone that not only is all other music irrelevant when he’s around, all other fashion is as well.
“Am I shallow ‘cause all my clothes designer?
Dressed smart like a London bloke, before he speak his suit bespoke
And you thought he was cute before
Look at this pea coat, tell me he’s broke”
Sneaking in a cheeky guest verse on Estelle’s number one UK hit, Kanye puts down a rival suitor like only he can—comparing the other guy’s lacking fashion sense to his own expensive style. Kanye is far from the first rapper to rhyme about his clothes. But can you ever remember another rapper bragging about his pea coat?
“There is no Gucci I can buy
There is no Louis Vuitton to put on
There is no YSL that they could sell
To get my heart out of this hell
And my mind out of this jail”
There is something both ridiculous and incredibly sad about these lyrics. The fact that “Pinocchio Story” is a live freestyle closing the morose 808s & Heartbreak, this line has little filter, giving insight on how important fashion is to Kanye. Even when mourning the death of his mother and the loss of his fiancé, he can’t help but reference his love for designer clothes.
“Spend your whole life trying to get that ice
On a Polo rugby it looks so nice
How can something so wrong make me feel so right?”
One of the more politically charged lines about fashion, Kanye suggests on this Late Registration track that there is a disconnect between the desire for fashionable things and the moral implications of wearing conflict diamonds. If nothing else, West has always been a socially conscious artist, and in this lyric he reconsiders one of his passions.
“For my theme song
My leather black jeans on
My ‘by any means’ on
Pardon, I’m getting my scream on”
Believe it or not, this actually isn’t the first time Kanye references both his jeans and Malcolm X within the same line. In a fit of anger, the song was supposedly recorded following Hedi Slimane’s refusal to allow Kanye attend any other shows other than his own at last year’s Fashion Week in Paris. By mentioning the most memorable line from Malcolm X’s most famous speech, along with the leather jeans that have become Kanye’s go-to style choice, West intertwines his desire to be respected as a fashion designer despite his rapper persona.
“As soon as I got salad I spent it all on dressin’
French to be exact, that Balmain was impressive
Hedi Slimane leathers”
Kanye often blurs the line between clever and ridiculous, but his wordplay is bitingly humorous here. Kanye has the audacity to rhyme Balmain with Hedi Slimane on this G.O.O.D. Fridays cut. Just to emphasize the absurdity of the name-dropping on this song, Kanye also demands, “take off that Givenchy and let’s get raunchy.” Maybe Slimane was less than flattered about the mention?
“So yeah, at the Grammys I went ultra Travolta
Yeah, that tuxedo might have been a little Guido
But with my ego I can stand there in a Speedo
And be looked at like a fucking hero”
If half of looking good is about confidence, then Kanye has no excuse to ever look bad. Graduation, his third album, is where West first started to adopt his current fashion sense. Here he offers a slight critique on his past sartorial decisions, but explains that with his ego he pull off any fashion faux pas. Just to reiterate, he then goes on to say he’s “Hugo’s Boss.”
“’What you doing in the club on a Thursday?’
She say she only here for her girl birthday
They ordered champagne but still look thirsty
Rock Forever 21 but just turned thirty”
Kanye ends Yeezus with a soulful throwback, and keeping with the mood, he gives a classic Yeezy fashion reference. Rather than his more recent vitriol-filled lines, West harkens back to his older, lighter style. Known to care about women’s fashion just as much as his own clothes (he’s been trying to launch his own women’s line), Kanye puts down a woman who won’t grow up by implying that she probably shouldn’t be wearing Forever 21 duds at the more mature age of 30.
“My jacket kind of fresh, bright red
And as usual, my pants tight-threaded
It seems like everybody dress tight now
And I just want my credit”
Kanye’s guest verses are usually fairly lightweight affairs, but this one for electronic duo N.A.S.A is among the best of them, and it never grows tired. (Unfortunately it comes on a track that made close to zero impact radio-wise.) West reminds us that back when rappers wore baggy clothes, his jeans were tight and fitted. Ever the trendsetter, the rest of the game has understandably followed suit.
“I’m like the fly Malcolm X, buy any jeans necessary
Detroit Red cleaned up”
Here’s the other time Kanye referenced his jeans and Malcolm X in the same line. Sometimes his best lines are the simplest — so sly that you almost miss how funny they are the first time around. Only Kanye would ever twist Malcolm X’s most memorable speech into a wordplay about buying jeans, all while arguing that he is the modern day equivalent of the civil rights leader, only with better clothes. It’s arrogant and somewhat troublesome, but still engaging.
“I mean my whole team about to smash the streets
The Phillip Lim remind ‘em that it’s Fashion Week
And the weather wasn’t barely hot
Did I mention that the sweater was a Jeremy Scott?”
More grade-A name-dropping here from Mr. West in the G.O.O.D Fridays title track. Basically, Kanye wears Phillip Lim and Jeremy Scott at Fashion Week while you probably have never even heard of those names. While Dark Twisted Fantasy contains few fashion references, Kanye’s run of free releases leading up to the album, essentially Twisted Fantasy b-sides, feature some of his most hilariously explicit mentions. For example, see “Christian Dior Denim Flow” where Ye spends his 16-bar verse naming every high-end fashion model he wants to get with.
“Doing clothes, you would have thought I had help
But they wasn’t satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself”
Perhaps the most powerful line on his most controversial song, Kanyes feeds off the frustration of his lack of acceptance within the fashion world, Kanye notes that he’s a talented designer, as seen by his highly successful Nike Yeezys and APC collection, but the established designers still won’t accept him, juxtaposing his experience with shocking slavery imagery. West goes on to tackle broader issues about the state of race today in this Yeezus centerpiece, but it all comes back to how Kanye has himself admitted that he’s a new slave to fashion, “spending everything on Alexander Wang.” He loves it, but he hates how the industry has treated him.
“So if the devil wear Prada
Adam, Eve wear nada
I’m in between but way more fresher”
Biblical imagery has always been a part of Kanye’s music, but at first glance this is just another funny brag, tying in a pop culture reference to The Devil Wears Prada. But not unlike his recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel, Kanye often vacillates between articulate and clumsy while revealing a deeper truth. Here, Kanye knows he falls somewhere in between good and evil, and he associates the materialism of high fashion with the devil. Keep in mind “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” was released in 2007, before Kanye became a fashion icon.
“Dinner with Anna Wintour, racing with Anja Rubik
I told you muthafuckas it was more than the music
In the projects one day, to Project Runway”
Over a year before Yeezus and the Zane Lowe interview, Kanye hinted in the leak of this Cruel Summer track that he was pissed off with the fashion world. It’s even the first song to feature the ad-lib screams later heard on “Black Skinhead.” While Kanye name-checks another pair of high fashion players here, it is more of a verification of his credentials as a designer than a brag, followed by the frustrated statement that he has always been about more than just music. Ye is arguing that his push into the fashion world isn’t just a celebrity whim. In case you didn’t catch his point, Kanye repeatedly gives his most straightforward fashion put down on record: “Don’t talk about style ‘cause I’ll embarrass you. Talking ‘bout clothes? I’ll muthafuckin embarrass you.”
“Call him Kwa-li or Kwe-li, I put him on songs with Jay-Z
I’m the Gap like Banana Republic and Old Navy
And oooh, it comes out sweeter than old Sadie”
Back before he became a household name, the rap world didn’t really know what to do with Kanye. He didn’t fit the popular gangster image of the time and he wasn’t exactly underground, either. Kanye originally made a name for himself by selling his beats, and here on the closer to The College Dropout, he references how he bridged the gap between two worlds, bringing together Jay-Z and the indie Talib Kwali in a clever nod to the three clothing stores that are all part of the same company. (Bonus reference: West used to work at a Gap in high school.)
“You don’t see just how wild the crowd is?
You don’t see just how fly my style is?
I don’t see why I need a stylist
When I shop so much I can speak Italian”
Sometimes Kanye doesn’t need a reason to rap about fashion. He just likes it that much. Graduation is by far West’s most feel-good album, and here West carries that celebratory tone with one of his most playful fashion boasts. Though this isn’t the deepest line ever, it’s classic Kanye — quick, funny, and it stays with you. Kanye is not afraid to risk putting himself out there for a memorable line that you’ll be quoting for months. He knew full well we’d all be talking about his damn croissants.
“The Lyor Cohen of Dior Homme
That’s Dior Homme, not Dior, homie”
Probably the most explicit exploration of the decadent and devilish imagery found throughout My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it’s no accident that “Devil In A New Dress” contains one of the album’s only fashion references. As for the line itself, Lyor Cohen is the former president of Def Jam and the current CEO of Warner Music Group. So when it comes to Dior Homme, Kanye is the most influential in the game. The line stands out though for its smooth turn of phrase, and the rather humorous fact that West is essentially explaining his own rhyme, all while pointing out that you probably didn’t know there was a difference between Dior and Dior Homme, and that you are probably not pronouncing it correctly either. Well played, Mr. West.
“What’s Gucci, my nigga?
What’s Louis, my killa?
What’s drugs, my dealer?
What’s that jacket, Margiela?”
To keep the French theme going, Kanye lays claim to one of the best high-end fashion name-drops in music in this lightning rod of a song from Watch The Throne. How many people outside of fashion enthusiasts had ever even heard of Maison Martin Margiela before this song came out? Don’t fashion designers get it? Stick with Yeezy and your name will reach the masses. While rapping about Louis Vuitton and Gucci has become a bit of a cliché, Kanye immediately separates himself from the pack with the mention of the less commercial Margiela.While there isn’t much meaning here outside of highlighting Kanye’s “dopeness” as he likes to call it, sometimes a line doesn’t have to mean anything at all to be great.
“Old niggas mentally still in high school
Since the tight jeans they ain’t never liked you
Pink-ass Polo with a fucking backpack
But everybody know you brought real rap back
Nobody has swag, man, we the Rat Pack
Virgil Pyrex, Don-C snapback
Ibn Diamond, Chi-town shining”
Most of Yeezus sounds angry, but nowhere else is West so verbally aggressive, save for maybe “New Slaves.” If getting turned away from exclusive shows at Fashion Week would humble most people, it only fueled Kanye’s frustration. Recorded in tandem with “Black Skinhead” “I Am A God” features Kanye’s longest, most personally explicit rap about his deserved place in the world of fashion. The tight jeans and pink Polo both get mentions, symbols of how people have doubted or disliked him from the beginning. He also name drops a whole cohort of Chicago-based designer associates, symbols of how he has succeeded despite criticism. This is West’s “How dare you?” to the fashion world, and his musical interpretation of the aggravation so clearly present in Kanye’s recent interviews.
“Man, I promise, I’m so self-conscious
That’s why you always see me with at least one of my watches
Rollies and Pashas done drove me crazy
I can’t even pronounce nothing, pass that Ver-say-see”
The one fashion line that started it all. It seems odd now, but when Kanye first gained popularity he was considered a humble alternative to the posturing hustler-type rappers that dominated the field. However, humble beginnings aside, Kanye has always desired to be a fashion iconoclast, and here he offers up one of his funniest lines with an endearing look at his younger days, when he couldn’t even pronounce Versace. And wouldn’t you know it? Kanye admits that he’s self-conscious just like the rest of us. Kanye has been honest about his current state of mind since his first fashion reference, and that has never dissipated. Maybe a designer will take a chance on Kanye like Jay-Z once did and his frustration will subside. Then again, another Yeezus a year from now wouldn’t be so bad.