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The Yeezy Life: A Kanye West Sneaker Retrospective

The signature shoes that reflect the preeminent narcissist's colorful career
by Miguel Escobar | Feb 26, 2016
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It's been a pretty crazy month for the decidedly crazy Kanye West.

After much ado and three rather indecisive name changes, the artist finally dropped his seventh studio album recently, finally entitling it The Life of Pablo—only to immediately declare it "unfinished." In it, he insinuates that he and Taylor Swift "might still have sex," which expectedly managed to bait a bit of controversy. He also asked Mark Zuckerberg for a billion dollars, interrupted a paparazzi brawl with a hug, and astoundingly claimed that Bill Cosby was innocent. The man has always been one for fanfare and media embroilment, but his behavior of late has been a bit too much.

Tempting as it is to focus on the mishaps and ugly bits of his current round in the limelight, it might be better to talk about the single thing, apart from music and preposterousness, that he seems to be so consistently successful at: sneakers. The adidas Yeezy Boost 350 and 750 are still on-trend and highly coveted, as evidenced by the many Cartimar and Greenhills editions that we've seen on people's feet.

These are but the latest in Mr. West's long history of sneaker collaborations and signature lines, in which the shoes serve as pop cultural markers of the man's bewildering and brilliant evolution through the years. As such, we've come up with a retrospective of the Yeezy Man's memorable kicks.


1) Nike Air Max 180 "College Dropout"

It was 2006 and Kanye had just dropped his massively successful debut studio album, The College Dropout, so he celebrated the success with an exclusive pair of shoes. While these were only ever made in his size (with a few sample pairs floating around eBay), they remain a relic of his prodigious beginnings, albeit a very tacky one, in retrospect.


2) Bape Bapesta "Dropout Bear"

These Bapestas were released in early '07. At this point, Kanye was just about to drop Graduation, an album that would send him into even higher mainstream success. The shoes are mostly an homage to the mascot of his first three albums, Dropout Bear, who is seen on the heel panel. The bright orange accents and pastel yellow would also foreshadow the most colorful era in Kanye's career.


3) Reebok S. Carter CL Low

In 2008, after reprising the success of College Dropout with Graduation, Kanye was at his absolute loudest and most nauseatingly colorful, fixated on brands like LRG, Ice Cream, and Bape. He was also working on his own clothing line at the time, which, suffice to say, didn't work out so well. Neither did these dizzying colorways of the Reebok S. Carter CL Low.

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4) Nike Air Yeezy 1

And so it begins. Just months after his mother Donda passed away, Kanye West performed at the 2008 Grammys and stole the show with a performance of "Hey Mama," wearing an all-new pair of Nikes that got the sneaker community buzzing. Nike would eventually release these in three colors in mid-2009, as the Air Yeezy.

Some might say that the Yeezy 1s were the last of Kanye's signatures that were designed with a traditional street aesthetic in mind: the Air Jordan III sole, the thick strap, and the high-top silhouette were all classic hip-hop style tropes. Everything that followed was always, to some extent, experimental or unconventional for hip-hop artists.


5) Louis Vuitton Don, Jasper, and Hudson

Later in 2009, Kanye would release his Louis Vuitton collaboration, which included three new models—all luxury sneakers with price tags pushing the $1,000 (around P47,000) mark. These would signal the dawn of Preppy Kanye (perhaps better known as Bow Tie Kanye), and set a precedent for the intermingling of high fashion and hip-hop that comes so naturally today. These epitomized the luxury that rappers would so commonly reference, but were still loud, brash, and flamboyant—perfect for the ostentatious, self-assured, peacock-y Kanye that stormed the stage at Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at that year's VMAs.


6) Nike Air Yeezy 2

Late in 2010, Kanye released his fifth studio album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. At the same time, he had also been working on Watch The Throne with Jay-Z, and another shoe with Nike: the Air Yeezy 2. The shoes were never actually released until 2012, but its features were still very much akin to the abstract and iconoclastic aesthetic of both albums. The Yeezy 2's reptilian textures, Egyptian emblem, and menacing spine were features that defined what many might refer to as none other than Illuminati Kanye. It was also in 2012 that Kanye and Kim Kardashian began their whirlwind romance, welcoming their daughter North in June 2013.


7) Nike Air Yeezy 2 "Red October"

Two years after the Air Yeezy 2s were released, Kanye was caught in another one of his altercations—this time, with Nike. He was on tour for his 2013 album, Yeezus, when he started on a series of mid-concert rants, complaining about Nike's restrictive tendencies. Throughout that time, he had been wearing an all-red colorway of the Yeezy 2s on tour. Then, after he finally decided to make the jump to adidas, Nike did the unthinkable: They released the shoes without any prior announcement—completely out of the blue.

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Hypebeasts who were thirsting over them were caught off-guard, and the split between 'Ye and the Swoosh was complete. It was around this time—during the Yeezus tour—that we started to see the Kanye we see today: baggy, tattered clothes, masks, and long, incoherent public rants.


8) adidas Yeezy Boost 350, 750, and 950

After joining adidas, Kanye became more messianic than ever. His dreams of being taken seriously as a fashion designer were finally being tended to because adidas threw him a bone. The results were three new silhouettes: the adidas Yeezy Boost 350, a suspiciously Roshe-like low-top lifestyle runner; the 750, a high-top lifestyle sneaker with a strapped upper; and the 950, a super tall duck boot.

Surprisingly, there's a big detachment between the man and his shoes, now more than ever. Now, the shoes seem to be the complete opposite of what they should be. The ridged boost sole on the 350 and the 750 is perhaps the most bizarre feature—everything else is fairly quiet. There aren't any glaring loud colorways, either. And yet, Kanye continues to be loud and self-insistent, getting even crazier by the day. Do we credit this to his evolving tastes? Now that The Life of Pablo is out and with a lot of new colorways on the way, it may still be too early to tell how the Yeezy Boosts will make their mark in sneaker history.

 

Images via Sneakerfiles.com, ladydonttekno.blogspot.com, Staynight.com, Desempacados.com, Celebrityclothingline.com, Bleacherreport.net, Sneakerbardetroit.com, Sneakernews.com