When Kanye West was on the cover of TIME in 2005, promoting his second album, the magazine noted that the rapper strives to be all things to all people, concluding, “He just might succeed.” Nearly ten years, five albums, and countless provocative statements later, West appears to have gotten as close to that goal as a recording artist can get: A cultural colossus who’s as comfortable showing a fashion collection as performing at the Grammys or sharing the contours of his personal life with Ellen DeGeneres and her viewers.
“I’m not in a competition with anyone,” he says in a video interview with TIME.
West’s greatest passion whether in music or fashion, he says, is taking risks that can influence mainstream culture.
“Currently, the most amazing designers have very few opportunities to connect to the masses. The most amazing designers have been programmed to design in a luxury context,” says West. He admires admires fast-fashion focused on the consumer created by Zara or H&M for doing just that. And the recent Yeezus Tour was memorable for more than its songs: West’s statements onstage about the nature of contemporary fame, and its intersection with issues of race and class stoked feverish conversation among fans and the media.
“All these walls that keep us from loving each other as one family or one race–racism, religion, where we grew up, whatever, class, socioeconomic–what makes us be so selfish and prideful, what keeps us from wanting to help the next man, what makes us be so focused on a personal legacy as opposed to the entire legacy of a race,” West says. “The dinosaurs aren’t remembered for much more than their bones. When humanity’s gone, what do we give to this little planet that we’re on, and what could we do collectively, removing the pride?”
That kind of thinking has made his every online provocation an instant attraction, equal parts celebration and criticism.
“Every time I crash the Internet, it’s like this little drop of truth,” West says. “Every time I say something that’s extremely truthful out loud, it literally breaks the Internet. So what are we getting all of the rest of the time?”
Even when he’s taking risks, West’s audience is willing to meet him—and West has only grown more comfortable with risk. West’s most recent album, 2013’s Yeezus, was certified platinum, despite the lack of an obvious radio-friendly single like past hits “Stronger” or “Love Lockdown.”As an artistic statement, Yeezus‘s percussive, self-consciously alienating sound was a leap forward, or at least in a startling new direction. Perhaps as a consequence of his marriage to Kim Kardashian, West has grown more evidently comfortable with his status among the famous. The tortured artist who interrupted Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs has, over time, evolved into a subversive wit who only pretended to interrupt Beck at the 2015 Grammys. West is a master of publicity, but he says his fame is less about glorifying himself than it is about the art of sharing: “Our focus needs to be less on what our legacy’s going to be or how we can control each other and more how we can give to each other.”
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