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Kanye West is being sued again. What have his antisemitic outbursts and legal troubles cost him?

Not so long ago, Kanye West‘s position at the top of the musical world seemed unassailable. In the years after he released his game-changing debut album The College Dropout in 2004, the rapper and producer quickly established himself as one of his generation’s most prolific hit-makers. He was the fourth-fastest artist in history to reach a billion streams, while his mantelpiece strains under the weight of no less than 24 Grammy Awards. But now, two decades on, West – who legally changed his name to “Ye” in 2021 – is more likely to find himself being dragged into court than topping the charts.

Earlier today, news of his latest legal issue made headlines around the world. Ye is being sued by Trevor Phillips, a former employee of his apparel company Yeezy. Phillips was apparently hired in November 2022 – right around the time Ye made a series of highly-publicised antisemitic remarks, which forever damaged his reputation and pushed his business relationships beyond breaking point.

Phillips claims that not only was Ye praising Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler publicly, as he did in a 2022 interview with InfoWars host Alex Jones, but behind closed doors he was saying things like Hitler is “the reason we have cars” and allegedly texting Phillips to say: “I am on some complete Hitler-level stuff,” before adding “Minus the gas chambers”. Further allegations that Ye suggested students at his Donda Academy in Simi Valley, California could have their heads shaved and be locked in cages were also put to paper in the filing.

The artist who once seemed able to perform that specific alchemy of turning hooks and melodies into gold records had an estimated net worth of $1.3bn in 2020. That was according to Forbes magazine, who called his collaboration with Adidas on the Yeezy shoe line “one of the great retail stories of the century”. The magazine soon received an angry message from the rapper claiming he was actually worth $3.3bn, but they stood firm by their valuation and in 2021 calculated his net worth had risen again to $1.8bn.

Kanye West holding a Yeezy shoe in 2019 (Getty Images for Fast Company)
Kanye West holding a Yeezy shoe in 2019 (Getty Images for Fast Company)

By this point Yeezy shoes and sneakers, which had achieved any marketer’s dream of becoming wildly popular while remaining extravagantly expensive, reportedly accounted for between 4 and 8 per cent of Adidas’ total sales. After tweeting nakedly antisemitic threats such as “I’m a bit sleepy tonight but when I wake up I’m going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE”, Ye went on the Drink Champs podcast in October 2022 and declared: “I can say antisemitic s*** and Adidas cannot drop me.”

The sportswear giants didn’t agree. Within a month, Adidas issued a statement calling Ye’s comments “unacceptable, hateful and dangerous” and announcing that “the company has taken the decision to terminate the partnership with Ye immediately, end production of Yeezy branded products and stop all payments to Ye and his companies. Adidas will stop the Adidas Yeezy business with immediate effect.”

After initially saying they might write off unsold stock of Yeezy shoes, they eventually settled on selling the shoes and making donations to groups fighting antisemitism. As Adidas cut ties with Ye, so did companies including Vogue, Universal Music, CAA, Balenciaga and Gap. In February this year, Ye claimed that Adidas are suing him for a further $250m.

In the aftermath, Ye has cut a reduced figure. During the Super Bowl in February, the rapper bought his own advert – at a rumoured cost of $7m to plug what’s left of Yeezy: sock-like foldable shoes called Yeezy Pods and $20 graphic T-shirts. The 30-second advert, which he appeared to have filmed on his phone in the backseat of a car, lead to social media users to joke that he sounded “like a kid with a small business”.

The financial cost of Ye’s ugly antisemitic outbursts have been one obvious factor in the musician’s fall from grace, but there’s also the more intangible cost to his reputation. When he released his latest album Vultures 1 it was accompanied by a string of further embarrassments, from the distributor saying they were working to have the album taken down to stars like Nicki Minaj refusing Ye’s entreaties to collaborate on the music. Ye may well find a way to make money again, but repairing his name will take more than the lacklustre apologies he’s offered so far even if they are written in Hebrew.

Meanwhile fans who fell in love with the promise and excitement of Ye’s early records may be left with only a self-fulfilling line from 2020’s The Life of Pablo to recite like a mantra: “I miss the old Kanye.”