17 Visionaries Who Made Kanye West Who He Is

It’s our unofficial syllabus of Ye’s idols.

August 29, 2016

"My role models are artist merchants," declared Kanye West during his four-minute speech at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards. "There are less than 10 I can name in history: Truman, Ford, Hughes, Disney, Jobs, West." For both Kanye's biggest fans and detractors, it's not unusual to hear the rapper compare himself to the icons that dominate global culture. But as he explained in a 2014 interview with director Steve McQueen, these comparisons are meant to give him a sense of agency: "I'm trying to give people a little bit of context to the possibilities that are in front of me, as opposed to putting me in the rap category that the Grammys has put me in. In no way do I want to be the next any one of them. But I am the first me."


The truth is that the artists revered by West are many, and spread out over a variety of disciplines. Below, we've compiled a selection of creatives Kanye has shouted out, so that everyone can go forth and learn from the ones who have guided Yeezus.

1. Walt Disney
17 Visionaries Who Made Kanye West Who He Is Photo by Jason Nocito

From The FADER's 2008 cover story:

"Now it's like the only thing is like pop. I subscribe to pop culture. I really like popular shit. I'm all about Walt Disney, Coca-Cola, Louis Vuitton, Nike."

And from a 2013 interview with Philadelphia's Hot 107.9:

"[N]ow when I say where I’m at in my life and what I want to do I’m like it’s sort of like Ralph Lauren meets Howard Hughes meets David Stern meets Walt Disney meets Steve Jobs meets Kanye West."

2. Steve Jobs

"That really was my idol. He made our lives easier in some way."

Read "The Tweaker," Malcolm Gladwell's editorial on Jobs's life and legacy for The New Yorker.

3. Alejandro Jodorwosky

Kanye met the director of 1973's The Holy Mountain, the movie which inspired the art direction and tour of 2013's Yeezus. Jodorowsky read Ye's tarot and described him as a "beautiful child-like soul."

4. Puff Daddy
5. Pablo Picasso

"'My goal, if I was going to do art, fine art, would have been to become Picasso or greater," he said at the Oxford Guild in 2015. "That always sounds so funny to people, comparing yourself to someone who has done so much, and that's a mentality that suppresses humanity."

6. Kim Kardashian
7. Kendrick Lamar
8. Chance The Rapper

Check out how Chance convinced Kanye to include The Life Of Pablo highlight "Waves" on the finished album, and read how the two rappers became creative partners.

9. A Le Corbusier Lamp

From The New York Times:

"[Y]ou know, this one Corbusier lamp was like, my greatest inspiration. I lived in Paris in this loft space and recorded in my living room, and it just had the worst acoustics possible, but also the songs had to be super simple, because if you turned up some complicated sound and a track with too much bass, it’s not going to work in that space. This is earlier this year."

10. Young Thug

Kanye has shared new Young Thug music, while Young Thug recently renamed a track on his latest album No, My Name Is JEFFERY in Ye's honor.

11. Phil Collins

Back in 2008, Kanye seemed to feel that hip-hop had some catching up to do with the former Genesis drummer and vocalist. "I’ve had some hip-hop songs that I’ve loved in my lifetime – but they are not as good as Phil Collins’s 'Something In the Air Tonight'."

12. Barack Obama

Although the president would later call Kanye a "jackass" for interrupting Taylor Swift's speech at the 2009 MTV VMAs, when Kanye spoke to Clash in 2008, he has nothing but praise for the accomplishments of the newly-elected Barack Obama. "Overcoming America is the hardest challenge, with politics with music with money with style. Anything. Overcoming America is the hardest thing to do. Once you can take America, you can take the world."

13. Raf Simons

From Interview Magazine:

"So, for me, I try to design my life like it's a big vacation every single day, every moment of my life. That's the goal. Like, I wouldn't rather be doing anything more right now than talking on the phone with Raf Simons, one of my idols and someone I've studied so much."

14. Katharine Hamnett

From a profile in Business of Fashion:

“I would go to this vintage place three hours out of Milan and I would see these pieces and they were speaking to the language I wanted to say... every single piece I saw, I connected with emotionally. She created something that I thought was relevant to where we are today."

15. Helmut Lang
17 Visionaries Who Made Kanye West Who He Is Lisa Lake / Getty Images

"It’s blatantly right there," Kanye said to Style.com as he listed his fashion inspirations, which indluded the Austrian designer. "I’m not going to try and act like I was influenced by a fucking dog walking down the street that broke its ankle that I had a heartfelt discussion with."

16. Vanessa Beecroft

"One day I was approached by Kanye but I wasn’t too aware of who he was because I tend to only listen to classical music," Beecroft said in an interview with It's Nice That. "He was extremely kind and asked me to choreograph a performance for his 808 & Heartbreak private listening party in 2008. I was going through a divorce and I started to think that maybe he was my black, male alter-ego."

Read "A Brief History Of Kanye West's Work With Vanessa Beecroft."

17. Martin Margiela
17 Visionaries Who Made Kanye West Who He Is