"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
"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."
"[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.
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."
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."
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
"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
"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."