While Kanye West's early design efforts with his Mascotte by K West line and Pastelle didn't quite move the needle, his Yeezy Collection, Yeezy footwear, and tons of album and tour merchandise have become an important part of fashion. West's merch has gotten massive support from his fans and streetwear enthusiasts alike. Many wait in long lines at pop-up shops and concerts to buy modest amounts of merchandise, while others choose to spend big bucks on maxing out their merch collection and reselling the items, many of which are doctored Gildan basics.
Stephen Niday, a 22 year-old Virginia born and North Carolina raised hip-hop devotee, has spent thousands of dollars on coveted pieces of clothing from the rapper's tour, pop-up, and album merch collections. As the Head of Lyrics at Genius and the site’s number one Kanye West scholar, Niday's annotated the most Kanye West lyrics on the site. He's heavily inspired by West's genius, so his heartfelt fandom won't let him go a day without wearing a piece of merch. He's also a bonafide collector with integrity and he makes sure not to buy clothing from resellers for fear that it could be fake. He told The FADER, "If I don't get it [merchandise] from a friend or go to the show myself, I'm not going to get it. I’d rather not have it than pay a ton of money for something that somebody just made for 20 bucks."
Before he could actually afford to buy his own merch, a close friend of Niday’s gifted him with the windbreaker that he received as an invitation to the Yeezy Season 1 fashion show in October 2015. Now, the invested West aficionado estimates that he owns over 50 pieces of West's merch that he’s collected by waiting in long lines, going to concerts, and having a few trustworthy connects.
Over a phone conversation, Niday spoke about his favorite The Life of Pablo jacket, why he chooses to wear clothes from his collection every single day, and how he feels about the quality of the Saint Pablo tour merchandise.
When did you first become a Kanye fan?
I'm not exactly sure what year it was but I remember one of the first songs I heard from him was "Slow Jams." That came out in 2004. I was around 10 or 11 years old. I was still pretty young. I grew up in the south, so there was a lot of gangsta rap that was really starting to emerge at that time and it just sounded really different. His overall style, his vocals, and the way he sounded at first seemed effortless, like it was just natural for him. When I started getting more into him, I really focused on his production. It was like he pitched up the vocals. That's something that's been predominant throughout his career, just like vocal sampling, and that brought me into learning more about music as a whole.
So when did you start buying the merchandise?
That was actually way later because my mom was never really a big fan of Kanye. We just have different tastes in music, she's more into contemporary Christian music. Some of the stuff Kanye talks about didn’t directly align with her beliefs. Living in your parents' house you abide by what they believe in at least for a little while, until you can break free. The first album that I got was 808s and Heartbreak. That's the first album that I actually straight up went out and purchased. That's my favorite album too. I was just like, I really don't care what she thinks . I'm gonna buy it.
After the album, what was your first piece that you bought?
I’ve only been collecting for about a year because I'm only 22 years old, so I haven't really been working that long, and I had to get my money right. It was really early 2015 around the time that "All Day" was released, because he performed at Wango Tango 2015 and there was exclusive merchandise for that show. One of the shirts had the picture of him from the Time Magazine cover, but the hoodie with the "All Day" artwork on it was the first thing that I bought. I have a friend who lives in L.A. who went to the show and he helped me out.
So do you have multiple plugs in other cities?
I've had a few plugs in other cities. I don't trust a lot of people online who say "Hey, I have this shirt.” So most of the time when I buy merchandise it's me straight up, or I have a friend who’s there then they'll hook me up. Otherwise I just don't get it. If I know somebody at a Kanye show, then I’ll ask in advance but, I usually just stick to the stuff that I go to.
Besides finally getting your money right, what drew you to actually want to spend your money on Kanye's merch?
I believe that fashion in general is about channeling your inner personality and then putting it on display. So, because I'm a huge fan of Kanye and because his music has always been a really huge inspiration in my life, I just chose to reflect that in the way I dress.
In what ways has Kanye inspired you?
It feels like whenever something happens, at least in my life, there's a Kanye song to reflect that. If you're going through a lot of things in life and you don't know exactly where you're headed and everything's like really confusing, "Street Lights" might be a song that really speaks out to you. I lost my father last year and I just played "Only One" on repeat and just sat there and cried to it over and over again because it was uplifting. I feel like he has the right songs for every situation which is something that stayed with me throughout my life. I think that also plays into the newest merch. So, you know how with the Pablo merch it has the lyrics on the back? It's kind of like a tattoo that you can change everyday. You wear a shirt every day that reflects how you feel that day. That’s another thing I like about it.
What's your favorite piece that you have? And where’d you get it from?
The jean jacket with "The Life of Pablo" track-list on the back. I'm actually wearing it right now. This one is actually really significant because I got it on the same day I moved to New York to work at the Genius office. I flew up here on March 20 and immediately after I put my stuff in the apartment I was staying in, I went straight to the pop-up shop, stood outside for four hours and got one of the last jackets that they had left. I was in line by myself. I spent maybe, $1500 to $1600 dollars that day. I tend to do a lot of Kanye-related things on my own because I just don't know people who are as into him as I am.
How many days a week would you say that you wear a piece of Kanye merch?
Every day. I tend to wear the jackets and shirts together. I think they compliment each other pretty well. Right now, I'm wearing the shirt from the Saint Pablo tour — the black long-sleeve with the logo on the front that says "Saint Pablo" — with the jean jacket. I feel like they just go together, but I really like the jean jacket the most out of all them. That's my favorite piece.
The denim Pablo jacket is your favorite but you got that from a pop-up shop. What is your favorite piece of merchandise that you've bought from a Kanye tour or show?
It’s from the 808s and Heartbreak show in Hollywood. I flew out there last minute, last year, and picked up almost all of the merch there, mostly because that’s my favorite album. He had never performed the album in its entirety before because there were issues with that tour. I flew out there and got the merch. It’s really really simple merch, it just says “808s & Heartbreak” on the top corner and on the back it has the track list but since that’s my favorite Kanye album, it’s my favorite merch. They were giving out lyric books so I picked up a few of those too, they were pretty cool.
At the New York Madison Square Garden shows on the Saint Pablo Tour you could buy merchandise without a ticket to the actual concert. How’d you feel about that?
Yeah, that’s messed up. I think it's fine for people to buy merch without a ticket, but on the other hand, I feel like they shouldn't let people buy a ton of merch without a ticket. Just because people are going to take that stuff and go straight to eBay and sell it to make a ton of money off of it. Then when the people get there that do have tickets, and have been working all day, they're not going to be able to get the right sizes, or get the shirts that they really, really wanted. I know on both days that I went, a lot of people were complaining because they didn’t have the right sizes, they didn't have any of the Kim Kardashian shirts with her playing tennis on them. They completely sold out. A lot of people were mad about it just because the whole setup was just completely messed up. They started selling merch at 3 p.m. and they didn't even let people into the arena part until 7 p.m. There was separate merch for VIP but that was super limited.
It's also been pointed out that the shirts being made from Gildan cotton shirts which are inexpensive and not high quality.
Yeah like even the jean jackets—I feel like they were thrifted and then repurposed because mine that I’m wearing now, is a Levis one. There were a few Ralph Lauren ones. I don't feel a way about it, but I understand how other people might. I feel like everybody has one thing that they're really willing to spend their money on and this is what I'm willing to spend mine on.