Weeks after Adidas cut business ties with Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) amid controversy over his anti-Semitic comments, The Wall Street Journal reports that the company considered buying the rapper out of his deal as far back as 2018.
In 2015, Adidas launched Yeezy, their collaboration with Ye, with apparently mutually high hopes. By 2018, however, Ye’s behavior in the public forum and behind the scenes at the company was enough to cause concern. Per WSJ, this not only included the rapper’s comments to TMZ that “slavery for 400 years... sounds like a choice” but his making anti-Semitic comments (specifically, that we wanted to name an album after Hitler) and watching porn at the Adidas office, the latter of which was specifically reported to HR. (Notably, Ye also did both of these things, again, in the second half of 2022.)
By October of that year, Ye wanted to be named creative director of Adidas, prompting executives to hold a meeting to weigh options on how to deal with the increasingly controversial designer. Options reportedly included running Yeezy as a standalone brand (similar to Nike’s arrangement with its Jordan line), buying the Yeezy trademark and running the brand without Ye, or “immediate mitigation,” meaning to part with Ye completely, sell off the remaining Yeezy products, and replace them with other revenue streams. The board ultimately chose to continue their business relationship.
In 2022, Ye took on an increasingly publicly combative relationship with the company, accusing them of stealing his designs and holding events in his name without his input. The WSJ report suggests that it was these interactions that were the real issues with the rapper, not the apparently perennial anti-Semitism and workplace pornography viewings. Rather, the public meltdown “could work in the company’s favor as grounds to invoke a morals clause and help terminate the deal” after a September offer to end the partnership, on the heels of his split with Gap, failed to please the rapper.
This last part isn’t particularly surprising, even if it is disappointing. Ye’s reputation for controversial statements is nearly as long as his music career, but 2018 definitely feels like a turning point; this was when he first voiced his support for far-right provocateur Candace Owens, for example, and made the infamous slavery comments. For years, companies and collaborators continued to work with him despite increasingly disturbing behavior. And why wouldn’t they? As heinous as Ye’s views were and are, they were hardly unique to him, a fact that became particularly apparent during the Trump presidency. Not only that, but his brands, by all appearances, remained profitable.
At least in the case of Adidas, it was after he publicly attacked their company that they reached their Ye tipping point. It wasn’t just Ye’s claim that he “can say anti-Semitic things and Adidas can’t drop me” (or the comments on abortion, or the claims about George Floyd, or the cyber-harassment of his ex-wife and her then-boyfriend) but the trending #BoycottAdidas hashtag that preceded the end of the partnership. Adidas knew they had a problem for years. They did something about the problem after Ye challenged them, specifically and publicly, to do so.