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Why the Curtain’s Falling on Corporate Kanye

Equal parts artist, agitator and antagonist, Ye seems to be hellbent on alienating the household names that thrust his already high-heat Yeezy brand into lucrative new opportunities.

The artist formerly known as Kanye West wrote “F— ADIDAS I AM ADIDAS” on Instagram Thursday after the German athletic giant said earlier that day it had little choice but to put its six-year-old Yeezy partnership “under review.” The decision came just weeks after the “Donda” rapper bailed on his $970 million Yeezy Gap deal eight years early and hinted at the time he wanted to jump ship from Adidas, which he said “RAPED AND STOLE MY DESIGNS,” with four years remaining on that contract.

In a statement, Adidas said it made “repeated efforts to privately resolve the situation” with Ye, who is fond of wielding Instagram and Twitter as grievance-airing mechanisms best used for berating his corporate bedfellows. The Paris Fashion Week designer complained in 2020 about not having a seat on the boards of Adidas and Gap, to no avail. Over the summer, a post on Ye’s Instagram account stepped up talk about splitting with Adidas over its sale of “fake Yeezy” slides and urged CEO Kasper Rorsted, who’s stepping down next year, to “come talk to me.”

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Though there’s no telling yet if Adidas will officially throw in the towel on a Yeezy product partnership that Rorsted said was still “up strong double digits” in Q2, these latest developments seem to confirm what former J.Crew and Gap Inc. boss Mickey Drexler was saying all along—that Ye simply is “not a corporate person.”

Broadly speaking, Ye seems to be clawing back control over his vision and circumstances, shedding whatever doesn’t work for wherever he’s headed next. In an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson Thursday, Ye made it clear that public opinion is the least of his concerns, a stance running counter to what companies typically look for in a revenue-driving front man.

“I perform for an audience of one and that’s”—not Gap, not Adidas, but “God,” he said in a wide-ranging conversation that touched on former pro ice skater Tonya Harding, David and Goliath, abortion, and the White Lives Matter T-shirts he, conservative political commentator Candace Owens and runway models wore Oct. 3 during his YZY show in Paris. He defended the decision to print that slogan on the tee as “just a Black man stating the obvious.”

The “Sunday Service” provider recently took his $11 million “Yeezy Campus” Wyoming compound off the market after 11 months, rekindling questions of whether the Grammy winner might actually make good—should he become a fully independent creative—on his interest in producing shoes and maybe more in the Cowboy State.

That’s all up in the air for now until Adidas makes up its mind about whether it’ll stay or go (though Ye, of course, might end up forcing its hand). The pairing that brought the industry knockoff-worthy icons and “divisive” sellouts might be on its last legs.

“Adidas has always been about creativity, innovation and supporting athletes and artists to achieve their vision,” it said. “The adidas Yeezy partnership is one of the most successful collaborations in our industry’s history. We are proud of our team that has worked tirelessly throughout our collaboration with Ye and the iconic products that were born from it. We also recognize that all successful partnerships are rooted in mutual respect and shared values. After repeated efforts to privately resolve the situation, we have taken the decision to place the partnership under review. We will continue to co-manage the current product during this period.”

Adidas, meanwhile, has its hands full searching for a new chief executive to take the reins from Rorsted exits next year.

“The past years have been marked by several external factors that disrupted our business significantly,” he said in an Aug. 22 statement. “It required huge efforts to master these challenges. This is why enabling a restart in 2023 is the right thing to do – both for the company and me personally.”

The company will also look to right the ship after it lost out of $307 million in second-quarter sales.