JESUS WALKS, MOSES TWEETS: As we kick off Grammy season in earnest—and regard the distressing and topsy-turvy news cycle—it seems appropriate to explore the mercurial career of Kanye West, who has won a stunning 21 Grammys over the last 15 years—and another 30 nominations beyond that.

Kanye’s latest Twitter meltdown predictably caused ripples in a social-media landscape that reacts only to chaos and outrage. But Ye’s latest fusillade was noteworthy in biz circles because (in addition to images of him relieving himself on a Grammy statuette), he posted photos of past contracts. This was ostensibly in service to his oft-expressed mission to free artists—even Taylor Swift—from contractual servitude; in his tweeted manifestos on that subject he compared himself, with requisite humility, to Moses. Shortly before presstime he tweeted that he would be giving back to artists on his G.O.O.D. Music imprint the 50% he owned of their masters. The label’s roster includes Big Sean, imprint President Pusha-T, Teyana Taylor, Valee and more. What limited rights does that 50% control?

Signature copies were said to be ready on Kanye’s new UMG deal when the recent tweetstorm took place; could it be that his inability to close provoked the latest outburst? Most of the top lawyers in the business don’t think he’s getting his most valuable masters back under a new deal, but he could possibly get reversion, after a decade or so, of his subsequent masters. He has unfortunately painted himself into a corner in this regard, not for the first time. It's believed that his relationships with the GAP and Adidas have also suffered in the wake of his erratic behavior.

Kanye has been quite candid about his bipolar disorder and addressed it (often movingly) in his work. Yet he is insulated from help—and any interruption of his rampages—by a thick wall of enablers, opportunists and starfuckers. It’s a sad spectacle to watch this man of enormous gifts and virtually infinite resources unravel in public.

Outside the social hothouse, those who’ve worked with him note that he is not only talented but also magnetic, charming and—if you can follow his often-byzantine train of thought—possessed of unique insight.

A NUMBER OF OBJECTIONS: That said, outrage over Ye's Trumpian, abusive tweet regarding Def Jam chief and UMG General Counsel/EVP Biz & Legal Jeff Harleston, which included making the latter’s cell number public, may provide yet another obstacle to Kanye’s chances of recruiting others to his crusade—which already faced enormous obstacles as he continues to be his own worst enemy. (Ye previously doxxed a Forbes editor he deemed "a white supremacist.") Can any current or potential team members trust that they won’t get similarly treated? Sources close to the matter say Joel Katz, who recently came into Kanye's orbit (see more about KW's attorney history below), attempted to facilitate dialogue via text between Kanye and Harleston, at which the label exec balked, stating he was unable to comment since Kanye was suing his company. This prompted the aforementioned trolling and doxxing.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE (NOT IN WYOMING): Kanye has gone through a veritable army of music professionals—indeed, a gallery of luminaries—over the course of his career. That career begins in 1998, when the gifted young Chicagoan was signed (as a producer) to Gee Roberson and Kyambo “Hiphop” Joshua’s production company, Rock the World. The team did an artist deal with Kanye via Jay-Z and Damon Dash’s Roc-A-Fella Records in 2002 under the Hiphop Since 1978 banner. Roberson’s association with Kanye lasted through 2012. Jay-Z was President of Island Def Jam during the years of Kanye’s greatest success, 2004-08.

Jay-Z, whose breakout albums gave Kanye’s sample-based production a huge platform, was a mentor and would play a substantial role over the years, and his Roc Nation would be among the management concerns to take Kanye on (with Des Perez and Jay Brown handling those duties). Other management participants over time have included John Monopoly (1998-2008; 2018- ), who first worked with Ye when both were teens, ran a Chicago nightclub and at one point launched his own label, Lawless, Inc.; Don “Don C” Crawley (a Chicago designer who had been a tour manager, label exec and A&R player for Kanye before hitting big with his Just Don fashion line); Izzy Zivkovic, a Croatian manager who has also repped Arcade Fire, Banks and other acts via his Split Second entity and has been in Ye’s orbit since at least 2010; Irving Azoff, who is thought to be back in the loop (his decades-long connection with the Kardashian family has been instrumental for them); Amy Thompson; Scooter Braun (a few times, notably in tandem with Zivkovic from 2016-18; he allegedly segued to “advisor” after that); and assorted Kardashians. In 2018, in announcing he’d split with Scooter, Ye tweeted, “I can’t be managed.”

Kanye founded his G.O.O.D. Music label (short for “Getting Out Our Dreams”) in 2004, the year his debut album was released, and inked a JV for it with IDJ in 2011.

John Monopoly and longtime Kanye team member No I.D. were G.O.O.D’s first two Presidents; Don C also played a significant role. In 2015, Pusha-T and Steven Victor were tapped to run the imprint. John Legend, Common, and Tyga were among the early acts to release records via the label, though Kanye once noted in an interview that taking it on was “a mistake.”

As for the attorneys who drafted some of the agreements flashed in Ye’s tweets and provided what counsel they could? It’s a who’s who of the best and brightest dealmakers of the modern era: Alison Finley (then a partner at Davis Shapiro, now in the West Coast UMG offices with Jeff Harleston) repped him from 2002-11, followed by Don Passman (2011), Michael Guido (2011-16), Peter Paterno (2016-18) and Damien Granderson (who continues to be the attorney of record). Kanye’s litigator is Ekwan Rhow.

PRESIDENTS & HEARTBREAK: The middle-class son of a professor and a Black Panther activist, Ye worked hard to be taken seriously in the street-cred sweepstakes of turn-of-the-millennium rap. But with 2004’s College Dropout (now 4.8m+ ATD U.S.), featuring innovative and influential cuts like “Jesus Walks” and “Through the Wire,” he proved himself a commercial and cultural force. The Grammys rolled in the following year. Follow-up set Late Registration (4.7m+ U.S.) exploded and brought more Grammy gold. In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he seized a TV moment to declare that President George W. Bush “doesn’t care about black people,” a landmark moment of speaking truth to power.

He ruled the world with the massive Graduation (nearly 5.2m) and subsequent set 808s & Heartbreak (3.5m+), which yielded more giant sales, smash singles and Grammy hardware. Yet his tendency for public eruption manifested in an infamous moment at the 2009 MTV VMAs, during which he bum-rushed Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech to praise Beyoncé’s video; this cringe-inducing contretemps went viral. In a way, it was a harbinger of Kanye’s envelopment in the celebrity-social media vortex, which would accelerate with his 2014 marriage to Kim Kardashian.

Though he remained a major figure on the charts, his work from 2013’s Yeezus (1.6m+) onward has had less commercial impact than his breakout releases, but—perhaps paradoxically—he became a greater celebrity, and his forays into fashion showed this creative brilliance had many facets. He also seemed to find replenishment in his Christianity, a theme that has increasingly dominated his records. So it was especially disturbing to see him put on the MAGA hat and pal around with Donald Trump, parroting fringe/conspiracy nonsense (slavery as “a choice,” etc.) and trumping up his own absurd presidential campaign. His further trolling of Swift in the “Famous” video didn’t help matters.

All of the above—along with the borderline-cultish Wyoming compound world in which he ensconced himself—seemed to set the stage for the latest round of Twitter mayhem. With the right team in place, could Kanye return to the creative and chart momentum he once had? And if so, who’s left to be on that team?

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