Kanye West is no stranger to criticism; his vocalized aspirations, public antics and ability to passionately speak his mind have always garnered him a lot of attention. It almost seems as if he won’t do something unless its controversial. With his first solo tour in 5 years, he has even managed to shock and offend people with his cleverly designed and now wildly successful ’80s rock and roll inspired YEEZUS tour merchandise.

Shock value aside, it’s obvious that everything Kanye puts out is always painstakingly perfect in its execution, right down to the last details. This often extends from the people he chooses to work with — he has a penchant for reaching out and collaborating with disparate talent at the top of their game. The team he worked with to create the iconic YEEZUS merchandise is proof of this:

Virgil Abloh, Kanye’s right hand man, creative consultant, and designer for Hood By Air, Pyrex Vision, Off-White, and member of the collective BEEN TRILL.

Joe Perez, a Rhode Island-based art director/graphic artist known for his music packaging and single cover design.

Jerry Lorenzo, founder and designer of Fear of God, a clothing brand that Kanye is often seen in.

And Wes Lang, an artist known for his loaded images that are often deemed dark and offensive, seems to be an almost perfect match for Kanye.

All of the images on the merchandise contain dark images — incorporating skeletons, grim reapers, allusions to Ku Klux Klan members, etc. But what’s gotten the most attention is the blatant use of the Confederate Flag. Outside the arena of Kanye’s New Orleans performance, fliers were passed out specifically attacking the tour merch containing the flag proclaiming, “NO WAY KANYE! NO REBEL FLAG CLOTHES FOR OUR KIDS! Don’t blame the white man, make a stand!”

As always, Kanye has a reason for using such a strong image. Using the flag was his way of stripping the negative power from it and changing the perception of what it stands for. “The Confederate Flag represented slavery in a way — that’s my abstract take on it. I made a song, “New Slaves," so I took the Confederate Flag and made it my flag. It’s my flag now. Now what you going to do?” Kanye said in an AMP Radio interview. “React how you want, any energy you got is good energy.”

The success of the merchandise from the tour is undeniable, lines have wrapped around arenas from the time doors open to well after the concert is over, so the idea to do a few pop up shops was an obvious one. Milk Made stopped by the pop up shop in New York, located on Bowery, in the heart of punk rock. In a nondescript black building, the S from the YEEZUS sign was stolen minutes before it opened its second day, so there was no marking to indicate what was inside.

The store itself was designed to be an experience to match the subject of the t-shirt designs: A huge Wes Lang banner covered a wall near the entrance; a motorcycle was a stand out centerpiece in the middle of the space. A playlist of heavy metal was blasting; hearing Black Sabbath and Metallica was a little jarring inside the brightly lit, pristine, minimalist, all-white space. But the juxtaposition was just another testament to the appeal of the merchandise designs. As Kanye described it, “It’s colorless also – super hood, super white boy-approved. That’s what my style has always been.” This was reflected in the diverse patrons of the store, with no shared demographic, other than the excitement of taking home a piece of iconic merchandise.

Photos By: Andrew Boyle

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