How Kanye Is So Perplexingly Productive

“You can’t catch my hustle,” Yeezy once said, “You can’t fathom my love.” But with his sixth album, maybe we can do both.

How Kanye Is So Perplexingly Productive

Opening his interview with Kanye West, New York Times reporter Jon Caramanica offers up that the rapper is arguing for his place in history.


To which West replied: “I think you got to make your case.”

Making your case is, you could say, the soul of the entrepreneur’s mission: the hustle of Marc Ecko, the how-does-this-improve-the world of Phil Libin, the painter-that-gets-paid of Molly Crabapple.

On the eve of releasing his sixth album–Yeezus, out Tuesday–West is a man who knows this mission:

To be the Steve Jobs of the Internet, downtown, fashion, culture. Really. What’s amazing to us is how deliberate he is in getting there: from recognizing the power of platform to sculpting his productive habits to cross-pollinating his creative inputs. Let’s take a look at them.

Your platform is your career arc.

The creative industries have a lot of talk about platform: if you’re going to land a book deal, you need to have a massive Twitter following and tons of existing publication relationships, and a mightily awesome network.

A platform is also, West observes, a preexisting cultural taste for the kind of work you’re going to make–which his big brother Jay-Z helped build:


… Jay-Z was an amazing communicator that made the soul sound extremely popular. And because I could make the soul sound in my sleep, it finally gave me a platform to put the message that my parents put inside of me and that Dead Prez helped to get out of me and Mos Def and [Talib] Kweli, they helped to get out of me: I was able to put it, sloppily rap it, on top of the platform that Jay-Z had created for me.

Your work is your people.

Echoing the sage advice of Warren Buffett, West says that he didn’t mature as a rapper until he spent time with social justice-oriented, bigger-than-hip-hop Dead Prez.

“Before, when I wanted to rap, my raps sounded a bit like Cam’ron; they sounded a bit like Mase; they sounded a bit like Jay-Z or whoever. And it wasn’t until I hung out with Dead Prez and understood how to make, you know, raps with a message sound cool that I was able to just write “All Falls Down” in 15 minutes.”

This shows, once again, that your network is your net worth; that ideas recombine along the connections of the people we know; that creativity, though while geniuses might be seen as independent, they are, like everything else, interdependent.

Your work is your bag of experiences.

Yeezus is slated to be stripped down compared to the buoyant soul of his first albums or the cyborg decadence of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. As West tells the Times, this comes from the design he absorbed in France:

“… this one Corbusier lamp was, like, my greatest inspiration. Living in Paris, I would go to museums and just, like, the Louvre would have a furniture exhibit, and I visited it, like, five times, even privately. And I would go see actual Corbusier homes in real life and just talk about, you know, why did they design it? They did, like, the biggest glass panes that had ever been done. Like I say, I’m a minimalist in a rapper’s body.”

It’s reminiscent of what Steve Jobs used to say: the greater bag of experiences that you have, the greater perspective you can bring to your work. West parallels that notion: The dude holes up in a Parisian apartment to shed himself of his trademark maximalism.

You are your work ethic.

Discipline is, as we know, creating the situation. Inspired by the Times interview, designer Peter Nguyen wrote a post about West’s creative habits. There’s a quote from Wu Tung soulmaster the RZA, who notes that West gets his guys together to breakfast together, work out, and do a good deed before heading into the studio for 12 hours. But Chris Rock’s take on how Kanye crafts ambience is the real takeaway:

“I got to watch Kanye make some of the last record . . . he lived it. My man was in the studio every day . . . I was just impressed. Everybody in the studio has suits on. I’m serious. I thought he had flown in some guys from Europe or something. But all the engineers and everybody were in black suits and white shirts and black ties. He set up a mood and when you walked in there you felt a mood. When you talk to him, he’s living it. And when he does the fashion, he’s immersed in it.”

Sounds a little Jobsian, doesn’t it?


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.