Even if you don’t count yourself among the audience of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, you’re likely aware that a central plot line of the show last season was Kanye “Ye” West going to great lengths (in short: flying coach) to heroically seize his ex-wife Kim Kardashian’s sex tape—forever eliminating the threat of it being weaponized against her or their children. “We’re not getting extorted ever again,” West said on the episode, as Kardashian and company wept in gratitude.
Now, in a staggering investigation by Rolling Stone, scores of former employees have anonymously shared that West had no qualms about showing intimate photos and video of Kardashian—as well as his own homemade sex tapes—to Yeezy and Adidas staffers. This, disturbingly, was just one element of an inappropriate and “abusive” company culture described by two dozen former employees. According to Rolling Stone:
Behind the scenes, this celebrity boss did more than test the boundaries of professionalism: Former Yeezy and Adidas staffers and creative collaborators claim that he played pornography to Yeezy staff in meetings; discussed porn and showed an intimate photograph of Kim Kardashian in job interviews; and showed an explicit video and photos of Kardashian as well as his own sex tapes to Yeezy team members.
It’s been one month since Adidas dropped the Yeezy frontman following a torrent of antisemitic social media posts and online hate speech, but those who once worked with West are just voicing concern about their former boss and the “intimidation tactics,” as they’re deemed by the magazine, West often deployed. The deeply problematic behavior, which was “provocative, frequently sexualized, and often directed toward women,” became a cause for concern for many employees who still aren’t comfortable putting their names to the claims due to fear of professional and personal retaliation.
This week, scores of former high-ranking Yeezy employees sent a letter (entitled “The Truth About Yeezy: A Call to Action for Adidas Leadership”) to Adidas’ executive board members and the brand’s new CEO, outlining their concerns about the now-severed Adidas-Yeezy partnership and pushing them to address “the toxic and chaotic environment that Kanye West created.” The letter alleges “a very sick pattern of predacious behavior toward women.” Rolling Stone, which obtained it, shared an excerpt: “He has, in years past, exploded at women in the room with offensive remarks, and would resort to sexually disturbing references when providing design feedback. This type of response from a brand partner is one that Adidas employees should never be subjected to, nor should Adidas leadership ever tolerate.” Adidas declined to answer any of the magazine’s questions.
Allegations from former employees who worked closely with West range from bizarre (a new collaborator recalled West showing him hardcore pornography on his laptop during their first meeting) to unsettling (former Yeezy president Pete Fox revealed West’s behavior starkly vacillated between inviting and incendiary) to cruel (following a disagreement, West allegedly forced a young female staffer to sit on the floor, telling her, “You don’t deserve to sit at the table”). All of these, former staffers say, were part of a broader pattern of harm that one employee likened to that of an “emotional abuser.”
West’s fascination with porn and explicit content, however, was said to be such an issue that several employees can recall more than one instance in which West showed, or referenced, porn in the workplace. Such proclivity can be seen in West’s 30-minute YouTube documentary.
“He would be in a meeting and he’d be talking to you, and he’d rattle off in his laptop” to play a porn video, one employee told Rolling Stone. “And he’s like, ‘I know it’s uncomfortable, but I kind of need this in the background to keep me focused.’ And you’d be like, ‘Uhhhhh, oh-kay.’” The former senior staffer claimed to have seen West play porn videos in meetings on at least five occasions. Such incidents went beyond meetings, too. One high-ranking employee remember than in early 2018, as West interviewed a female job candidate, he interrupted her during her presentation to give her some unsolicited advice: “If you ever get stuck creatively, just watch porn for 10 minutes.” This wisdom, as said by employees, was doled out on more than one occasion.
“If you’re gonna be part of Yeezy, we say crazy shit here. You gotta stick with it. We keep moving, and we keep creating,” the high-ranking employee recalled West telling the job candidate. “We create products of passion. I literally want to fuck my shoes. That’s how good they are.” In a different meeting, West allegedly showed “MILF porn” and told an employee: “See this feeling? This feeling that you get when you watch this? This is what I want people to feel when they put on our shoes.”
Perhaps one of the most disturbing claims is that West showed another potential staffer, in office for an interview in 2018, intimate photos of Kim Kardashian, whom he was still married to. “My wife just sent me this,” West told them. “It was very revealing and personal,” the creative remembered to Rolling Stone. “I didn’t really react.” That same year, West played an explicit (and private) video of Kardashian to members of the Yeezy creative team. He was also known to show creatives and collaborators his own homemade explicit videos with women. Staffers said the workplace was “so cult-like” that they didn’t even immediately react to such incidents.
Kardashian has not yet addressed the story, but comments on Rolling Stone’s latest Instagram posts are as flagrantly misogynistic and unnecessarily vile as one might expect. “I mean...most of us have seen her in an explicit vid. How’d you think she got famous??” wrote one user.
Sexual comments, too, were common for West. A former staffer recalled being shown a text from West regarding a model for a new pair of shoes that the design team was working on: “He said, ‘We really need this shoe to be done because all I think about is Kim’s ass and this shoe.’” Even still, multiple former Yeezy staffers said that they didn’t feel West’s behavior was overtly “gender-based,” though it did—more often than not—make female staffers uncomfortable or “intimidated.”
When, in 2019, West convinced Adidas executives to transplant much of the Adidas showroom to his Wyoming ranch, the behavior only worsened. West, one former employee remembered, often scolded a particular female employee on her appearance. “He’s just obsessed with power, and he has all the power and money to make somebody cut their hair, to make somebody lose their weight,” the staffer said. “To the same person, he can go say things like, ‘You fat slut,’ and then this person will still have to be forced to stay because that’s how they make money. They have a lease to pay.” The staffer added that she “feared for her well-being.”
Five former employees also alleged that West made unrealistic demands of staffers. “He might ask a chef to make a song and an architect to be his personal assistant,” said a Wyoming employee. “He may ask a song producer to design a school, and the next day that becomes an orphanage, and the other days it becomes an airport.”
In October 2022, just before Adidas terminated its contract with West, the rapper and tarnished magnate gathered employees to make them aware of his many issues. Pornography was among them, said one former employee.
But some staffers felt West was only partly to blame for the toxic workplace: How and why West was enabled to thrive during his time with Adidas comes down to the undeniable profit Yeezy—and by extension, West—generated, a staffer said. One of the former high-ranking employees said that some management figures “were absent when they should have been present” and that West’s provocative behavior “was allowed to fester” because Yeezy was making Adidas an estimated $1 billion to $2 billion in annual revenue.
“As much as we all would love to solely blame Kanye,” the former employees wrote, “the undeniable truth is that the Adidas executive team and the board have been huge enablers.”