Kanye West is at war. The artist (who these days goes by just Ye) has made his battles increasingly public in recent weeks, using his social media to blast adversaries as diverse as LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault, Supreme creative director Tremaine Emory, and Diddy. He’s spurned his apparel partner Gap, cutting short his deal to produce Yeezy clothing with the iconic brand. Ye has also waged this war on Adidas, the brand that makes his massively popular Yeezy footwear.
In Instagram posts, he’s accused Adidas of ripping off his intellectual property and openly mocked its board of directors. In a YouTube video released on Monday, he exposed some of his dealings with the brand, showing snippets of a tense meeting with Adidas execs as part of a 30-minute piece called “Last Week.”
“You guys have done wrong by the company, by the business, and by the partnership,” Ye says in the meeting. At one point, he plays a clip of a porn video, holding his phone up to an Adidas exec’s face and comparing him to an actor in the clip.
Ye’s latest attack is among his most surreal. The video opens with a Grand Theft Auto-looking section where faceless Yeezy Gap-clad characters meander through Tokyo. From there, it cuts to scenes shot by videographer Nico Ballesteros that show Ye embarking on various missions relating to his business.
In the Adidas meeting, the participants are obscured. Ye airs his grievances to blurred-out faces, but the voices and details in the conversation confirm their identities. Who are the other men in the room with him?
To his right is Shervin Pishevar, a venture capitalist who recently partnered with Ye and has been spotted alongside him. Pishevar is not in the sneaker business, but did claim in 2020 that he’d met with Kobe Bryant in 2019 for a pitch about an independent Kobe sneaker brand.
Pishevar mentions Ye terminated his Gap deal the day before the Adidas conversation, a comment that seems to place the meeting on Sept. 16.
Pishevar argues Ye’s points about Adidas stealing his designs, explaining his anger. He admonishes the executives, saying they know they did wrong.
“When someone steals this man’s ideas, his creations, it’s like you’re stealing a child,” Pishevar says in the meeting. “These are all children of his mind, and you’ve kidnapped them. There are Yeezy-inspired derivatives that are making significant revenue because people can’t tell the difference.”
In the middle of the group is former Adidas brand president Eric Liedtke. His position between the two sides in the conversation is appropriate, and in the minutes of it that are shown he acts like a mediator.
“It starts with somebody feeling very highly disrespected,” says Liedtke, referencing Ye’s reaction to the sneakers Adidas has released that look like his. “And there’s grounds for that, in my opinion.”
Liedtke worked closely with Ye at Adidas, helping architect the long-term Yeezy deal the artist signed in 2016. He was a veteran employee, having started at the German sportswear company in the early ‘90s. Liedtke left Adidas in 2019, a departure he makes reference to “Last Week” by saying, “I’ve been removed for three years.”
Liedtke now runs Unless Collective, an eco-friendly streetwear company he co-founded in his post-Adidas life. He shows off its hoodies in a different section of the video, presenting Ye with a piece of Unless clothing while making apparent reference to the contentious relationship with Adidas.
“It’s not going to have your shape,” Liedtke says, “because, you know, we’re not into knocking off your artistry.”
Ye has posted about this meeting before—on Sept. 15, he uploaded a screenshot to his Instagram stories showing a text exchange with Liedtke. In it, Liedtke asks if Ye wants to meet before they meet with Adidas. The timing of the post aligns with the Sept. 16 date suggested by Pishevar’s comments.
Ye is enthusiastic about Unless in the YouTube video and even tells Liedtke he wants to buy the company.
In the “Last Week” meeting, West says he won’t work with Adidas unless they make Liedtke CEO. Ye has been focused on the chief executive role at Adidas, making outgoing CEO Kasper Rorsted the subject of some of his public ire earlier this year.
The meeting also features Adidas chief creative officer Alasdhair Willis, who sits to the right of Liedtke. Ye posted about Willis on Instagram in September, asking why he’d never been allowed a phone call or meeting with Willis. Hours later, Ye asked his fans not to disseminate memes of Willis as they had with other Adidas leadership, saying he believed him to be a good guy.
Willis is married to Stella McCartney, who has her own line with Adidas. Pishevar references her in their conversation; Ye references her father, Paul McCartney, and the music they’ve made together.
Willis’ comments in the video are brief and conciliatory.
“We can certainly do a lot better in the way we work with you,” he says to Ye.
The mostly silent man who sits at the left end of the group in the meeting is Torben Schumacher, a senior vice president at Adidas who’s worked for the sneaker maker since 2004. He oversees Adidas’ sport lifestyle business on a global level, which means his purview includes the Yeezy category.
Schumacher is the victim of the meeting’s most bizarre moment. Ye shows the group a porn video on his phone and compares a man in it to Schumacher, noting similarities in their voices. The scene in the porn depicts a man reacting to his partner cheating on him, which Ye likens to Adidas cheating on him and copying his designs. He puts his screen next to Schumacher’s face to drive home his point and calls his videographer over for a tighter shot.
“Come on, man,” Schumacher says before pushing Ye’s arm away.
The parts of the meeting that we’re privy to are, of course, highly edited and presented by Ye. They are filtered through his perspective on the relationship between Adidas and Yeezy. The rebuttals from the Adidas execs present and the context of the conversation’s real back-and-forth are missing. Complex reached out to Liedtke, Schumacher, Willis, and an Adidas spokesperson for comment, but none responded.
Ye recording the encounter and showing it to the world blurs the line between it being a legitimate attempt to reconcile with Adidas and a strategic performance to make the brand look bad. It’s reminiscent of his sustained social media abuse earlier this year of Daniel Cherry, a high-ranking Adidas employee responsible for interfacing with Yeezy.
Ye’s antics have veered into hate speech—his Paris Fashion Week show on Oct. 3 was memorable not for its clothes but its embrace of a white supremacist slogan. This week, West was locked out of his social media accounts after posting antisemitic comments.
The moves read partly as those of a man determined to sabotage his deals by making himself too toxic to touch. He says in the meeting that he is confronting Adidas with its worst nightmare. Though the meeting shown in “Last Week” appears to actually be from last month, Ye’s more recent actions continue to test the limits of his relationship with Adidas.
After Ye showed his “white lives matter” shirt in Paris, Adidas issued a statement that it was placing the Yeezy deal under review, saying that it was important for partnerships to be built on “mutual respect and shared values.” The brand has parted with tenured employees in the past for less inflammatory comments, but it still sells Yeezy sneakers for now.
How much longer it can do so, and how much longer the partnership will be remotely tenable, is unclear. Ye speaks in unequivocal terms in the meeting, assuring the Adidas execs and the viewing public that he is waging a scorched-earth campaign.
“Our army is so prepared,” he says. “You understand? This is a different level of nuclear activity that no one will recover from.”