A long time ago, on this very blog, I posted something nebulous about rapper Kanye West. Bear in mind that was prior to his notoriously career-killing racist rants and his "Imma Let You Finish" interruption of Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Music Video Awards.
Some four years later, I can finally reveal what that was all about. Admittedly, this will be somewhat anti-climactic. Back in 2008, Kanye's stardom was something that the 501st Legion Star Wars costuming organization felt could be leveraged. Historically, any alignment with celebrities meant more publicity for the group, more legitimacy for the art of costuming and more interest in any charitable efforts. As such, when Kanye West's representatives approached the 501st with a request for a suit of Stormtrooper armor, we wanted to jump at the opportunity to associate our name with that of one of the best-selling and most-awarded musical artists of the time.
Once we had all of Kanye's measurements (5' 8" with size 12 shoes?!), Legion Commanding Officer Mark Fordham (SL-096) led the effort of acquiring all of the necessary components for a respectable Stormtooper suit, requesting donations of parts and funds from the volunteer membership on a very tight timeline. (Note: My personal contribution paid for the gloves.) Mark succeeded in delivering the armor on time and worked out an agreement by which the 501st would get the used armor back so that it could be auctioned on Ebay with proceeds going to a charity of Kanye's choice (the ill-fated and somewhat suspicious Kanye West Foundation). To recap: the 501st pays for and supplies the armor, Kanye wears said armor and autographs it and the 501st auctions it for charity. Aside from the fact that it was a complete Stormtrooper costume valued at around $1000 US, we figured it would fetch considerably more after it was worn by hip-hop superstar Kanye West, right? Fate, however, had a different plan.
Kanye toured and we did get the armor back with an autograph and some stickers indicating it was part of the production. Still, an auction like this would perform much better with some photographic evidence of Kanye in the suit. Despite numerous requests, no pictures were sent. Over time, our contacts with the West camp slowly dissolved until months of waiting turned into years of silence. Kanye's charitable foundation flopped with a bad rap (no pun intended). The man made a fool of himself in the media. The fans turned against him. At this point, we'd be lucky to give away the armor.
After letting the dust settle for a few years, the 501st decided there was no real reason to hold back the auction any further---the value of the armor had clearly already peaked and we needed to monetize it for charity as was the original intent and we chose our good friends at Make-A-Wish as the beneficiaries. Mark once again picked up the reins and posted the listing on Ebay in August of 2012, with hopes that Kanye would stay out of the public eye until the auction ended:
To promote the auction, we posted about it on Facebook. Public opinion was swift and to the point with comments like "Honestly I think him wearing it devalued the armor," "I have never wanted to destroy a piece of stormtrooper armor more than I do right now" and "Does it still smell of douchebag?" Fortunately, a single bid just prior to the auction's conclusion met the reserve of $1000 and this infamous piece of history went quietly into someone's personal collection, with proceeds going to Make-A-Wish.
Up until recently, we really had no idea just how the armor was used, except that he wore it on stage a few times while touring with N.E.R.D. back in 2008. However, an October 2012 tweet by Kim Kardashian led me to find that the armor was also (partially) used in the pilot episode of a failed "hip hop Muppet Show" titled Alligator Boots. Weird.
Hey, I bought those gloves for Kanye! Here's a link to the some behind-the-scenes video. Enjoy! Or not....