Throughout his career, Kanye West has always brought in an eclectic mix of characters who have appeared on his projects. In the past, he’s worked with everyone from Elton John to Paul McCartney, but, his partnership with then-obscure indie singer-songwriter Justin Vernon from Bon Iver was also one of his most unlikely.
It all began in 2009 when Ye’s keyboardist Jeff Bhasker was bemused to discover his girlfriend wasn’t planning on watching Kanye’s show in New York because it clashed with a Bon Iver show. At this point, he’d never heard of them and couldn’t understand her decision, but after listening to the Blood Bank EP, Bhasker realised why.
From there, the EP was passed on to Kanye, who was equally as impressed as his bandmate. He first reached out to Vernon about possibly using a sample of ‘Woods’ on his new album and asked the singer if he wanted to come down to Hawaii to spitball ideas.
Vernon duly accepted the invitation from West, and together they cooked up the delightful ‘Lost In The World’, which appeared on 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
“It was f***ing fun, man,” Vernon later told Pitchfork. “A-Trak was out there, Nicki Minaj. Just a bunch of über-talented people and everyone was really nice and chill and just working on Kanye’s record. I was literally in the back room rolling a spliff with Rick Ross talking about what to do on the next part of a song. It was astonishing. Kanye came back and was like, ‘Look at you two guys. This is the craziest studio in the western world right now!'”
They most recently teamed up together in 2019 on the Francis & The Lights song, ‘Take Me To The Light’. However, that same year, Vernon made it clear their partnership had ended. He said: “I can’t really kick it with him anymore on a personal level, just the energy. But I’ve got mad love for him, and we’re still friends.”
Although he didn’t say it overtly, reading between the lines, Kanye’s political comments led to them parting ways creatively. In 2016, Vernon provided more insight into their relationship and how they once fell out over the word ‘humble’.
“I got in a friendly argument with Kanye West about the word humble once,” Vernon recalled. “He said, ‘Have you ever looked up the word humble?’ I was like, ‘Actually I don’t know if I have.’ And he showed me the definition of it, and it’s far more self-demeaning, kind of the problematic Midwestern ‘Sorry!’ mentality, than I realised.”
He continued: “I took a lot out of that conversation. Ultimately, I think it’s great to serve others and everything, but I think there’s a certain point where it’s diminishing returns for the people around you if you’re not showing up and being who you are.”
While they didn’t always see eye to eye, these two artists from different sides of the musical landscape created something special together. Although it seems unlikely we’ll hear Vernon and Ye reunite anytime soon; it’s worth remembering the mercurial work they made.