If you can believe it, Kanye West in a Jesus Christ pose was not the most outrageous photograph from this marathon thirteen-hour Rolling Stone cover shoot with David LaChapelle. That honor goes to a shot of West in a gray silk suit standing alongside a topless Pamela Anderson riding a horse bareback while a passed-out circus clown wearing a George W. Bush mask lies on the floor clutching a bottle of Jack Daniel's. But since that remains an unseen outtake, it's this cover photo that drew stacks of mail condemning both the magazine and West as blasphemous.
West was already the most polarizing figure in pop music, not only for his never-ending braggadocio ("You want me to be great," he told RS. "But you don't ever want me to say I'm great?") but for telling the world that "George Bush doesn't care about black people" during a fund-raiser for victims of Hurricane Katrina in September 2005. "First it was what I said on the telethon, then the Rolling Stone cover sealed it," says West at his home in Los Angeles. "I can't even get endorsements now — the ones that might have been open to me when I was just a cute kid in a Polo."
"I wanted to make it look exactly like the DVD cover of The Passion of the Christ," explains LaChapelle, "right down to the individual thorns."
"He understands the importance of making imagery interesting and thought-provoking," LaChapelle says. "He wants to shoot all night. He wants to keep trying different things." An inside photo depicting West as Muhammad Ali was the rapper's idea. "I had to pull that together in two hours," says LaChapelle. "I sent someone down to get boxing gloves." West — who confessed to a porn addiction in his cover story — was excited to meet Pamela Anderson. "I've used her picture many times," he told LaChapelle.
At the time of this cover, West had eight Grammy nominations for his second album, Late Registration. "It took way too long for me to get on the cover," he says with typical modesty, "It's hard for you guys — there's only one me, only one Madonna and just a few other people who are really important. The rest is bullshit. I know you'd like me to, but, sorry, I can't be on your cover all the time."
This is a story from the May 18th, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone.