The first 10 years of Kanye West‘s career were damn-near perfect, weren’t they? From his debut 2004 masterpiece The College Dropout— which just turned 20 — up until the release of his genre-bending album Yeezus in 2013, Kanye was truly at the height of his powers. But even during the run of interviews to promote Yeezus, Kanye seemed to carry a hectic demeanor that only seemed to inflate as the years went on.
After everything that’s happened to Ye in recent years, what can best be described as the “beginning of the end” for his artistic dominance came only a few years after his Yeezus Tour had concluded. Sure, 2016’s The Life of Pablo had some great musical moments, solid rapping and songs that have since stood the test of time, but the clumsy and chaotic creation of the album devalued its overall legacy — setting Kanye West on a path that has seen the same thing happen to his career.
Since 2016, Kanye has released four “studio” albums that have each gotten progressively messier in design, execution, and straight up output. Now, thanks to constantly butting heads with the media and his hurtful statements about Jewish people, which resulted in a year-long hiatus in 2023, Kanye’s stock has never been lower. But if someone loves a comeback, it’s Mr. West.
Enter: Vultures 1. The first instalment in Ye and Ty Dolla $ign‘s three-part album extravaganza. The first question on everyone’s mind when this project was announced in late 2023 was: “Why Ty Dolla $ign?” Obviously, a deep understanding for musicality and a love of building great songs runs concurrently through both Ye and Ty, however it remains a mystery how and why Ty jumped on-board Kanye’s sinking ship.
Throughout his career, Dolla $ign has been calculated and well-intentioned with his albums and collaborators which begs the question why he would willingly decide to step into one of Kanye’s weird, and sometimes wonderful, album rollouts. Nevertheless, he did.
After a few hap-hazard release events and multiple album pushbacks, the 16-track album finally arrived late on Friday (February 11). Upon first listening, it’s tough to determine whether the album is stirring or it’s just exciting to finally see it on streaming services. It opens with the slow-building, gospel-laden intro track “Stars” where Kanye West and Ty Dolla $ign sound peaceful yet confident.
More of the same hat-in-hand tranquility rolls through on second track “Keys To My Life,” while “Paid” and “Talking” turn the energy up a notch (thanks to upbeat pulsating drums) but stay levelheaded. After a quarter of the way through, the album does a great job at disguising Ye’s past year of turmoil to the point where these songs could have been suitable Donda reference tracks.
“Back To Me” is where things get a little strange, not necessarily for Kanye, but by listeners’ standards. Anchored by Jay’s (of Jay & Silent Bob fame) iconic line: “Beautiful, naked, big-titty womеn just don’t fall out the sky, you know?” Ye and Ty Dolla’s creative output gets a little mundane when they simply repeat the actor’s soundbite with some programmed drums underneath.
More lackluster songwriting rears its unlistenable head on “Hoodrat” which pairs some soothing vocals with a messy beat and monotonous chorus that chants: “Hoodrat, hoodrat, hoodrat.” From there, the album starts to unravel and all the re-purchasing of Kanye stock that fans did after hearing the first few songs have been sold.
What should have been the tell-tale sign of this album’s energy and lyrical content is the title track “Vultures” featuring Bump J and Lil Durk. The song itself really isn’t too bad and sounds better in 2024 than it did when it dropped in 2023. The heavy synths, knocking drums and beat switch will get heads bopping – especially at any high volume. But Kanye drops lyrics like, “How I’m antisemitic? I just fucked a Jewish bitch,” which is a subject touched upon throughout the album. Especially on “Problematic” where he recaps his last year and some change. “I’m not racist, it’s a preference” tells you everything you need to know.
Kanye West would hate to hear this but the best song on Vultures 1 is when he sounds most like “old Kanye.” “Burn” is the happiest and most upbeat song on the album, with Ty skating all over the breezy beat and Ye delivering his best bars by far.
“Who’s not entertained by my pain?/ Who ain’t cash a check off my name?/ When my campaign turned to canned pain/ I burned еight billion to take off my chains” is classic Kanye songwriting, plus he does a great job harmonizing the final chorus with Ty. It only lasts two minutes but it’s enough to give fans and critics alike hope for the next two installments.
There are few other highs on the album; it isn’t all “death con 3” valleys. Freddie Gibbs‘ verse on “Back To Me” is fierce, the sheer energy and Ty Dolla $ign’s crooning on “Fuk Sumn” is standout and even the vintage groove of “Good (Don’t Die)” warrants adding it to your playlist favorites.
All in all, Vultures 1 doesn’t move the needle for Kanye West — or Ty Dolla $ign, for that matter. Listeners, fans, haters and hopefuls will be in the same place they were before the album dropped: confused, disappointed, but holding onto the idea that the Kanye we all fell in love with can still deliver undeniably good music that is worth defending.
RELEASE DATE: February 9, 2024
RECORD LABEL: YZY
Listen to Vultures 1 below: