Ye’s ‘Vultures 1’ feasts on the carrion of a better past

In a move that stunned the music world, the public and fans most of all, Ye—formerly Kanye West—has released a new album. More specifically, the first part of his Vultures trilogy with R&B-influenced rapper Ty Dolla $ign, dubbed “Vultures 1,” was released early in the morning on Saturday, Feb. 10. In a way that both pleases and disappoints, the album’s release is far more surprising than the music within. Despite Ye’s controversial public reception and the complete failure of his last attempted release, “Donda 2,” back in 2022, “Vultures 1” is fairly ordinary compared to past projects. It is for the fans, but won’t convince new fans or change the rap landscape.

To begin with, it has to be briefly mentioned that this album is coming out of Ye’s most controversial career point since the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) incident back in 2009. Antisemitic comments and a press tour with online far-right influencers had made Ye not just a pariah in popular culture, but a villain in the eyes of the public beyond just his egotism. As a Jewish fan of music who has listened to all of Ye’s discography, this does not really change the music much. Other than a few small winks and nods to this, the album is devoid of any prominent political positions or hateful rhetoric. 

This might be because Ye has finally found some stability again, which is reflected in the music itself. This is the best rapping by Ye since his and Kid Cudi’s 2019 album “Kids See Ghosts” by far. The raspy voice that plagued so many of 2021’s “Donda” tracks is gone. Instead, this style is more reminiscent of his better verses on 2016’s “The Life of Pablo” or, at its very best, his verses on 2010’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” His ability to flow without constant repetition and to really sync with the beat is back. 

Speaking of beats, they are good—mixing together solid synths and drums throughout, though stand-out moments are not too numerous. The track “Paperwork” samples the Brazilian funk song “Montagem Faz Macete 3,” creating a level of intensity that fits the song. “Burn” has a lush, calming beat centered around soft drums that evokes both R&B and older Ye tracks from something like his older albums such as “Late Registration.” The most extreme production definitely goes to the two tracks featuring a recently revived from radio silence Playboi Carti in the songs “Fuk Sumn” and especially “Carnival.” The production by experimental rapper and almost-Vassar College-performer JPEGMAFIA is most apparent in the strange pitched up vocals of “Fuk Sumn” along with the oppressive 808 drums. “Carnival” is a loud, aggressive track that stands out the most when it comes to production, building on what it means to be a loud, raging hip-hip song by mixing together the pounding bass and drums with intense backing vocals courtesy of Italian football club Inter Milan Ultras. Travis Scott’s “F!EN” from his 2023 album “Utopia” and now “Carnival” reaffirm that the rage-trap style popularized by Playboi Carti is here to stay and evolving. 

Rage is one of just a few emotions that Ye really digs into for this album. The visceral anger of his past albums like “Yeezus” or devastating sadness found on “808s and Heartbreak” are nowhere to be found on “Vultures 1.” Especially coming off of the emotional gut-punches of Ye’s last major album “Donda,” this is a serious downgrade. From the beginning of his career, Ye has always been able to elevate his songs by speaking his mind, be it through funny quips or serious reflections on life that go beyond the vague mentions other artists would just allude to. “Vultures 1” does a lot more alluding than evoking anything serious from the listener. In a crime that is sure to please fans of Ye’s music but will pain fans of Ye as a musician, the album lacks the depth that previously came with Ye’s character, as seen on past tracks like “Saint Pablo.” This album is far more of a product, a traditionally modern trap album with a solid foundation more than anything else. The piano on “Runaway” is beloved not just because it sounds great, but also because it reflects the themes of Ye as a complex musical narrator and sets the mood for the track. On “Vultures 1,” the loud 808s of “Carnival” or the smooth background vocals of “Good (Don’t Die)” please the ear but seem more like templates rather than parts of a wider, emotional soundscape.

If there is one star on this album who takes advantage of this moment in his career and his ability to sound good on songs lacking these deeper emotions, it is Ty Dolla $ign. It is not crazy to say that this album is truly shared between the two artists, and considering his career itself is built more off of features and a smooth style of rap with R&B elements, it is a breakout moment for Ty. His ability to dominate the song with autotune and backing vocals is apparent on the title track “Vultures” and especially on the outro of “Talking,” where he just takes over the song following a cute verse by North West, of all people. His hooks on “Burn” and the dance floor-ready “Paid” are catchy and show off Ty’s ability to bring slower and more melodic elements to the tracks.

Though it does not compare to “The Life of Pablo” or “Donda,” Ye is once again able to get great performances out of features. Travis Scott’s entrance on “Fuk Sumn” is gritty and distorted, making it feel like a real moment on the track. Freddie Gibbs brings his classic “coke-rap” style to “Back to Me,” meshing well with Ty Dolla $ign’s melodic hook. Quavo gives a surprisingly great performance on the aggressive “Paperwork,” while Playboi Carti’s two features show off his new, deeper voice near the end of the album. 

It remains to be seen if Ye can actually recover from his recent controversy. Unlike after the VMAs incident, when Ye reinvented himself and was able to be an icon of irreverence and resilience in some regard, including resolving his beef with Taylor Swift around 2015, it is harder to imagine a fully re-platformed Ye after his recent run of becoming a far-right pariah and peddler of antisemitic conspiracy theories. A drunk Ye recovering from the loss of his mother amongst other tragedies making a stupid decision at an award show is not too hard to sympathize with after apologies and rebranding. A manic Ye driven crazy by his divorce with Kim Kardashian eloping with far-right pundits Nick Fuentes and Alex Jones and making few attempts at apology other than a vague Instagram post wherein he apologized with an AI-generated Hebrew message is much harder to sympathize with. “Vultures 1” is many things, but it is not an apology nor a recontextualization of Ye following this recent mania, and this only exacerbates the lack of emotional depth in the lyrics throughout. I would not go as far as to say, like online-famous music reviewer Anthony Fantano, that Ye’s music is forever tainted and this album is unreviewable. Instead, if we are taking Ye honestly as an artist who has frequently tangled his public image with his art, then this album fails to adequately make good art out of hateful acts. The album simply existing and being released is the only resilient thing about it, and there is no “Runaway” or “Power” on the track list to really push it beyond that. The closest we get is the closer “King,” in which Ye bluntly says he is still the “king” despite his recent controversies and issues, which, more than anything else, makes it clear Ye as both an artist and person has learned nothing. This is anything but a satisfying conclusion. 

Despite some criticisms, it should be noted that “Vultures 1” is still a great trap album. It just suffers when it comes to it being an alright Ye project. Unlike the experimentation of “The Life of Pablo,” “Yeezus” or “Kids See Ghosts,” the more abstract concepts are left in the background as Ye croons over his ego and success. The real star is once again Ty Dolla $ign, bringing a nice, softer side to the tracks. If you want to hear Ye rapping like it is 2019 again with some nice production, a couple of incredibly catchy hooks and a few moments of rage and bliss, this album is sure to please. It is a great time even if it does not reach any of the peaks found within older Ye. But if you wanted Ye to return from his controversial hiatus with an emotional, fresh hip-hop masterpiece like his famous “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” in 2010 following the VMAs incident, then you will just have to accept that miracles like that do not just fall out of the sky.

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