Arts and Entertainment

Kanye West Dethroned: Vultures

Headed by two superstars with an extensive list of features and producers, Vultures is a sonic success without direction.

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While Kanye West’s knack for stirring up controversy has been a constant amidst his musical evolution and personal reinventions, it reached a peak in the fall of 2022 when he shared anti-semitic messages including direct support for Nazism across social media. These comments brought consequences unlike any he had faced before, ending major brand partnerships and turning public opinion uniformly against him. His latest album, Vultures (2024), a collaboration with Los Angeles rapper Ty Dolla $ign, is the first work he’s released since this string of controversies. As such, it is expected to live up to his prestigious musical reputation and address his erratic, hateful behavior. Throughout Vultures, West and Ty Dolla $ign mostly maintain the sonic richness that characterizes West’s discography with textured, grating instrumentals that are simultaneously infectious. The variety ends here as these beats get layered with lyrics that are uninspired, banal, and, on occasion, hugely offensive.

Like the rest of West’s catalog, Vultures relies heavily on samples. These audio snippets range from subtle background elements to abrupt interjections borrowed from other music, films, and other media. West avoids the jarring discontinuity this production style entails by using industrial synths and a throbbing drumline to tie the samples to the project’s vocals coherently. This approach is epitomized in the song “TALKING,” as his daughter North West delivers endearing, energetic raps over a bouncy bassline. Between North’s singing, samples of a high school cheer squad shouting are deftly spun into an earworm of a melody. Suddenly, the melody cuts out and Ty Dolla $ign’s distorted vocals come in over deep thudding basses and aggressive synths. The contrast between these two halves of the song enhances both vocal powers as North’s bubbly, confident delivery accentuates the somber smokiness of Ty Dolla $ign’s voice. 

The rest of the album’s tracks are similarly crafted, aiming for a balance between aggressive instrumentals and soulful samples. This largely succeeds: the album is consistent and cohesive, but still diverse enough in its features and sampling to remain interesting. However, this style has its low points. The song “FU- SUMN” starts with a snippet of gritty ‘90s rap, followed by cool, unconcerned verses by guest performers Playboi Carti and Travis Scott over droning synths and a groovy stuttering bassline. West balances out the track’s decidedly somber tone with a sung verse that he pitches up several octaves until it becomes rodent-like. This brief interlude makes the rest of this song’s machismo hard to take seriously, making “FU- SUMN” one of the album’s weakest tracks.

Thematically, this album does little to distract from its few sonic flaws. The first half of Vultures is raunchy and sensual as Ty Dolla $ign and West detail their sexual exploits in graphic detail. Rather than explore the dynamics of sexuality as West has in his previous works, they treat sex as a sterile signifier of their masculinity and power. The delivery of these tired rhymes is fun and bouncy but doesn’t portray any genuine emotion. West also makes some questionable lyrical decisions throughout this project. Beyond their crudeness, the lyrics lose any sense of sincerity with the addition of Ty Dolla $ign’s unserious braggadocious raps in which he flaunts his sex appeal and wealth. 

The final third of Vultures features more reserved and introspective songs that explore West’s emotions without the references to sex that characterize the rest of the album. “GOOD (DON’T DIE),” is a subdued meditation on devotion and hope, with angelic vocals and a pared-back instrumental consisting of a single kick drum. This track stands on its own with moving vocal performances by both artists, but after a dozen songs that extol a materialist attitude toward love and sex, West and Ty Dolla $ign’s romantic crooning falls flat.

The last two songs on Vultures are its only hints at an overarching narrative, celebrating West and Ty Dolla $ign’s success despite the efforts of their haters. On “PROBLEMATIC,” Ty Dolla $ign compares his and West’s success to winning a murder trial over a regal, symphonic instrumental featuring a horn sample reminiscent of royal fanfare. The album’s final track, “KING,” features a gospel-inspired vocal performance from Ty Dolla $ign that supports West’s fiery exclamation, “‘Crazy, bipolar, antisemite’ / And I’m still the king.”

Regardless of West’s claims, one is only a king with his people’s reverence, and Vultures is not enough to solidify that. It is an instrumental success, the product of West’s undeniable ear for melody combined with a superstar production team. However, this solid foundation is not enough to redeem his lyricism. His writing lacks narrative direction and detracts from West’s rare efforts at vulnerability by over-relying on drawn-out sexual themes, leaving an unsavory aftertaste only worsened by his dismissive attitude toward the hate he’s spread.