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Kanye’s Empty First Entry in the Vultures Series

On February 10th, 2004, Kanye West released his debut album The College Dropout. An album whose production, lyrics, ethos, and optimism were unprecedented, and whose influences only grow every year in retrospect. Exactly 20 years later, VULTURES 1 has dropped, abandoning everything that made Kanye, Kanye.  

The album is such a mess and surrounded by so much charged context it’s hard to even organize my thoughts for this review. As a long time follower and fan of West’s work I’ve bought into the story, the eras, the ego, all of it. All part of this grand narrative slowly taking the form of a 21st century tragedy. Now, this deceptive mask has been ripped off.

To an outsider perhaps the most significant and notable part of this project is the crass and unabashed bigotry on display, and yeah, there’s a lot of that. Like on the title track where he states “How can I be antisemitic? I just fucked a Jewish bitch,” and on the intro track “STARS” he says “Got Jews on the staff now.” However, the occasional offensive or conspiratorial line is drowned in a wave of sexual references and innuendos.

I’m well aware of how stereotyping and dismissing music, especially hip-hop, because of its sexual ethos is like the oldest, most tired, and most ignorant criticism in music history. However, this is relevant and stands out not just because of its quantity, but its incessant contradictions with Kanye’s previous statements and the album itself. Kanye’s last two albums, Donda and Jesus is King, were heavily self censored, and held back a lot of Kanye’s usual vulgar motifs and lyrics in favor of a more religious and spiritual tone. Before their breakup, he even said he thought Kim Kardashian, his wife at the time, was too sexualized to raise their children.

Image via Billboard

The song “TALKING” features both his and Ty Dolla $ign’s daughters and tackles common fatherhood fears of being a bad influence and watching your children grow up. Contrastingly, on “BACK TO ME”, the song immediately after, is the chorus “Big beautiful butt naked women just don’t fall out the sky ya know.” The song after titled “HOODRAT” features Kanye adlibbing and screaming “whore” multiple times while he continues delving into sexually explicit depictions. He even refers to his current wife, Bianca Censori, as a “bitch” and just a “reference” all while getting banned from entire cities for acts of indecent exposure, and slapping his wife’s nude photos on the album cover itself.  

Beyond just the sexual contrasts to his fatherhood ideals, there’s also a general lack of direction on this project. For someone who previously wholly threw himself into building immersive worlds and produced such strong thematic concepts in his art, this is a complete departure from anything interesting. Nearly every track on this album is either self-plagiarism or haphazardly produced. The song “PAID” is a blatant rip off of his previous house song “Fade”. “KEYS TO MY LIFE” samples his own single “Eazy”. The songs “STARS” and “PROBLEMATIC” are blatant attempts at recreating the progressions on “Ultralight Beam” and “Bound 2” respectively.

Kanye seemingly has no interesting or novel ideas in the tank, and is relying on non stop self references of his previous work, with butchered samples of classic songs and Tik Tok sound bites. What we got with this release is a hollow, vapid, empty, and cheap release with almost nothing to come back to, leaving me continually asking, “What was the point of this album?” I keep coming back to a moment on “BACK TO ME” where Kanye seems to ask himself the question I’ve wanted to ask him for a long time now, “Yeezy, how you doin?” He never answers it, as the only self-reflective moment on the album is interrupted by the chorus. 

Image via “TALKING” music video

I take a lot of factors into account when reviewing art, but perhaps the most important is, “Do I think the world is better with this in it?” I listened to this album the day it dropped with my girlfriend. While we were listening, the only moment I saw her perk up and smile was North West’s verse on “TALKING”. The music video features Kanye himself smiling at his daughter’s debut rap feature. Hundreds of comments on the video describe a similarly happy feeling they got from seeing her performance. So, I guess this album at least has one thing worthwhile to offer.