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April 16, 2024

Ye and Ty Dolla $ign's VULTURES 1 sparks a critical diatribe

By TIMOTHY MCSHEA | February 17, 2024

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PETER HUTCHINS / CC BY 2.0 

Following rapper-producer Ye’s year-long public fallout due to his spewing of antisemitic rhetoric, music critics are attacking his recent collaboration album VULTURES 1 with singer-producer Ty Dolla $ign while forgetting the importance of unbiased musical analysis.

Critics are talking about Kanye West (Ye) irresponsibly.

After multiple listening parties, the announcement of two extra volumes, release dates that came and went, Ye and Ty Dolla $ign finally released their collaboration album VULTURES 1 on Feb. 9. The critical response, at least so far, has been singularly negative.

There should be no sympathy for antisemites, no room for hate speech and no humor in conspiracy. These are principles that can never be traversed, and I understand the anger many feel in light of Ye’s now year-long controversy in which he has spewed hateful rhetoric toward Jewish people.

Since he and Kim Kardashian divorced in 2021, we have seen Ye go through multiple public exhibitions of instability, threatening Pete Davidson’s life (who was dating Kim Kardashian at the time), calling for a “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE” (i.e. “Defcon 3,” the U.S. military’s highest state of alert) and spreading antisemitic conspiracies about the music industry. 

The issue with “mental health awareness” becoming a broad social movement is that it has been mythologized and appropriated by corporate HR and academic programs to make it mean far less than the original concept of “awareness” actually entails. The actual consequences of mental disorders (mental episodes, outbursts and attention-seeking antics) are incredibly uncomfortable — we should not ignore them, but we should recognize the source. Whatever the label, one thing is clear from watching any of his many breakdowns (his post-Miami listening party livestream rant being a prime example), Ye needs someone to say “no.”

Many journalists have taken up this task, writing article after article attempting to properly contextualize Ye’s music right alongside his purported beliefs, effectively dismissing any musical discussion in favor of ranting about Ye and his irresponsibility. Since music critics really only get attention when discussing the music itself (a.k.a. their job), they have all seemed to take Ye’s newest LP as an opportunity to abandon musical analysis and fall for the same diatribe, leveraging the intrigue around Ye’s new project to instead discuss his past controversies.

YouTube music critic Anthony Fantano’s recent video is a good example, barely explaining his distaste for the music itself, instead focusing on how “Ye stans” are unconvincing and delusional. It’s impossible to defend Ye, just as it's impossible to defend anyone with these beliefs. Far from washing away the context of the album, my only desire in writing this article is to make you think differently about the idea of “separating the art from the artist.”

This term has been used many times by edgy teenage boys who post daily on 4chan, but the concept of “art for art’s sake” has existed since the aestheticism movement of the mid-19th century. The limits of this idea — of taking art purely on its own basis without reference to any social or political affiliation — are being tested annually by Ye’s controversies. At the end of the day, no one is going to write an article on Ye’s new album without giving proper context. It would be irresponsible to do so. But to leave out a fair analysis of the music itself? That is a fault as well.

I want more people to consider Ye’s mental egoism and what feeds it. It is also incredibly important to consider the 38 producers who are involved in the instrumentals of this LP — are we going to discredit their work because of our hatred towards Ye?

As Fantano puts it in his video, and as I mentioned before, someone really needs to tell Ye “no” for once. And I don’t mean journalists. I don’t believe that there is anything purely antisemitic about this album. It comes as a surprise to me, as I was genuinely concerned by the imagery used in the various teasers over the past few months. Ye certainly doesn’t redeem his past actions with this album, but thankfully, he doesn’t push any more conspiracies.

I was shocked to hear some critics suggest this album is inherently “antisemitic,” even without Ye’s past actions as context. There are a total of three lyrics that mention anything “Semitic.” While they are a bit too playful when considering the weight of the recent controversy, I argue they are simply typical representations of Ye’s “attention-seeking” attitude.

The first reference occurs on “STARS,” the intro track, where Ye gives us a half-assed attention-seeking reference to his antisemitic comments: “Keep a few Jews on the staff now.” Of course, this does nothing to ease our worries as to Ye’s true opinion of Jewish people. It’s a shallow attempt to right his wrongs, similar to his apology, which was posted back in December, but shows no malicious intent. 

The next lyric comes on the titular single, “VULTURES,” which caused quite a stir at its release with the line: “How I’m antisemitic? I just fucked a Jewish bitch.” Ye is very tone-deaf, as usual. It’s in poor taste, I agree. It nonetheless lacks any racist rhetoric and is merely self-referential. It’s a bad joke, and I could certainly do without it.

And finally, we have the chorus of the closing track, titled “KING,” which goes as follows:

“And, I'm still, ‘Crazy, bipolar, antisemite’

And I'm still the king

They thought headlines was my kryptonite, bitch

I'm still the king, I'm still the king.”

This is by far the most problematic of the three, as Ye shows a carefree attitude towards his past actions, affirming to the media that their labels — including “antisemite” — do not bother him as he is still “the king.” Ye’s attitude with the press has always been very antagonistic. Even in a recent viral video, he attacked a journalist for asking a pointed question about his wife’s free will. With this lyric, Ye is trying to shake off the labels that have been hurled at him throughout his career. Perhaps he should take the last label a bit more seriously, but his point with this lyric is very obviously not to label himself as an antisemite.

Here’s the thing: in Fantano’s video, all three of the above references were put on screen as Fantano implied the album had antisemitic messaging. Ironically, this depiction lacks a lot of necessary context itself. Not only is this incredibly dishonest, but it shows Fantano’s bias, a self-righteous bias that infects much of art criticism. I hope with my provided context, which Fantano neglected to mention, I have shown how the lyrics are more tone-deaf than inherently hateful.

This is all to say, and I know it has been a bit long-winded, that “separating art from the artist” doesn’t have to be an assertion that the two are in reality distinct. It merely asserts that as people who listen to and review music, reviews should at least include an unbiased analysis of the music in and of itself. 

Despite what you might hear online, this album does not sound terrible. In fact, I would argue it’s at least in the same conversation as Donda in terms of production quality. There are multiple songs that I could do without (“TALKING” and “BACK TO ME” are prime examples) and some I absolutely despise sonically (the whirring synths and Ty Dolla $ign’s mumbling on “Vultures'' make my skin crawl). The rest of the tracklist reminds me of the unique sound profile on Yeezus. “PAID” has an industrial trap sound similar to “I Am A God,” “PAPERWORK” uses a similarly grating synth and bass to “I’m In It,” and “PROBLEMATIC” is basically “Bound 2.0.” 

There are certainly other influences, most notably the Gospel choirs and minimalist, echoey drum loops, which are remnants of Donda. But even the general reaction to this album has similarities to Yeezus, a project that was initially criticized but eventually adored as an immensely innovative and groundbreaking project. I am by no means implying the same will happen with VULTURES 1, but the initial reaction strikes me as a strong resemblance.

Sonically, the album’s production is somewhat lopsided but still incredibly engaging. The first track, “STARS,” is a familiarly lyrical Ye intro, full of reverbed piano and a dry, high-toned drum beat, co-produced by Ye, FNZ, SHDØW, Digital Nas and JPEGMAFIA. “PAID” has more of a straightforward industrial house beat, but the song is elevated to new heights when halfway through Ye gives an unhinged interpolation of “Roxanne” by the Police. This moment is a major highlight for me, as it shows Ye is still open to experimenting with weird, off-putting vocal inflections.

Things really pick up on “DO IT,” my favorite song on the album, with an 8-bit, Pokémon-sounding orchestra sample under a thrilling trap beat, very fittingly produced by Mustard. “PAPERWORK” is the most uncanny of the Yeezus throwbacks, and “BURN” was by far the biggest surprise of the LP, with a colorful, feel-good, peppy sample flip and infectious vocal performance by Ty Dolla $ign. 

I don’t predict this album will stand out within his already legendary discography, and I don’t foresee a grand shift in sentiment similar to what followed Yeezus. Unfortunately, we won’t be seeing a “New Ye'' anytime soon, and the “Old Ye” isn’t coming back. His lyrics lack the bold humor they once had, instead, they either elicit a tired groan or fall flat entirely. The current Ye is lacking both in principle and impact with the same prodigious musical creativity. I do, however, believe that this album is a triumph sonically, with bangers like “CARNIVAL,” “DO IT,” “PAPERWORK'' and “BURN.”

Musically, this album is not Ye’s worst. It’s also not his best, and I can respect someone not liking it a whole lot. To label the album as antisemitic, I maintain, is false. There is no harm in providing context. There is harm, however, in neglecting to give an unbiased review of the music itself, an aspect of this project that many people other than Ye have put a lot of time and energy into. I appreciate this album for what it is and look forward to the next two volumes. 


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