It’s hard to believe it now, but Kanye West used to be one of the most experimental and talented figures in modern hip-hop. From the fierce ambition of his game-altering debut The College Drop-Out twenty years ago, to 2010’s mangled and grandiose rap masterpiece My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he’s been responsible for some truly trailblazing work, but more recently, he’s struggled to match his past heights. Back in 2015, he declared himself “the greatest living rock star on the planet” as he headlined Glastonbury, a strangely remote figure under glaring white spotlights on the Pyramid stage. The claim was short-lived: it has now been eight years since his last great record, the contrary, audacious, and whip-smart The Life Of Pablo.
West’s more recent albums have been uneven in quality, and often unfinished even upon release, heavily edited and updated in real-time. Though Jesus Is King came with bright gospel production, its declaration of faith felt oddly hollow. 2021’s Donda, an excessive and baggy 27-track thought-dump, did most of its hanging out in the middle of the road. Now, he’s back again with Ty Dolla $ign â€’ the rappers have formed a duo called ¥$, and Vultures 1 marks their debut together. It comes amid mounting controversy surrounding West, who feebly apologised for making a number of incredibly antisemitic comments in the run-up to its release. Elsewhere, he has been dropped by Adidas following various allegations of inappropriate conduct at Yeezy, and no longer has a record label.
Despite all of this, there are still plenty of artists happy to associate: Travis Scott, Playboi Carti, James Blake, JPEGMafia, Chris Brown, Timbaland and Quavo are among those credited here. Of all of Vulture’s cast members, though, Ye’s new bandmate Ty Dolla $ign brings the most cohesion and consistency, helping to vaguely hold together this album’s disparate, fragmented ideas.
West has always delighted in provocation, but here his attempts at garnering outrage are broadly flat and unimaginative. “How I'm anti-Semitic? I just f**ked a Jewish bitch,” he boasts on title-track Vulture, an overproduced and pale imitation of the raw trap sound he perfected with 2013’s Yeezy. “She Russian, I beat up the p**sy for Ukraine,” adds Ty Dolla $ign, not to be outdone for grossness.
On Burn, West gleefully awards himself the nickname “Ye-Kelly” and name-checks Bill Cosby before invoking the popular and by-now incredibly repetitive subject of his ongoing ‘feud’ with Taylor Swift and how he apparently made her famous by crashing her acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs. By now, this is ground that has been trodden numerous times before.
Elsewhere, West brags about getting blacklisted by a Venice boat company – “Shawty wanna f*** on something? / F*** on me / Suck on me, publicly,” he says – and makes a number of quite limp sex puns elsewhere. Creatively, he is frequently outshone and overshadowed by his guests.
Bluntly, is this edgelording nonsense really the most original that West has to offer? No matter how divisive his lyrics have been before it’s fair to say that he paired his statements with some of the most cutting-edge production in rap, and often had something new to say about the state of the world even if it didn’t go down well. But here, on a messy release which tries very hard to shock, and mostly prompts eyerolls instead, he and Ty Dolla $ign sound sorely behind the curve.