A&E Review

Can’t Win ‘Em All: Kanye Strikes Out on “VULTURES 1”

Kanye West’s “VULTURES 1” Album Cover. Photo Courtesy of Genius.

On Oct. 23, 2002, Kanye West was in a brutal car crash that left him with a broken jaw. The injuries above his neck left him looking like a dog that ate a bee. His face puffed up like a balloon, and West was forced to have his jaw wired shut for an extended period.

Now nearly 22 years after the accident, I’m wondering if the brain damage that could have resulted from such a violent crash is finally getting to West after listening to his album “VULTURES 1.”

It’s not like West has a clean track record, and he’s always been on the more experimental side of rap so I wasn’t expecting everything he did on this project to make sense. However, “VULTURES 1” hardly passes for music in my opinion.

The lyrics are weirdly sexual in every song. His samples — while produced well — feel forced into the songs, and West’s frantic, unexplainable tone makes him sound like he’s going through a medical emergency on 95% of the album. 

It would only take a few scrolls through West’s Instagram account, or a trip down memory lane to some of West’s other infamous moments to predict an album like this from him. These past few weeks alone have been ominous enough to allude to the fact this album would be more like a fever dream than real music.

From West posting naked pictures of his new wife  — who strangely looks like his ex-wife Kim Kardashian — to him removing his teeth for a set of titanium veneers; it’s quite clear this man needs help.

Running through all of West’s concerning actions in recent memory would be easy, but let’s get into the actual music — if it even passes for music.

“VULTURES 1” isn’t entirely West’s project, as Ty Dolla $ign (TDS) has vocals on all 15 songs. However, after listening to each track, it’s easy to tell he had little say in the creative flow of this album and was only needed for his melodic voice. 

The album opens up with “STARS,” and right from the jump TDS sounds amazing. West doesn’t do much, and so I was willing to be patient with him. A couple more songs in, and this was still the case; TDS was putting in work with his signature vocals and West was just having a mental episode with a mic in his hand. 

The production quality has never been an issue on anything that has Kanye West stamped on it. “VULTURES 1” is no exception, and everything sounds crisp but this is the first time that I’ve felt West’s production was distracting.

“BACK TO ME” and “HOODRAT” have obnoxious samples, both in how they sound and what they say. “BACK TO ME” is uncomfortably explicit, and TDS’ vocals are wasted over such an overbearing sample. If you are into listening to someone moan the word “hoodrat” at 0.5 speed for nearly four minutes while West says a whole lot of nothing, then “HOODRAT” is the song for you! However, anyone who has an ounce of musical taste will recognize how much the song deserves to be hated.

At this point in the album — which was about a third of the way through the project — I was ready to call it quits and call the authorities to do a wellness check on West. “DO IT” was the sliver of hope I needed that maybe this album wasn’t a complete flop.

One of Los Angeles’ hottest rappers YG was crazy vibey on this song, and besides YG and West getting uncomfortably sexual once again; I thought the song had the potential to be a hit.

“BURN” sounded like West may have snapped out of whatever mental episode he was going through. We were only given a taste of vintage Kanye because this track was less than two minutes, and West’s verses were over before you could fully get into them.

West wandered further into a brain fog during the final third of this album. While TDS continued to shine, like on “BEG FORGIVENESS” and “PROBLEMATIC,” it’s West that ruins the songs. Ultimately, the back third of this album sounds less like music and more like a cry for help from West.

“VULTURES 1” is a disappointing way to see one of hip hop’s all-time greats start to peter out. While most rappers usually lose their flow, passion to make music — or even sometimes their life — the only thing West has seemed to lose is his mind. 

Kanye’s always been a bit edgy — it’s the reason we all fell in love with him — but his antics inside and outside the studio are starting to make his music unlistenable. The tricks he pulled on “VULTURES 1” wasted some of my favorite vocals from Ty Dolla $ign, and other guest performances like Chris Brown’s on “BEG FORGIVENESS” will be overlooked because of West’s meltdown in the studio.

It would be generous of me to call “VULTURES 1” music … It’s noise at best. Don’t get me wrong, Kanye is still on the Mount Rushmore of rap, but he’s about one publicity stunt away from crashing and burning. “VULTURES 1” just lit the flame, we’ll see if West can extinguish it.