Illustration by team illustrator Sakura Siegel.

Separating the art from the artist seems to be the biggest request that Ye fans have developed in the last few years.

It’s a question that has yet to find a satisfying answer. Is engagement with a problematic artist ethical?

Kanye West, now known as Ye, seems to have been selected as the poster boy of this dilemma for the last few years.

Ye has not been a stranger to controversy, even since the beginning of his career. It has become a near essential part of the persona that he has built–if you could even call it a persona anymore.

In the last two years, he has seemingly reached the peak of his controversy. Ye has engaged in direct and open support for antisemitic beliefs and his association with known white supremacists.

The public backlash was rough, and on top of that, Ye had his contracts with several different major fashion and entertainment industry titans dropped. All this coming after a very public divorce with Kim Kardashian in early 2021. 

These incidents have drawn a noticeable split within both his fanbase and the wider music community. The split between those who see his latest antics as so inexcusable that they no longer consider themselves as fans or consumers of his art and those who still support his art or even his viewpoints. 

With the latest release of his third collaborative album, “Vultures I,” with Ty Dolla $ign, this question became ever more apparent: is good art worth supporting even if it comes from someone who could be described as reprehensible?

Is ‘Vultures I’ Good?

The first question would be is the album even good. “Good” art is always going to be subjective, but given that this essay is also a review, it is hard to describe this album as anything other than disappointing at best and tiring at worst.

I do not see how anyone could listen to this album and come away thinking that this was the best he could make this album. 

While it’s certainly more put together than last year’s unfinished “Donda 2,” this album contains a lot of messy mixes, flows and bars that are questionable at best and embarrassing at worst. 

This album feels less like artistic expression and more like a musical Pollock mural in the worst way possible, with Ye unloading several elements of his personal drama that I just couldn’t sympathize with for the most part.

Opening the album, “STARS,” we begin with a melancholic and atmospheric choral drone that sets the scene beautifully. It gave a lot of promise to the project that has arguably been one of his most anticipated, not just because of the controversy but also because this would mark Ye’s first steps as an independent artist.

Ye then dives in with his verse, where we begin to see the first crack develop in his line, “I’ma come through and just blackout, keep a few Jews on the staff now.”

Already we’ve set the tone for what this project is meant to be for Ye: A self-aggrandizing stroll through the unapologetic mind of a man who doesn’t realize when the jig is up.

What is this line even meant to convey? Was he making a deliberate attempt to exclude Jewish people from working with him before the backlash? Is he only hiring Jewish people because of the backlash? Even though this is likely a joke, who is meant to laugh at this?

The subsequent tracks “KEYS TO MY LIFE” and “PAID” also set the disturbing trend for the rest of the album of Ye being the worst aspect of almost every song he’s featured on, with his delivery on “PAID” being so painfully annoying that it makes the song almost unlistenable if it weren’t for the euro-club beat and Ty’s chorus which seems to serve as an explanation for his presence on the album, “I’m just here to get paid.”

Some notably ridiculous bars throughout the album include:

“I’m not racist, it’s a preference, and my bitch lookin’ like a reference” (just openly admitting the weirdness that is molding your current wife to look like a copy of your ex.)

“How I’m antisemitic? I just fucked a Jewish bitch.”

“Just turned a bird bitch to my ex like I’m Elon.”

“I just bought my bitch a bitch, uh.”

While these bars aren’t as egregiously offensive as his rants, they present a level of unbridled immaturity that is, simply, cringe inducing and not endearing as Ye’s “corny” bars on earlier albums like “The Life of Pablo.” 

The production of the album doesn’t fare much better. 

With notable highlights in “STARS” as mentioned previously, as well as the funky and soulful groove found in “BURN” (reminiscent of his Dropout days), or the haunting, operatic vocals in “BEG FORGIVENESS,” it’s clear that at least some love went into the album, but it is not nearly enough to cover the stench.

The loop in the “HOODRAT” sample is eye-rolling and annoying; the euroclub beat in “Paid” is serviceable but uninspired; the production in “DO IT” sounds like a first draft and out of place for a Ye record; and “FUK SUM” had the potential to be great if it weren’t for the absolute snoozer that was the lyrics.

The biggest highs on this record are “TALKING,” “BEG FORGIVENESS” and “BURN.” Ye’s daughter, North, comes in with an incredibly endearing verse that warmed my heart and impressed me beyond belief given that she seemingly wrote the verse herself, and the second half, “ONCE AGAIN,” being an absolutely entrancing introspection on fatherhood.

“BEG FORGIVENESS” seems more like an interlude than a dedicated track, but I couldn’t help but feel tuned in and enveloped from the cover of Joe Goddard’s “Gabriel.” 

“CARNIVAL” also serves as the album’s most popular track and for good reason; it has really strong verses from Rich the Kid and Playboi Carti and a great sample loop that makes for a heated stadium anthem. The song is only bogged down by the messy mix that makes Carti’s verse difficult to actually hear, and Ye’s verse and flow were still subpar.

In summary, “Vultures I” is an album that would’ve likely been better if Ye just wasn’t on the project. 

There was so much potential littered in almost every track and it is a shame for almost every negative that you can attribute to this album, Ye seems to be the main culprit for all of it. 

It also does not help that there is no sense of introspection or reflection whatsoever on Ye’s part regarding his controversies and he only seems to be all the more willing to double down and hold the line in a battle that’s virtually unwinnable.

This is where we are faced with the merits of separating the art from the artist. While there certainly are things to enjoy about this album, are even those moments tainted by the broader context of Ye’s recent past?

Ye As An Artist vs. Ye As A Person

Thias is a Manhattan-born and New Jersey-based rapper and producer who wears his Ye influences proudly in his music. 

For Thias, Ye has been an instrumental part of what made him want to pursue music. On his YouTube channel, Thias shares different instrumentals and beats that he produced and were directly influenced by previous Ye eras and styles.

Some songs of his, such as “Say It and “FAVORITE!,” also noticeably draw from the likes of Travis Scott and Drake, who are not only other influences of Thias, but are very direct products of Ye’s impact on the industry.

“When I was like 15, that’s when I started really being interested in [music]. I started making beats by remaking some of the beats on ‘Yeezus,’ like, ‘Send It Up,’ and ‘I’m In It.’”

Thias would continue to make his own original productions from there, with his sound being self described as “atmospheric, euphoric” and “to the left a little bit.”

Like Ye, Thias wanted to stand out from his crowd and push the envelope in an area with a very defined sound especially in hip-hop.

It’s a large reason why he is so fascinated and modeled by Ye. He’s a guy that Thias looks up to. He is not just the inspiration but the aspiration–as is the case for many of his fans.

So when it came to the recent controversy revolving around his antisemitic remarks, Thias wasn’t necessarily put off. He wasn’t even surprised.

“Most of the things he’s said [through his career] I pretty much agree with. I understand what he meant by slavery as a choice because I’m African-American as well…we are still ruled by the things around us, we still die for blocks we don’t own.”

A lot of Ye’s rhetoric through the years in essence revolves around the idea of Black self-determination, and the need for the Black community to break away from an industry that he views as exploitative of Black artists.

Ye, and other Black artists, have always brought up the issue when it comes to Black people owning their own creativity and having it not be controlled by a powerful, small elite within record labels.

The problem with Ye, however, is that he started attributing this problem to the Jewish community specifically. The idea of a “Jewish elite” controlling everything at the detriment of others is textbook antisemitism and there isn’t really any way to step around that.

Obviously this presented a bit of an issue with Thias. 

Although he wasn’t shocked by the comments, he also doesn’t necessarily believe that Ye hates Jewish people. For Thias, he attributed these comments more as Ye expressing frustration with a pattern in the industry rather than a commendation of the entire Jewish community across the world.

“I think he is speaking his truth, his experience,” Thias said. “I don’t blame an Asian person for being scared of Black people, because look what happened during COVID, their experience was they were getting attacked by Black people in the city for no f–king reason. So that’s their experience to say they can’t trust these people.”

He ultimately summarized that Ye’s views–referencing his analogy before–doesn’t come from prejudice, “it comes from trauma.”

For me, regardless of how Ye arrived at his conclusion, his views are still undoubtedly bigoted and wrong. There is no “free pass” to being racist.

While I can write another essay on why he’s wrong, this article isn’t about disproving antisemitism, it’s about the question of Ye’s relevance in entertainment and the potential consequences of that. 

Ye’s Legacy

Although I think that Ye will still have relevance for the time being, I don’t personally see how Ye in his current form is the dominating entertainment phenom that he was in his early years. 

For artists like Thias, that relevance will still undoubtedly be there and maybe for good reason. I think it’s hard to find instances where inspiring people to pursue creativity and art is a bad thing. 

The fact that Ye inspired dozens of artists today is a feat that has only ever been accomplished by a handful of people. 

It is something that he will always be remembered for, and justifiably so.

However, with the rise of these artists comes the inevitability of fading into the background. When you have artists like Travis Scott, Playboi Carti, Tyler, the Creator, Lil Uzi Vert, Megan Thee Stallion and many others dominating the industry in music and fashion, it is hard to not ignore that not only are they all products of Ye, but that Ye is no longer the center of these universes.

He isn’t out of the game yet, that’s for certain. 

(Courtesy of Complex)

“Vultures I” is still at the top of the charts and is currently No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200 after being No. 1 for two consecutive weeks. This marked his 11th consecutive No. 1 album hit, beating Eminem and tying with Jay-Z as the second artist with the most consecutive No. 1 album debuts…right behind Taylor Swift.

“Vultures 2” was supposed to be released last week, with a third installment set for April. These are likely to follow just as commercially successful, and doesn’t shock anyone in the slightest.

While I think there will always be people listening to Ye, I just don’t think that the spirit that he once had on this industry is present anymore. 

It is hard to imagine how artists can be inspired by “Vultures I” in the same way they were inspired by “808s & Heartbreak” and “Yeezus.” 

Ye will never be forgotten, he’s certain to make that sure. The question will be at this point is what will he be remembered for. Will he be remembered for his artistry? Or will he only be remembered for his controversy?

For those like Thias, loyal fans who took the brave step into the creative world, maybe it will be a bit of both. For general audiences, it’s hard to say.

For me, I can only say that while his music will always hold a special place in my heart, I can’t exactly say the same for the man himself. He is deeply complicated and incredibly messy. He is talented beyond almost every measure. He is severely problematic and troubling. He is acutely aware of his craft that not many can match. He is reprehensible. He’s inspiring. He’s a blended mix of almost every curse that comes with having the kind of gifts that he has.

Without his knack for the controversial, it’s clear that we would have never gotten works like “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” “The Life of Pablo,” or even “Ye.” But maybe it’s time to consider that this road is coming to an end. 

If the quality of “Vultures I” is any indication, it’s that the times call for self reflection, not doubling down.

I can’t say I’m very excited about his future installments. But I admittedly still keep an eye out for what he does. As will millions of others.

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