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How Back Is Kanye West After the Billboard 200-Topping Debut of ‘Vultures 1’?

Mr. Nimbus | 02/21/2024

If you thought Kanye West‘s time in the mainstream was done following his most recent and most impactful round of controversies — wearing a “White Lives Matter” shirt and making repeat antisemitic comments (which has since posted a public apology in Hebrew for), among other offenses — the reception for new album Vultures 1 should dissuade you of that notion pretty quickly.

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Vultures, co-credited to West and longtime collaborator Ty Dolla $ign, debuts atop the Billboard 200 this week — moving 148,000 equivalent album units, despite missing all of that tracking week’s Friday (and some of its Saturday) with the messy rollout of its release, and drawing a mostly favorable response from longtime fans (though more mixed notices from critics). In addition, the album lands all 16 of its tracks on this week’s Billboard Hot 100 chart, led by the No. 3-bowing “Carnival,” which seems well on its way to being the album’s breakout hit.

Is the largely positive reception justified? And what does the debut mean for Kanye’s comeback? Billboard writers discuss these questions and more below.

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1. Kanye West and Ty Dolla $ign’s Vultures 1 debuts atop the Billboard 200 with 148,000 first-week units. On a scale from 1-10, how happy do you think Ye and Ty should be with that debut number?

Kyle Denis: 8. For Ty, this is his first No. 1 album and the biggest sales week of his career – it doesn’t get much better than that. For Kanye, I have to imagine that this feels like a triumph. Vultures I suffered numerous delays, got yanked from DSPs mid-tracking week and served as his first attempt at an independent release. Despite all those challenges – and the general cooling on Kanye the Artist™ in the wake of his string of antisemitic comments and hate speech – he still scored his 11th No. 1 album and shifted nearly 150,000 units in a week. Nonetheless, we can’t ignore that audiences aren’t consuming Vultures as voraciously as they have Kanye’s previous solo albums – 2018’s ye, 2019’s Jesus Is King and 2021’s Donda – all of which crossed the 200,000 units mark in their first week of release. 

Carl Lamarre: If I’m Ty Dolla $ign, I’m ecstatic and through the roof. So, I’m flying high at a 10 if I’m him, considering this is his first-ever No. 1 on the Billboard 200. If I’m Kanye, I’m probably at an 8.5-9. I bumped Ye’s points down because I’m thinking about Mr. West’s ego and fragile psyche. Though this is his 11th consecutive No. 1 on the Billboard 200, this is Ye’s lowest opening week of his career (Kids See Ghosts did 142,000 but was billed as to its eponymous group with Kid Cudi in 2018). 2019’s Jesus Is King landed at 264,000 equivalent album units, while 2021’s Donda netted 309,000 equivalent album units. I don’t think Ye will lose sleep over the drop-off, especially after nailing a No. 1 album independently amid his antisemitic comments. For now, I’m sure Mr. West feels Teflon. 

Michael Saponara: 10. I think as long as they were well into six-figure sales and debuted at No. 1 this was a major victory for Ye and Ty – especially with the project being released independently and facing sampling and distributor issues messing with its availability on streamers throughout the week.

Damien Scott: Ye and Ty should be happy that Vultures 1 debuted at No. 1. Putting aside all the pump fakes on release day, which saw the album being taken down and re-posted on various streaming services, Ye’s acidic language and antics over the past year or so turned himself and anyone who associated with him radioactive. So, there was no telling how people would respond to a new project from him, especially one that’s been so sloppily rolled out. The lukewarm reception to the album’s advance title track didn’t help matters. So, I’ll say 10 — this is about as good as things could have went for Ye and Ty.

Andrew Unterberger: I’ll say an 8. It’s not the kind of head-turning number West pulled up with previous releases — some of which were much less commercial-sounding than this — but it’s still an A-list number for 2024, especially in an incomplete first week. For a guy who’s spent the past few years being as toxic as Ye has, I’m sure even that level of embrace feels like a major win. (And obviously Ty should be thrilled with his first-ever No. 1 on the 200, even though it feels like he’s getting it in more of a supporting role.)

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2. In addition to the album debuting at No. 1, the album’s focus track “Carnival” debuts at No. 3 on the Hot 100, the highest-charting single for either artist this decade. Do you see it being a long-lasting hit, or will it fade relatively quickly following its bow? 

Kyle Denis: I think it will probably stick around the upper half of the chart should its streams remain consistent. “Carnival” is a song that works best live, so should a tour follow the duo’s Rolling Loud date, Kanye and Ty could have a genuine smash on their hands. On the other hand, “Do It” stands out as a possible hit thanks to that “Back That Azz Up” interpolation, as does the North West-assisted “Talking,” but that’s already had its day in the sun. 

Carl Lamarre: I can see “Carnival” in the top 20 for the next few weeks, especially with Kanye and Ty taking Vultures on the road with their upcoming headlining performance at Rolling Loud. We haven’t seen many new hip-hop songs crash the top 20 this year except 21 Savage’s “Redrum” and Flo Milli’s “Never Lose Me.” With the fierce combination of Ye, Dolla $, Playboi Carti and Rich the Kid, this song will be living at the top of the playlists for ragers and mosh-pit fanatics, especially with festival season underway.

Michael Saponara: Getting added to RapCaviar after having the most-streamed song of the week is a positive development in that regard, as Ye has been pretty much shut out of any radio play thus far with Vultures 1. If he does deliver on second and third volumes of Vultures, I believe “Carnival” will get washed ashore, but it’s far from a guarantee another batch West and Ty Dolla tunes are on the way in the coming weeks. 

Damien Scott: A few factors make it difficult to predict whether “Carnival” will stay on the charts or not. The biggest one is Ye’s unpredictability when it comes to following through with any plans he’s shared with the public. Judging from social media it seems like his team is going to try to capitalize on the moment by trying to institute a challenge and maybe shooting a video. But who knows. He could just as easily forget about the whole album and move onto Vultures 2 or whatever he wants to do next.

Andrew Unterberger: Certainly sounds like a smash to me. For better or worse.

3. Though critics’ takes have been mixed, Vultures seems to have the strongest reception among Kanye fans perhaps since The Life of Pablo. Do you see this album as a true return to form for Ye, or is that reception more a testament to the quality of his other recent releases? 

Kyle Denis: An album whose best tracks can barely stand shoulder-to-shoulder with most of The Life of Pablo is simply not a true return to form for Ye. I think the messy, sprawling tracklists and middling dips into different genres on his last few projects make Vultures feel like a promise of pre-2018 Kanye… but this is not that. While there are flashes of brilliance on the record, Vultures feels too redundant to be a great Kanye West record. 

Carl Lamarre: Lyrically, this was a porous showing by Ye compared to previous projects. Donda was a very slept-on album. Shed the fat and cut down the tracks by a few, and you have unquestionably one of the decade’s strongest hip-hop albums. As for the current album at hand, Ye’s production prowess remains God Level and is one of the reasons why he skates through the controversies. Anybody can be a beatmaker, but Ye’s musical arrangements, placement of guests, and usage of Ty’s voice as the lead instrument for Vultures made this album a solid showing. 

Michael Saponara: It’s a return to form in the fact this is the most “finished” body of work Ye has had since TLOP. He achieved the balance of having Vultures act as a fit inside the 2024 rap zeitgeist while also still being a sonic pioneer and curator for others to catch up to. I just have a tough time comparing Vultures to albums from well over a decade ago in West’s discography and think it’s an unfair bar to set.

Damien Scott: I don’t think Ye ever lost his form. He’s taken a bunch of diversions and clearly lost focus for a long moment. But I don’t think he ever forgot how to make music. Donda was a bloated mess of an album that had a bunch of half-finished sketches and ideas, but mixed in among those skeletons were moments of real brilliance. Vultures 1 is his most focused work since in years— all the songs are complete and seemingly finished; and the tracklist is not an unruly 20+ songs. The whole thing seems more considered than anything he’s released since TLOP.

Andrew Unterberger: Front to back, it’s probably both his most-satisfying and least-interesting album since Pablo. Like most of that album, Vultures feels sonically enveloping and masterful but lyrically sneering and obnoxious. For all hate that Ye got, give me a song as difficult and revealing as “I Thought About Killing You” or “Ghost Town” over pretty much any of the pit-starting anthems here.

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4. Despite being a co-billed artist on Vultures, Ty Dolla $ign has largely been relegated to a supporting role by most discussions of the album. Do you think it’s fair to mostly treat this as a Kanye album, or does that shortchange Ty’s contributions to the project? 

Kyle Denis: Kanye is clearly a more dominant vocal presence on Vultures, but Ty’s contributions are just as interesting and important. However, I find it more pressing to think about Ty’s involvement from a marketing/cultural standpoint. There’s a reason that Kanye did not return with a solo album. There’s a reason that he chose Ty Dolla $ign to embark on this journey alongside, and there’s a reason Ty agreed to the ride. We’re aware that Kanye is probably the most controversial mainstream musician in the world, so for his first full-length project since his worst phase of public perception yet to be a joint record is intriguing. To a certain extent, Kanye needed a less polarizing name attached to the record, but how does Ty reconcile the music with Kanye’s past few years?

Vultures may sound more like a Kanye solo album than a proper collaborative project, but we would be remiss not to properly grapple with the record in the way it was presented to us. 

Carl Lamarre: It’s what I said in answer No. 3: Ye is undoubtedly the conductor of this train. It goes beyond raps because he weaves in Ty and fits him in certain pockets. Ty is elite, but his bread and butter have always been hooks and features. What I would love to see for Ty — so his career doesn’t strictly lead with being Kanye’s sidekick — is having his next solo album executive-produced by Ye. That would be most beneficial for him as a solo artist. 

Michael Saponara: From a cultural standpoint, West was always going to dominate the conversation with all of the controversy surrounding him for the last couple of years. As for the music, Ty deserves a ton of credit for steering the ship at times and keeping Ye from going creatively off the rails on some tracks. West and Ty have proven to be cerebral collaborators and have a propensity to bring the best out of those they’re working with.

Damien Scott: I think that shortchanges Ty’s contributions to the album. The album is unmistakably a Kanye project in fit and finish. It’s kind of trippy listening to it because it’s an ouroboros of Ye musical history. All of the sounds and styles were originated or popularized by Ye at some point over the past 20 years, whether it’s the stripped down industrial maximalism of Yeezus or warm soulful bounce of TCD. It’s all here. But Ty does a good bit of heavy lifting, keeping the album balanced, making it more palatable and grounded than if Ye was left to his own devices. That must have been a tough task.

Andrew Unterberger: Love Ty and he is a welcome presence for much of Vultures — but the number of co-stars who could stand next to a personality as huge and self-centering as Kanye’s and not get chewed up along with the rest of the scenery is a short one, and does not include him.

5. West has obviously dealt with a tremendous amount of backlash in the past few years given his recent inflammatory statements and controversies. What does the debut of Vultures say to you about Kanye’s current standing in the mainstream, and how it’s changed in recent years (if at all)? 

Kyle Denis: To me, Vultures shows that Kanye is too big to disappear – at least for right now. He’ll always have an audience, and the ratio of dedicated fans to nosy detractors will fluctuate in tandem with his public perception. Moreover, Vultures could be a signal that people are generally weary of Kanye and his shenanigans. Even with its bevy of release-week controversies, Vultures didn’t feel as culturally dominant as Donda or Pablo or even Jesus Is King, to a lesser extent. Of course, these aren’t 1:1 comparisons, so maybe we will have to wait and see how the other two Vultures projects fare.

Carl Lamarre: No matter how deep Kanye sinks, fans will continue to throw him a life raft. Many have chucked deuces to Mr. West after his “slavery is a choice” and anti-semitic comments. Deservingly so, Ye lost endorsements and fans for his ignorance and hateful comments. Still, his legions of fans find ways to separate the art from the artist and come in droves every time a new album drops. That speaks to Ye’s musical career and its lasting impact on many people, especially as he’s now two decades deep into it.

Michael Saponara: It speaks loudly to those who have supported him and will continue to do so with an imaginary line being drawn in the sand. There’s still clearly a massive appetite for Ye, as Rolling Loud added an extra day for him and Ty Dolla $ign to perform next month. That doesn’t seem like it’s destined to change in the near future either, as long as the music/clothing remains up to par and culturally influential. What’s different is the scale at which he operates now creating independently, without the backing of industry titans such as Universal, Adidas and Balenciaga.

Damien Scott: While Vultures 1 went No. 1, it didn’t perform nearly as well as Donda. For example, it was the most streamed album in 24 hours on Spotify in 2021. This isn’t that. His antics and statements have done a good deal of irreversible damage. He’s still a massively famous artist, though — one who hasn’t performed live regularly in a long time, so it’s not surprising to see fans clamoring to see him in concert and at Rolling Loud. That said, I don’t think Vultures has done much to change his standing in the mainstream. But Ye has. His recent apology and his renewed focus on his music and apparel makes it seem as if he’s turned a corner. How long that will last is anyone’s guess.

Andrew Unterberger: Kanye was never going to totally disappear from the mainstream until he actively chose to do so. If nothing else, the more crowd-pleasing nature of Vultures (and the mild contrition he showed in advance of its release) shows that even as a now-independent artist, Ye has no interest in operating at the fringes — he still wants to be in a place to move the culture. It shouldn’t be particularly surprising to anyone that he still can.

This post was originally published on this site

Written by Mr. Nimbus




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