What’s it like to attend a listening event for the album “Vultures” by Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West, in 2024?
Bizarre. At times, admittedly exhilarating. Deeply challenging.
Ye (his legally changed name since 2021) and collaborator Ty Dolla $ign announced the event on Instagram Feb. 5 and tickets sold out the next day. By the time they arrived at United Center Thursday night, they appeared primed to unveil the first of three joint efforts (the full title of the joint studio album is “Vultures, Volume One,” with volumes two and three announced for release later this year).
Originally slated to be released Dec. 15, 2023, “Vultures: Volume One” saw numerous delays due to sampling clearance issues. The album is currently announced for release Friday but as of publication, nothing but its two singles: title track “Vultures” featuring Bump J and recent Grammy winner Lil Durk, and “Talking/Once Again” featuring Ye’s eldest daughter North West, could be found on Apple Music or Spotify.
It would surprise no one who has followed Ye’s career if the album was postponed again. It happened in the past with 2016’s “Life of Pablo” and 2021’s “Donda,” due to the artist’s compulsion to tinker.
The crowd on Thursday night will wait as long as it takes. Lines wrapped around the United Center at 8:30 p.m. for an event that was scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. The merch lines inside weren’t much shorter. Ye, in leather and a face mask, and Dolla $ign, clad in a balaclava and peacoat, took to the center stage shrouded in smoke shortly after 10 p.m.
In Chicago, it’s proven hard for fans to let go of their hometown hero, the man they still consider a “genius” despite recent years of antisemitic and anti-Black statements. His music still blares from speakers at bars and sporting events, and his career — from the South Side to the top of the music industry — is still cited as an inspiration for up-and-coming talents.
Before the “Vultures” album preview began, local DJ Pharris spun Ye songs. Speaking with fans, the overwhelming sentiment was that Ye continues to be “misunderstood” or “taken out of context” by the press and social media waiting to exploit a soundbite of him not necessarily expressing himself “in the best way.”
“I think sometimes he says things but doesn’t mean any harm,” says Jay Adams, a longtime fan who brought his sons Trey, 10, and Sebastian, 9, for their first concert experience — though he told them they were going to a Chicago Bulls event.
As a season ticket holder, he said he was able to purchase three tickets for $240 — a steal compared to folks who paid that much for one.
“I’ve been a fan since (2004 debut album) ‘College Dropout,’” Adams said. “We listen to him a lot, they hear a lot of Kanye. But they’d never been to a concert, this is their first one. Why not bring them to see Kanye? I was in Miami for Art Basel when he and Ty Dolla $ign popped up and performed, so I’d heard a lot of (the album) already. I loved it.”
Adams’ sons were more excited at the prospect of seeing North West, who later appeared on stage to dance along to her now-viral verse on “Talking/Once Again.”
Both boys believe North will be as big as, if not bigger, than her dad one day.
“I am not disappointed this wasn’t the Bulls,” added Trey.
Others said they wanted to witness the man who redefined hip-hop for a generation.
“I’m a Gemini, so I feel I understand Kanye because he’s a Gemini. You know, he goes back and forth,” said Brianna Coleman, who attended with her cousins Nyah Kennedy and Joi Boykin (Boykin is Chicago rapper Bump J’s daughter). “But I feel like he goes into seclusion, gets his stuff together, and when he comes back, it’s like … he’s a genius, you know? You can’t deny he’s musically talented. This is real special, plus you gotta introduce these kids to good music early. We all know about Kanye from listening to music with our moms and dads, that’s how you learn.”
Sonically, the first half of the “Vultures” listening experience picked up where “Fade,” the closing track on “Life of Pablo,” left off. Heavy house rhythms swallowed by bass were in their groove, but ultimately muddled Ye’s lyrics. Ty Dolla $ign’s presence felt more like that of a hype man than an equal, creative collaborator. An interpolation of Backstreet Boys’ “Backstreet’s Back” on “Everybody,” presented as “Yeezy’s Back,” ignited the crowd, as did “Paid.” Surprise guests including Bump J, Freddie Gibbs and YG joined the duo on stage throughout the hour-long presentation.
It was a crash course in cognitive dissonance as Ye both condemned (“Beg Forgiveness”) and condoned his own actions and some fans wrestled with the same. Ye and Dolla $ign “performed” but were ultimately lip-syncing and dancing to select tracks in a much more informal way than a proper concert would produce.
The final song of the evening, on which West repeatedly proclaimed he was “still the king” despite the severity of his public comments about Jewish people (for which he most recently apologized again, in Hebrew), his mental health struggles, and “losses” in his career, felt like proof of his intentions. An almost chilling doubling-down that reaffirms his mass of contradictions and almost renders his myriad apologies meaningless. This is not a man who doesn’t mean what he says, exactly in the way he’s said it, no matter what his most ardent fans want to believe. He is too smart for that.
“Kanye, to me, has always been pretty controversial in his stances. And I think you allow people the time and space to evolve,” said Courtland Tunstill. “He’s gone through a lot of different stances we haven’t agreed with, but sometimes you can look at things and say, ‘damn, maybe he was right — he just didn’t say it in the right way.’ But an opinion is an opinion. To me, that’s the biggest part of being an artist — to have an opinion and be able to express that idea. So it’s tough to say where we draw the line. There are so many things he’s already challenged, but I’m still here buying the shirt. That’s a part of humanity.”
As the lights came up at 11 p.m. and fans — hoping for more music from what was widely considered an abruptly-ended night — slowly filtered onto Madison Street, it was clear that West’s hold on Chicago is still strong
Jessi Roti is a freelance writer.
First appeared on www.chicagotribune.com