On Dec. 18, Kanye West set a release date of New Year’s Eve for Vultures, his collaborative album with Ty Dolla $ign under the newly-minted artist name ¥$. West made this announcement three days after the album’s scheduled street date of Dec. 15 came and went. But frankly, the missed deadline has been just about the only normal thing about the album’s rollout.
Whenever it finally releases, Vultures will be West’s first new album since those frenzied few weeks more than a year ago when his series of hateful, unhinged antisemitic remarks saw him lose multimillion-dollar deals with Adidas and the Gap, his talent agency, his social media posting privileges, and huge swathes of his remaining fans. Regaining any of those things was always going to be a tough order, but West’s attempted return to music has been littered with enough missteps and fresh outrages that any chances of a mainstream rehabilitation seem increasingly dim.
In the most notable of several appearances surrounding Miami’s Art Basel last week, West previewed new tracks at a listening party for Vultures, a familiar pre-album ritual for West (though one that has often seen him preview tracks that will change substantially, or be shelved altogether, before an official release). The event took place in the early hours of Dec. 12 at Miami’s Wynwood Marketplace, broadcast via an occasionally unreliable livestream.
Flanked at various points by Ty, Offset, Chris Brown and Freddie Gibbs, West played several cuts from the album. Included in the set was the Backstreet Boys-interpolating “Everybody”; “River,” which features contributions from Young Thug; “Slide,” which features a verse from West’s daughter North; and a version of “New Body,” the yet unreleased Nicki Minaj feature that has been kicking around at least since 2018, when it was supposed to appear on the later-shelved Yandhi.
Minaj, who topped the U.S. album chart last week with Pink Friday 2, seemed unenthused. Speaking via Instagram Live, Minaj said: “Regarding Kanye, that train has left the station. No disrespect in any way, [but] I just put out a brand new album. Why would I put out a song that has been out for years? Come on, guys.”
The Miami listening session also featured the previously leaked title track, which contains an instantly controversial (and, let’s be frank, thunderously stupid) lyric implying that by sleeping with Jewish women, West absolves himself of charges of anti-Jewish bigotry. During the song, West donned a black Klan-style hood and glared at the crowd. (It’s worth note that West also toyed with white supremacist imagery during the release of 2013’s Yeezus, though the context back then was considerably different.)
West resurfaced in Las Vegas for another listening party on Dec. 14, this time debuting a track featuring Kid Cudi, despite the rapper’s previous vow that it would take “a miracle” to convince him to work with West again. This event was not live-streamed, though according to several reports, the party also featured a fresh round of West’s familiarly incoherent antisemitic rants. Since then, he's announced and then quickly cancelled a surprise headlining set in Saudi Arabia. Somewhere amidst all this, presumably, Vultures will release.
Whether the listening public will be hitting “play” on Vultures when it does is very much an open question. West weathered a seemingly endless series of minor flare-ups and obnoxious incidents during his first decade and a half atop the pop music world, and even as his scandals started taking a darker turn in the mid-2010s, his ubiquity as a pop culture figure only seemed to increase. In fact, he initially engendered significant sympathy for his openness about mental health challenges, although his support of Donald Trump and infamous “slavery was a choice” quote certainly caused many to draw a line as the decade went on. But each time he readied a new release, interest would inevitably surge. His albums released since that famous Trump Tower meeting -- 2018's Ye, 2019's Jesus Is King, and 2021's Donda -- all debuted at the top of the U.S. album chart, with the latter even earning an Album of the Year Grammy nomination. And sales of his Yeezy sneaker line with Adidas remained strong until the company finally pulled the plug.
But his collapse into rabid, open antisemitism in 2022 certainly seemed like it would finally be a bridge too far. And thus far, it seems like it might still be. For a public (and, mea maxima culpa, a music press) that has long been hopelessly addicted to West’s ongoing soap opera, it’s remarkable how much of a weary shrug West’s current “going door to door trying to shock people” era has produced.
And if there’s anything West’s career can’t survive, it’s apathy. It certainly can’t help that, despite its surprisingly well-stocked guest list, few of the previewed tracks from Vultures seem like they could have much life on radio — save for, ironically, “New Body." As a much more self-aware West once noted during his first (and now, comparably quaint) stint as a social pariah, when the old routine isn't funny anymore, you try different jokes. Back then, he still could, and did. But thus far, the release of Vultures has seen West going back to the same toxic playbook.