Kanye West‘s album listening parties have become one of the more interesting music events in the last eight years. As a Kanye fan, given the mystique surrounding the iconic rapper, we always flirt with the idea of attending these events. However, we know to always expect the unexpected from him.
Back in 2016, Ye threw the first of his big listening parties at the world-famous Madison Square Garden in New York for The Life of Pablo, and it was one that I’m still upset I missed. Kanye has been a part of my life since he debuted as an artist with The College Dropout in 2003 when I was 12 years old. As hard as it is to say these days, I’m an OG fan of the Chicago rap legend and will make every attempt to attend a show or listening event.
The Pablo listening had Kanye smiling from ear to ear while partying with other rappers such as Pusha T and Kid Cudi, letting Young Thug get some shine on the auxiliary cord, and more. It was a moment all Kanye fans cherished. Little did we know it would be the last such event we’d get from the troublesome multihyphenate. The listenings for his non-gospel albums, Ye and Donda, were marred by several issues, including late start times and incomplete albums.
Being an older fan of Kanye, the desire to attend or even check for his events has slowly dwindled, especially as he’s become known more for his controversial actions than his music lately. When the 46-year-old announced he would host a pair of listening parties in Chicago and New York for Vultures, his collaborative project with Ty Dolla $ign as the group ¥$, I wasn’t clamoring to go. There was a good chance it wouldn’t even happen. Before he and Ty performed the album in Miami during Art Basel, he attempted to host a big listening event in Italy. It never happened. Still, a sense of intrigue pushed me to see where Ye was going in this new chapter of his career.
I went into the Vultures New York listening on Saturday (Feb. 10) wondering what to expect. Was the album finished? Would Ye go on a wild rant? Will the listening start on time? How would people react to Kanye this time after all the antisemitic comments and odd behavior? There were no true answers to those questions until I began my trip to the grounds of the UBS Arena.
Like a regular New Yorker, I took public transportation. Droves of fans bolted through Grand Central Station in Midtown Manhattan to catch the iron horse that brought guests directly to the arena. People were hyped over what they could hear from Kanye and Ty Dolla, but there was also a universal feeling that something could make this whole experience go haywire.
“We don’t even know what’s going to happen! Is he even done with the album? This IS Kanye,” someone a few rows over told their group of friends on the train. Another person didn’t even know why they were making the trip but said, “F— it, it’s Kanye.” Others were shameless and admitted they passed on sex to see Mr. West.
Postponing romantic dates for a Kanye event is insane, but knowing I wasn’t the only one unsure of this listening was a good feeling. Little did we know, though, that Ye was about to flip the switch on us again.
Various chants of “We want Yeezy” and “Kanye” filled the air inside UBS Arena as people made their way to their seats and a DJ spun various tunes. Doors had been open since 8 p.m., and people grew restless as minutes turned into hours with no sign of ¥$ in sight.
In my mind, I already felt things were going south. I saw people yawning in their seats while others scrolled through their phones with barely a flair of excitement on their faces. Some were reminiscing about the “old Kanye” and his most legendary tours, including 2008’s Glow in the Dark tour and 2013’s Yeezus tour, possibly to reassure them that Ye is indeed capable of putting on a memorable show. The event in Chicago Thursday night (Feb. 8) had fans upset as it started late and lasted all of 45 minutes before ending abruptly.
People seemed to be over Ye’s antics and the whole experience before it even started. However, all those initial thoughts were squashed once the clock hit 11 p.m. and “Carnival” rang out through the UBS Arena speaker system. As the bass rattled the venue, Kanye and Ty Dolla showed up on the hazy stage to a roaring crowd with guests like Rich That Kid in tow.
From there, Ye and Ty took the crowd on a journey filled with hard-hitting anthems and head-bopping tunes. At one point, I forgot I was at a listening and thought this was a full-fledged concert with people screaming at the top of their lungs while bopping in their seats, a far cry from the tired and bored faces that walked through the doors of UBS at 8 p.m.
Kanye is known for teaming up with other artists on his albums and Vultures is no different. Although North West wasn’t in attendance, the crowd burst into cheers at her feature on “Talking.” Quavo’s appearance on “Paperwork” got a warm response, as did YG’s verse on “Do It” and Freddie Gibbs’ lyrical assault on “Back to Me.” However, no one got a more fiery response than the enigmatic Playboi Carti, who actually joined ¥$ on stage, rapping on “F-k Sumn” and “Carnival.”
Initially, I was shocked to hear how good the album sounded, and I wondered if Kanye had actually finished an album before playing it for the public rather than continuing to work on it until the deadline as he has in the past. The production was on point, and although his bars were incoherent and juvenile at times, Ye’s verses felt complete and Ty’s vocals sounded immaculate.
Ye isn’t the most lyrically gifted rapper on the planet, but we know he can put more effort into his rhymes. Bars such as “She fell in love with the sword, I sliced, I diced, I hit it from the back/ Whore, whore” on “Hoodrat” or “Wish somebody woulda warned us/ When I was 15, my soulmate wasn’t born yet” and “We got multiple wives too, just at different times/ Picture this, if every room got a different b—-/ Do that make me a porn-gga-mist?” on “Problematic” are just plain bad.
Kanye clearly can’t help himself and his controversial rhetoric with various mentions of being antisemitic and committing acts against Jewish women on tracks such as “Vultures” and “King.” He also didn’t stray away from comparing himself to controversial figures accused and/or found guilty of sexual assault on “Carnival,” where he raps, “Now I’m Ye Kelly, b—-/ Now I’m Bill Cosby, b—-/ Now I’m Puff Daddy rich/ That’s Me Too rich.”
We’ve heard Ye and Ty Dolla’s collaborative brilliance on tracks such as “Real Friends” and “Fade,” but Vultures has these guys showing more of their raw chemistry. The two are giving a convincing argument that they’re a formidable one-two punch with their new joint effort.
After about an hour, the listening was over, and fans were left satisfied. “Kanye is the GOAT, are you f—ing kidding me?” one person was heard yelling on their way out of the arena. Others shouted they needed the Chicago native to drop the album and that “he’s done it again,” proving people approved of his and Ty Dolla’s efforts.
Being a Kanye fan who’s seen it all, this listening was a welcomed surprise as Ye seems as if he has a clear vision for the music for the first time in years. He appeared to be so focused that Vultures 1 was released early Saturday morning, a day after the listening, which is a shocker given he’s delayed this album and other projects several times in the past.
Despite his best efforts to destroy it with controversial and offensive statements, Kanye’s musical legacy is already cemented. Vultures isn’t a make-or-break moment for the enigmatic rapper. But it is a bright spot in what has been a dark and gloomy few years. With Vultures reportedly being a trilogy and the first sounding as good as it does, I’m hoping Kanye can keep this momentum going into the next two parts. When he’s on, he can create something worthwhile.
As a follow-up to his last official release, Donda, which won two Grammys, Vultures has the potential to see the same success with heat-seeking tracks such as “Hoodrat,” “Do It,” “F-k Sumn,” “Carnival, “Burn,” and more propelling it. Do we need another album from Kanye West? No, not really. But with the ever-evolving hip-hop landscape and his ability to connect with different generations, Ye won’t be leaving the culture anytime soon. He just needs to stay focused on the music and drop on time.