Kanye West on February 2, 2024, in Los Angeles, California. (Rachpoot/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images via Getty Images)

Kanye the Vulture

Kanye’s newest album is at turns haunting, petty, and discordant. And you can’t ignore the shadow of his antisemitism over the whole thing. So why did I like it?

The first time I really took notice of Kanye West was at the tail end of hip-hop’s golden age in 2001. He was one of the hot new producers on Jay-Z’s Blueprint, framing Hov’s rhymes with candy-coated samples of classic soul tracks sped up and augmented with heavy drum loops. Most people would be content to be heirs to Pete Rock and DJ Premier, creating beats for more talented lyricists and making a mint in the process. 

But Kanye was not. He needed to be the main attraction. 

When he dropped his debut, The College Dropout, in 2004, I was curious and skeptical. The beats were fire. But most producers don’t rap for a reason. (Listen to Large Professor’s guest verses if you don’t believe me.) Then I heard “Slow Jamz,” which did not feature a particularly strong Kanye verse, but it was so meta—literally speeding up a Luther Vandross slow jam for a song about slow jams by artists like Luther Vandross—and I was hooked. When Twista came in for the second verse, I realized I was listening to greatness. And it wasn’t just “Slow Jamz.” “Through the Wire” did not feature the agility of Eminem or the authority of Jay-Z, but it was raw and honest as Ye described the aftermath of a car wreck that nearly killed him. “Jesus Walks” was a jaw-dropping blend of the sacred and profane. The entire album was wall-to-wall bangers. 

At this point I was rooting for Kanye. He defied hip-hop’s division of labor and proved that with enough chutzpah, the producer could become the star. His follow-up to Dropout, Late Registration, convinced me he was in the same category as James Brown or John Lennon: a visionary. Nearly every track is a gem. My favorite moment comes at the end of “We Major,” a celestial symphony of brass and wobbling synthesizers that sounds like it came to Earth from a Stevie Wonder dream. Just as the composition resolves, Kanye asks, “Can I talk my shit again?” Please do. 

Fast-forward to October 8, 2022. That’s when Kanye tweeted that he planned to go “Death Con 3” on Jewish people. In short order, he was telling Alex Jones that he wouldn’t let the Jews tell him he can’t admire Hitler; sharing conspiracies about the Jewish-owned media on the podcast Drink Champs; and hanging around with the incel / nativist / moron / antisemite, Nick Fuentes

When you think he can’t go lower, he does. In December, a video of Kanye emerged where he claimed that Jews, like the Rothschilds, were out to get him. Then when TMZ asked him whether he regretted his “Death Con 3” tweet, he responded, “For all the Jewish kids that love me, I’m sorry that y’all had to hear a grown-up conversation where they’re screaming at each other. But we got to a point where something needed to happen.” 


I am a proud Jew who opposes cancel culture. So I never wished Kanye a “social death,” to borrow a phrase from Dream Hampton. My first thought was that someone should invite him to Shabbat dinner and set him straight. But as Kanye continued to double, triple, and quadruple down on this ancient hatred of my people, I realized I was being naive. The man is not going to change. 

So when I hit play on his new album, Vultures 1, it was with a sense of deep wariness. It would be easier if it was incoherent garbage, like so much of what comes out of Kanye’s mouth has been lately. But it wasn’t. I liked it. And I wasn’t the only one. 

The one consistent theme in Kanye’s music is himself. He is a proud egotist. (Album cover for Vultures 1 via Instagram)

Since its release earlier this month, Vultures 1, a collaboration with Ty Dolla $ign, has reached number one on Apple’s streaming charts. It confirms what we already knew: Kanye West is too big to cancel. Despite losing endorsements from Adidas and Balenciaga, despite losing his representation from CAA and his own lawyers, Kanye’s art still demands attention. 

Vultures 1 is not Kanye’s best work, but his B-minus is an A-plus for most artists. And in 2024, despite his controversies and failed cancellations, Kanye is still capable of finding musical brilliance inside of his crazy. The album demands relistening because it’s filled with hidden delights. There is the chorus of Italian soccer fans chanting a filthy hook on “Carnival.” The first half of “Talking,” which features his 10-year-old daughter, North West, is haunting and beautiful. The second half punctuates Ty Dolla $ign’s gorgeous melody with distorted industrial-strength base stabs. Despite its adolescent animosity, the album’s title track, “Vultures,” is crafted with a master artisan’s attention to detail. It features layers of dissonant chords that sound like an orchestral alarm before evolving into majestic resolution. 

All of this vindicates the adage to separate the art from the artist. Anyone who has enjoyed great music, literature, or visual art has applied this pithy rule. Paul Gauguin raped the Tahitian girls who posed for his portraits. Novelist Norman Mailer stabbed his wife Adele with a penknife in 1960, nearly killing her for saying he wasn’t as talented as Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis abused his first and second wives when blinded by rage, cocaine, and booze. 

There’s no shortage of Jew-haters in the canon. T.S. Eliot, for example, wrote in “Burbank with a Baedeker,” The rats are underneath the piles. / The jew is underneath the lot. The villain of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is the Jewish moneylender Shylock, who demands a pound of flesh from one of his debtors who cannot repay him. We study these works not because of their antisemitism but despite it. Can I glean something valuable from the work of a man who thinks of me less than a rat? Sadly, the answer is sometimes, but not always, yes.

And anyway, if museums stopped showing Gauguin, or Spotify stopped streaming Miles, or libraries stopped carrying Mailer’s books, or even if T.S. Eliot and Shakespeare were revised to meet our better standards, we would only be punishing ourselves. We make exceptions for genius. So we make exceptions for Kanye. And make no mistake, Kanye West is a genius, and knows it.

The one consistent theme in Kanye’s music is himself. He is a proud egotist. The final line of “I Love Kanye” sums this up with perfection: I love you like Kanye loves Kanye. And Vultures 1 is no exception. It is both an expression of and commentary on his recent controversies, making the artist’s life, in this case, the art itself. In “Keys to My Life,” for example, he references his ex-wife Kim Kardashian’s affair with SNL alum Pete Davidson. Look at what I stumbled on / Another nigga chillin’ on your couch with pajamas on, he raps over ethereal, gothic chords. 

On three of its tracks, Kanye addresses his quarrels with the chosen people. The opening of the album, “Stars,” features this line: Keep a few Jews on the staff now / I cash out. In its closing track, “King,” Kanye chants, Crazy, bipolar, antisemite /  And I’m still the king. On the title track, “Vultures,” Kanye raps, How I’m antisemitic / I just fucked a Jewish bitch. That line is tasteless enough on its own. But he completes the verse with petty venom: I just fucked Scooter’s bitch and we ran her like Olympics / Got pregnant in the threesome, so who’s baby is it? “Scooter” here is Kanye’s former manager, Scooter Braun, who divorced his wife Yael Cohen in 2022. They had three children before the dissolution of their marriage and at some point one imagines they will hear this misogyny and cringe or possibly cry. It made me nauseated. 

Vulgarity is nothing new for Kanye. All of his great works contain songs that celebrate debased carnality. The chorus of his masterpiece, “Runaway,” implores us to raise a “toast for the assholes.” Part of Kanye’s genius was that you still rooted for the antihero despite these confessions. But “Vultures” doesn’t get us there. The line about his estranged manager’s wife is not aspirational fantasy. It’s toxic enmity. 

After three listens to Vultures 1, I’m torn. Yes, I miss the old Kanye. The latest version of this ever-changing artist is that of an unhinged megalomaniac. The artist has turned into the kind of man who boasts of his sexual conquests and lives a life unattainable to anyone who doesn’t have fuck-you money. I gotta fly to Japan just to be secluded, he raps on the aptly named “Problematic.” 

I don’t like the new Kanye very much, but I make an exception for his genius even though he is now an antisemitic edgelord. He is hardly the first great artist to embrace the socialism of fools. He will not be the last. I separate Kanye’s art from Kanye and appreciate the glimpses of beauty that lurk inside his vulgarity. The difference is that I am no longer rooting for him. 

Eli Lake is a Free Press columnist and podcaster. For more of his thoughts on Kanye, listen to his podcast episode on the rapper and Ezra Pound. Follow Eli on X (formerly Twitter) at @EliLake and read his latest Free Press piece on how October 7 might bring down the Squad.

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