On a pitch-black evening, on the anniversary of Ye’s, (f.k.a. Kanye West), monumental classic debut The College Dropout, fans from all over endured a nasty mix of thunder, rain, and hail to hear Yeezy and Ty Dolla Sign’s collaborative effort, Vultures before the rest of the world at the United Center in his Chicago kingdom.
For better or worse, Chi-Town has maintained an enduring relationship with Ye and his music as whenever he comes home, the city gets electrified and active as if he was Michael Jordan during the heyday in the nineties. As a Chicagoan, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he’s as culturally impactful to generations of elder millennials down to Gen-Zers as MJ was to Gen-Xers and child millennials from the crib. As someone who attended his Sunday Service show for Jesus Is King and covered his Donda listening session at Soldier Field, it’s no surprise that he managed to sell out the United Center in less than 10 minutes, despite his leaked, continued antisemitic remarks, which he apologized for (in Hebrew) on Instagram.
One fan, Kiara H., says she copped a ticket because she remembers how his music was the soundtrack to her life and fondly remembers the Ye moments that touched and inspired her over the years. To her, it was no surprise that he sold out in Chicago as fast as he did. “He’s Kanye West! He’s literally the person who says outlandish things. The culture has changed in the way we handle outlandish things, but Ye hasn’t changed,” she said.
While fans were pouring inside the eerily dark and foggy stadium (and after I waited nearly an hour to get inside the building), the DJ was blasting College Dropout, and I almost broke out in tears hearing J. Ivy’s verse on the powerful “Never Let You Down” thinking about how much that song and album meant to me as a little Chicago boy in eighth grade. But hearing Vultures in its entirety after hearing College Dropout put into perspective how far removed, sonically, personally, and creatively he seems to be from “Old Kanye” as this album is the darkest he’s ever sounded since Yeezus both sonically and lyrically.
After nearly an hour-long wait from its 9 PM advertised start time, Yeezy finally arrives on stage at around 10 PM donned in a hockey mask and a black outfit while donning his Vultures jacket, with the left coast crooner Ty Dolla Sign coming right behind him in a black half-ski mask and black overcoat. The two spent the evening dancing on stage to the album being played over the sound system while guests like Freddie Gibbs, Chicago’s street legend Bump J, YG, and his beautiful daughter North West arrived on stage for their respective appearances. The album also has notable appearances from Quavo, Chris Rock, and even Mike Tyson, who dealt with mental health issues himself and appeared for a skit where he says “yeah he has mental health issues, but everybody do. He got delusional issues!”
North West, a.k.a. Miss Westie, was the star of the show as the Chicago crowd erupted as soon as she went into the uber-catchy, viral hit “Talking.” Compared to her first outing in Florida, she seems to have gotten more comfortable being on stage in front of thousands of people. “I was happy for her. She had stage fright before, but now she’s coming out on stage performing, it was probably a really fun experience for her,” Anthony, a fan who was excited to see North on stage, said.
And to see Bump J on a huge stage like the United Center after coming home from a lengthy prison stint back in 2017 and being reunited 20 years after his hit “Move Around” dropped was one of the brightest moments in Chicago hip-hop history. Watching that made me feel like I was a kid listening to hardcore Chicago hip-hop for the first time all over again.
Ye is a man of hard contradictions and the listening party made them very glaring. He made an incredible Gospel album in Jesus Is King, swore that he’d never make “secular” music again, and made Donda with no cursing, but is now delivering an album that’s the complete opposite of what he once represented. And despite apologizing (again) for his continued antisemitic remarks, many of the songs where he’s addressing it seem to come off as if he’s shrugging them off and even proclaiming that it no longer matters as he now considers himself “the king”.
Feeling the energy of the crowd, you’d assume that none of those incidents ever happened. Yeezy and Ty delivered the party vibes as drinks were flowing and Backwoods stuffed with the strongest exotic bud filled the air. If you wanted to know if anyone in the crowd was thinking about his history of problematic remarks, just know that when “Vultures” was on, the stadium went up for the line “Anti-Semitic? I just fucked a Jewish bitch.”
The show felt like a celebration of knowing that no matter what Ye says or does, he will remain relevant and viable for the foreseeable future. One fan, Katie, acknowledges that what he says is problematic, but still believes there’s a method to his madness if you “take what he says with a grain of salt.”
“We can definitely see the problem in what he says, but you can also see the art in what he says and what he really means behind what he says,” she says. “I think he’s a mentally ill individual, but he’s also a genius. If you can take what he says with a grain of salt, you can really understand him.”
Anthony says that while Ye has long proved that he can do what he wants, he believes there might not be enough awareness of antisemitism for his fans to take it as seriously as it should be taken. “I feel like there hasn’t been enough awareness [of] antisemitism for people to care enough. I’m a hypocrite, I’m here right now either way, but I’ve been supporting him for a long time. It’s just not enough awareness.”
By the time the show was past its halfway point, Ye’s contradictions felt glaring and only raised more questions. Why is going back to making secular music after vowing to never do it again? Why has he deviated from his spiritual, somewhat conscious messaging from Donda, and rap about getting his dick sucked in expensive cars and devolving into grossly hypersexual lyrics…again? And why has he spoken so harshly against street rappers for their violent lyrics, yet has many of them on this album and also has just as explicit content in his lyrics? This isn’t to say that he shouldn’t, but where he stands isn’t clear.
“People have already proved that he can do whatever he wants and people will still back him. It’s Chicago, it’s Kanye. No matter what, people are going to show out for Kanye,” Anthony says. The final song on Vultures was the most telling as the hook boldly proclaims, “Antisemite…I’m still the king/Still the king.”
That’s what makes hearing The College Dropout and this album being played next to each other so jarring because it seems as if the man who was practically a superhero to many people got rich and became a supervillain with Vultures. Transformation complete?