Ye's new LP debuts at a New York Arena. Why do his fans stay loyal?
The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Saturday, July 13, 2024

Ye's new LP debuts at a New York Arena. Why do his fans stay loyal?
A listening party before the release of “Vultures 1,” in which Ye, or Kanye West, performed but never removed a mask, at UBS Arena in Elmont, N.Y., after midnight on Feb. 10, 2024. The album, a collaboration with the R&B singer Ty Dolla Sign, who was also on stage, is Ye’s first album since making a string of antisemitic remarks that cost him business deals and drew widespread condemnation. (The New York Times)

by Julia Jacobs

ELMONT, NY.- Adidas severed ties with him. His talent agency dropped him. But on Friday night, an arena on Long Island was filled with thousands of people who most certainly had not turned their backs on Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West.

Shortly before releasing “Vultures 1,” his first album since making a string of antisemitic remarks that cost him business deals and drew widespread condemnation, Ye previewed his new collaboration with R&B singer Ty Dolla Sign at a listening party at UBS Arena, further testing the boundaries of his fandom with lyrics that did not tiptoe around the controversy.

“‘Crazy, bipolar, antisemite,’ and I’m still the king,” Ye raps in “King,” the final song on the LP, which drew a modest wave of cheers.

Ty Dolla Sign and Ye appeared a bit before 11 p.m. on a smoke-filled stage — at least, that was the impression, though it was hard to confirm who was there. Wearing a full mask, the rapper, designer and longtime provocateur never showed his face as he exulted in his new music, which included samples from Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” and the Backstreet Boys (“Yeezy’s back, all right!”).

Originally slated to come out in December, delays and false starts pushed the release of “Vultures 1” to early Saturday morning, soon after the hourlong listening party had ended.

As those who showed up for Ye on Friday know, patience is a central tenet of being a fan of the rapper.

In recent years, as Ye’s behavior has careened from erratic to extreme, loyal listeners have also had to grapple with the controversial things he has done, including wearing a shirt that read “White Lives Matter” at Paris Fashion Week, posting on Twitter (now X) that he would go “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE” and repeatedly accusing “Jewish media” and “Jewish Zionists” of feeding a paparazzi frenzy and canceling his shows.

“I’ve had to explain myself to a lot of people,” said Markus Phillips, 18, listing his Jewish friends and his “friends who listen to Taylor Swift” among those wondering why he has remained a fan.

“I don’t support everything that he does outside of the music, but I still acknowledge how much of a generational artist he is,” said Phillips, who had driven down from Buffalo, New York, with his friends that day for the event.

In a crowd that skewed toward Gen Z, the fans who paid $140 and up for the listening party included those who professed to be thoroughly unbothered by Ye’s actions — “Doesn’t affect me,” one 18-year-old from New Jersey said with a shrug — and those who were struggling to reconcile the artist they have loved since his first studio album, “The College Dropout,” with the one who said “I do love Hitler” on a talk show with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

“Is he saying it because he means it, or is he saying it because he just likes to be controversial?” asked Jack Urig, a 20-year-old waiter from New Jersey who was wearing a lavender hoodie that he received for donating to Ye’s 2020 presidential campaign as a teenager.

“Separating the art from the artist” was a common refrain among those who lined up before doors opened, as were speculations about the role that mental health played in Ye’s behavior. (He has said he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.) Some preferred to believe that it was all a performance or some sort of attention-grabbing marketing ploy, pointing to his statement of apology to the Jewish community — posted in Hebrew — that was released late last year, as he was preparing to drop new music.

“It was not my intention to offend or demean, and I deeply regret any pain I may have caused,” Ye said in the post, writing that he was “committed to starting with myself and learning from this experience to ensure greater sensitivity and understanding in the future.”

The lyrics in the new album hardly communicate the same kind of contrition. In the song “Stars,” he raps that he keeps “a few Jews on the staff now.” An infamous line from “Vultures,” the track he released last year in which he raps that he can’t be antisemitic if he had sex with a Jewish woman, was one of the best known in the arena. The music cut out for the verse so the crowd could shout it themselves.

In an album that encompasses gospel-infused house, R&B and trap, Ye features a long panel of collaborators, including Quavo, Playboi Carti, Chris Brown, Lil Durk and for one verse, Ye’s daughter North West, who appeared at the first listening party in Chicago on Thursday. Ye’s verses often confront the drama over his reputation over the past few years, presenting himself as emerging triumphant despite his detractors. (“I burned 8 billion to take off my chains,” he raps in “Burn.”)

Whether or not the mainstream music industry will be willing to recognize Ye’s new music remains a question. Even before the antisemitic remarks that lost him lucrative fashion deals with Adidas, Gap and Balenciaga, the Grammys had dropped Ye as a performer for the 2022 award show, citing his erratic and troubling public behavior, which, at the time, included the release of an animated music video that portrayed the kidnapping and burial of a figure who looked a lot like Pete Davidson, the comedian who had been dating Kim Kardashian, Ye’s former wife.

At the arena on Friday, many fans said they found it hard to disentangle Ye from the musical nostalgia of their childhoods — and from their closets.

Wearing Yeezy sneakers to the show, Mahatub Ahmed, 27, said he had 11 more pairs at home, and asked, “What do they want me to do? Throw them away, burn them?” Friends and family have wondered why he doesn’t change his social media handles that play on “Yeezus,” the name of the rapper’s sixth solo album, but he rebuffs them.

For Shareef Rashid, 47 — who attended with his 13-year-old son Jair, a much newer fan — his relationship with Ye is largely steeped in the past. He said he was first drawn to Ye’s 2007 album “Graduation,” with its creative soul samples and lyrics that resonated with him as a young, middle-class Black man of roughly the same age as Ye.

A rapper himself in his free time, Rashid recently posted a snippet of a song in which he says he misses “the first four Kanyes,” and raps of the star: “Put America on blast with everything you say/Now you just talk because and it don’t feel the same way/I hope you are OK.”

But there will always be a segment of Ye’s fan base for which the calculus is much simpler: Whatever he says, whatever he does, they will stand by him.

Waiting in line to buy merchandise, Kiara Fuller, 23, who considers herself a dedicated Ye fan, wondered aloud whether the person behind the mask onstage that night would be, in fact, Ye.

“We were on the way here and I was thinking, wouldn’t it be the funniest prank if it wasn’t even him out there, and he just has a random person doing it?” she said in a gaggle of her friends.

After traveling past the outskirts of Queens and waiting hours for a problematic fave, wouldn’t such a stunt be the final indignity?

“Eh,” Fuller said and shrugged, “just got to see it through.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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