Album Review: G.O.O.D. Music – Cruel Summer
At a feverish pace, Kanye West has doled out more purchasable audio in the last three years (starting with 2010’s lauded My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) than he has in any period since his commercial breakthrough in 2004. It’s placed him on a standing that few others in hip-hop have actually achieved, the sort of “stop the presses” magnetism only shared probably by his “brother” Jay-Z. Every action is an event, rolling through a think-tank of ideas before finding a metamorphosis into actual result. Few can say West has had a dull period creativity and once more, his output comes out at seemingly just the right time.
Unlike the perceived game changer that was his joint effort with Hov, 2011’s Watch The Throne, the first compilation effort from his Getting Out Our Dreams label was set in stone sometime around 2004 when Common & John Legend hitched their names to the wagon. The label has grown and shape-shifted to probably create hip-hop’s most uniquely creative bunch in a troupe of singers, rappers and forward thinkers.
Being the third (and most anticipated) crew to put out such an album in recent years should automatically give them cache over to produce quality, fleshed out material without any slights, right?
To most, despite this floating rumor of there being a second version, Cruel Summer is an album, united together without a singular theme except to celebrate creativity and the notion that Yeezy’s ego has now peeled itself from one host and onto six others. It placates itself atop the heap of group efforts by its individual talents more than its actual cohesion. True, it runs on the belief that “no single man (or woman in the case of Teyana Taylor) starves” but throughout its 12-track trek, something seems to be amiss.
For a while now, Kanye has been trying to find the center of artistry and ignorance. If Hit-Boy’s “Niggas In Paris” from WTT brought it in ample doses, then the Surf Club producer’s efforts here make him the album’s unquestioned key player. Kanye’s ego and all has been the epitome of “do-it-yourself” rapper producers but it’s clear his synergy with Hit-Boy makes Cruel Summer work.
“Cold” is frantic, synth laden monstrosity for Kanye to appear solo, biting and frothing at the mouth to attack any and everyone. The haunting, spot-ready “Clique” arms Kanye with his favorite go-to weapon in Jay-Z & Big Sean knowing he has to step everything up (his flow & cadence remains sharp throughout, including yet another “I made it” verse on “The One”). While Jay keeps it in the family, Kanye takes the West Coast vibe to hark on girlfriend Kim Kardashian’s sex tape, the CIA and buying 80 chains. Just to drive his newfound “launching point” home, Yeezy big ups Rick Ross the same way he did 50 Cent in 2007 for “Good Life” on the R. Kelly (!) assisted opener “To The World” by mentioning Ross’ near vacuum “Hold Me Back” and Mitt Romney failure to report his taxes.
Ironically enough, there’s a failure to report from Mos Def & Q-Tip, two high ranking members of G.O.O.D. perceved to do more than just play the background. In their stead are a multitude of CyHi The Prynce verses, a 7 and a half note delivered by Common and a second half that drags considerably from the opening six salvos. For its efforts, “Sin City” just doesn’t click, even with some spoken word from Malik Yusef thanks to Travi$ Scott and CyHi sounding damn near identical while KiD CuDi enjoys being lazy on “Creepers”. Even with the album ending with the crashing waves of “Don’t Like”, everything takes a sharp drop, rises and then falls again.
The fluttering Hitchcock meets Scarface knock of “Mercy” achieves the crew concept heavily and the vocal tag team on “Bliss” sounds like a silky radio jaunt thanks to producer Hudson Mohawke but the album will be defined in its “event” ethos by three components. One, the healthy competitive moment of “The Morning” where everyone is chasing Raekwon the Chef. Two, Ma$e making it feel like it’s 1997 again on “Higher” and three, Ghostface Killah tying up an already near-perfect stomp and response that is Pusha T’s finest effort on “New God Flow” with his own reach back into the Supreme Clientele days. It may be the only time Kanye’s blast-out-of-school bear from the Graduation cover finds a home in his new solar system but when aligned with many stars of his own picking, the results seem uneven.
For all the want of Cruel Summer to be an event, it fizzles out when it should burn at its brightest.