5-Word Description: Diverse, Conformative, Superficial, Anthemic, Lackadaisical.
4 Standout Tracks: New God Flow, Mercy, Sin City, Bliss.
3 Awesome Guest Features: Raekwon, Jay-Z, R. Kelly.
2 Flops: Higher, Cold.
1 Question: Do we really even have the final version of “Cruel Summer?”
Cruel Summer has without a doubt been preordained to be one of the most talked about albums of the year, based purely off of the star power on the track list. The majority of the G.O.O.D. Music clique, combined with high profile guests such as R. Kelly, DJ Khaled, and Marsha Ambrosius is enough to turn any heads. And to think, we’d made it through two entire sentences without mentioning Kanye West, who is possibly the biggest musical innovator of the century. Given, this album is not a Kanye West album. But it’s impossible to not see Kanye as the central figure of the production, given his central role in G.O.O.D. Music.
The album begins with “To The World,” a jubilant, anthemic, ceremonious track featuring none other than R. Kelly the Pied Piper himself. As I listen, I can’t help but feel that any mainstream R&B singer could have sang this hook and it really wouldn't make a difference. Still a solid listen. The political reference in this song is both an example of typically outspoken Kanye, and the reality of today's system. "Mitt Romney don't pay no tax, Mitt Romney don't pay not tax....." After this, we hear a series of familiar tunes - "Clique," "Mercy," and "New God Flow." The last of these three, featuring Pusha T and Ghostface Killah, is easily the best track on the album in my eyes. It has that feeling of the vintage Kanye who first came into the national limelight. That pulse-pounding breakdown at the end feels like audio nirvana. “The Morning” and “Cold” are similar to me, in that they both have a few memorable lines, generic beats, and not too much replay value.
The second half of the album deviates from the expected Kanye-centric formula. This is both good and bad. The first 30 seconds of “Higher” made me want to skip to the next track. Unfortunately, folks are trying to resurrect the overuse of autotune. Despite a surprisingly good Ma$e verse and a dash of the expected Pusha T swagger, this song is just not an enjoyable listen. “Sin City” is a dark but dope track, assisted greatly by the sleek Teyana Taylor hook and breakdown. Despite it being a legitimately good song, I think “The One” is the funniest track of the entire album. Marsha Ambrosius, singing about having a pistol on her hip? You were part of Floetry! We don’t believe you, you need more people. Despite that awkward discrepancy the song still rides. Kid Cudi is at his moody, lonesome, singsong best in the appropriately titled “Creepers.” The song “Bliss,” featuring Teyana Taylor and John Legend, feels like a vintage 1980’s slow jam. Definitely an unexpected highlight in my book. The album comes to an abrupt conclusion with the crude, street, controversial “I Don’t Like” remix which I’m sure we’ve already heard by now. Not much new to discuss in this arena.
The biggest issue I have with this album is the subject matter, or the perceived lack thereof. Kanye came on the scene with such intensity, protesting a lot of discrepancies he noted in society through the parables in “All Falls Down,” the witty mockery of “School Spirit,” and the spiritual emphasis of “Jesus Walks.” He continued to put forth a combination of contradictions, materialism, emotion, and inspiration in the albums that came after. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy did in fact seem a bit more vacuous, but that was to be expected, given that the album was in fact crafted to be a fantasy. It might be a little too demanding, or snobbish to expect a similar level of passion and fervor from everything Kanye is involved in. But, truth is, with the bar set so high, this go-round feels a little vacant.
This G.O.O.D. Music album lacks the substance of Kanye’s origins, and the conceptual nature of his later projects. Even the beats seem lazy and more conformative than we ever would have previously expected from Kanye, the man who got his start as the ingenious producer for Roc-A-Fella. Songs like “Clique,” “Cold,” “The Morning,” and “I Don’t Like” use generic beats and attempt to mask the lack of originality with witty, memorable one-liners and star-studded casts. You can’t help but mob with lines such as “We hangin’ out the window, it’s ‘bout to be a Suge Knight!” But is that enough to make up for the lack of polish typically expected from Yeezy projects? Given, this is not a Kanye West album, but it is under his creative direction and guidance.
This seems like a hyperbolized version of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, in that you have even more guest features and variance among tracks- to the point that the album lacks cohesiveness and replay value. Given, some of these songs do still bang, but this feels more like a Maybach Music Group album than a G.O.O.D. Music production at several points in this twelve-track release. And that’s that shit I don’t like. I don’t see me replaying these tracks much beyond September, unlike College Dropout, which I have on repeat to this day. Am I particularly hard on this album? Definitely. But for an artist who consistently praises himself as one of the best, the magnifying glass is a bit more searing. It seems as though Kanye lost his usual spark of creative genius that we find in his individual efforts. Instead, he chose to attempt to allow the star power of himself and his friends to carry the record. It shows.