Review Summary: The closest a sampler's ever come to satisfying.
It’s the hip thing to dig Kanye West these days, isn’t it? Ever since our favorite controversial rapper/producer defied expectations with his bombshell My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
, Yeezy’s been everywhere in the music scene, from pop radio stations to obscure music blogs across the nation. We’re all interested in the man that broke down his shi
tstorm of a life into an unforgettable metamorphosis, playing back both his celebrated and lambasted moments from one track to the next. So when Watch the Throne
dropped in all its gold-plated glory, we were hard-pressed to find the humility alongside the vanity, the delicate balance that was treaded so flawlessly on Dark Fantasy
. There were great tracks contained in the collaboration with fellow artist Jay-Z, but the album suffered from a sense of overwhelming egotism, the elegant catharsis of Kanye’s latest solo work upgraded into a cocktail far too powerful to swallow. Regardless, though, we were still eager to hear what came next, because Kanye’s perceived by many to have the “magic touch”.
This, of course, led to us being confused with Cruel Summer
. A quick iTunes search indicates that West is the “presenter” of the final product, yet it ultimately has less to do with him than we thought. Kanye’s role in Cruel Summer
is that of an organizer; the album’s a sampler of his label’s crewmates. This is a) why the album’s by “G.O.O.D Music”, and b) why it’s inaccurate to compare this release to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,
or to any of West’s major recent works for that matter.
exists as merely a beginning template, a sampler for what we can expect from G.O.O.D Music in the future, and the album accomplishes this remarkably well. Kanye’s appearances are only a fragment of the fun here: “New God Flow” illustrates Pusha T’s rising success, and Big Sean actually lives up to the expectations set by “Clique”’s stellar beat. Cruel Summer
is more consistent than expected in this regard, too; the first six tracks are all highlights, and the rest of the album bolsters quite a few tasteful songs. “The Morning” features lively production by Best Kept Secret, as well as vocal contributions from Raekwon, Pusha T, Common, 2 Chainz, Cyhi the Prynce, Kid Cudi, and D'banj. Exactly - there are a lot of artists at play here - and this can work both for and against the album’s overall power.
There exist even more collaborations in “Sin City,” but they're for naught; instead of existing as the ominous machine it desires to be the track is laughably transparent, and the song’s middle section doesn’t help matters. “You are all unwelcome to Sin City! Here the population still increases its density! And that increases its intensity!”
Oh, please. There’s some beautiful vocoder work at play in the background that recalls “Lost in the World,” but it’s buried underneath layers of cheesy fabricated fright. It's a given that the lyrics here are more hit-or-miss than expected, but at least the witty moments are unforgettable. Kanye inserts himself in the recent American political landscape with his unsurprisingly controversial contribution in “To The World,” where he declares matter-of-factly that, indeed, Mitt Romney “pays no tax.” Good to know, Yeezy. Elsewhere, he cleverly tosses his hat to his VMA-littered past; “Spike Lee gon’ kill me but lemme finish.”
At least we have moments like these to remind us that West is at the top of his game, and maybe with enough coercion he can kindle a bit more promise in these cohorts he’s acquired over the last few years. For instance, Chief Keef ruins “I Don’t Like” with a clear lack of experience and could certainly use some instruction, established as the evident weakest link. At the worst, though, Cruel Summer
is a necessary experiment to gauge exactly what G.O.O.D Music’s capable of as a whole, and at its best it offers quite a few strong tracks with impeccable production and successful lyricism. This album wasn’t going to be a home run, but still is an enjoyable voyage for those of us with personal interest in G.O.O.D Music. The label will only grow more comfortable, the co-conspirators will only grow more confident and capable, and we will only grow more satisfied as time passes.