Oh boy, where do we even start with Kanye West? The man is a walking phenomenon, leaving in his wake controversy, Grammys, and millions of dollars he probably uses to wipe himself with. It doesn’t matter if he interrupts Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech or pisses of PETA with a line in one of his raps, because no matter what the man does, his music speaks for itself. Whether he’s working the boards or the mic, ‘Ye knows how to make music, plain and simple.
Then he introduced the world to G.O.O.D. Music, his rap label that signed both established and rising stars, as diverse as John Legend and Kid Cudi. Each individual artist is more than talented in their own way, and the label speaks of only the best quality. So when it was announced last summer that a label-wide collaboration album was in the works, everybody who enjoys rap even a little got excited. But now that Cruel Summer is officially here, does it represent more than the sum of its parts, or come off as an unfocused mess?
The answer lies in a murky medium, where fantastic tracks are surrounded by disposable raps that hardly seem worth Yeezy’s time. Despite the amount of talent featured on the album, only a handful of songs stand as triumphant, while more than a few fall to the wayside as G.O.O.D. Music draws from its packed roster to mixed effect. Too many voices are at work here, and not enough of them are talented enough to carry the album.
Opening with one of the best tracks on the record, To The World showcases what makes a track work on such a diverse album. With only R. Kelly and ‘Ye bouncing off of one another, the pounding beat and clever lyrics showcase both artists doing what they do best. Kelly’s line referencing Chappelle’s Show is one of the funniest here: “The whole world is a couch/B***h, I’m Rick James tonight.” Despite the laundry list of producers doing work here, the beautiful beat and simple roster provide a focus that is lacking in following tracks.
Clique continues to tread the waters of simplicity, with only Jay-Z and Big Sean joining ‘Ye on the track. Each verse stands on its own, and the percussive beats form a strong backbone. That being said, the repetitious chorus is frustratingly annoying, feeling out of place in an otherwise fantastic track. The booth gets a bit more crowded on Mercy, with four voices fighting for attention over one of the most painful samples to be found on the album. Despite his impressive work on his mixtapes from only a few years ago, 2 Chainz just doesn’t seem to find his own place on Cruel Summer, as his verses always stick out like a sore thumb.
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Luckily, New God Flow and The Morning benefit from veterans of the genre jumping in to help out. Ghostface Killah helps Papa Yeezy elevate the former to one of the better tracks on the album, all the way through to his marching anthem towards the end. The Morning boasts a “featuring” list that runs seven strong, and it’s one of the few packed tracks that works well. The beat floats smoothly under each rapper, and each of their unique voices work together to craft an impressive performance.
Even though it’s been renamed Cold due to a lawsuit or two, ‘Ye’s Theraflu is still a stunning showcase of his abilities. His kinetic flow makes the first three minutes pure bliss, but DJ Khaled’s minute long shout-outs at the end ruin the feel of the song. Higher takes an interesting position as the “slower” song of the record, with a smoky atmosphere and trippy high-pitched vocals, but the promise it starts off with is quickly stifled by generic verses that don’t do the idea justice.
Tracks like Sin City should work in concept, but there’s just no cohesion from verse to verse, giving it the fragmented feeling that permeates most of the album. The choruses hint at a better track, but it’s never made good on. The same problem plagues The One, where the grandiose idea is marred by the ho-hum delivery. Too many voices are trying to speak, and this just shouldn’t be their outlets.
Creepers was a track that held promise, because a solo Cudi knows how to handle a track. The influence of his pipe-dream solo project hovers over the song, but there’s still an undeniably refreshing feeling from hearing just one voice carry a track instead of seven crammed into the same amount of space. His talent for ably switching from rapping to singing anchors Creepers and makes it one of the better tracks on the album.
But perhaps the best is the penultimate cut, Bliss, unleashing Teyana Taylor and John Legend on each other over another percussion heavy beat featuring bits of blippy guitar riffs cutting through the air. These two sound amazing together, and hopefully it’s a collaboration that will continue to croon together in the future.
Bringing up the rear is a remix of Chief Keef’s I Don’t Like, a decent attempt that’s marred by just plain bad source material. ‘Ye’s powerful verse can’t salvage the track, ending the album on a dull note that makes it hard to hit the replay button.
Despite the roster of talented artists featured on Cruel Summer, the album just can’t live up to its potential. There are too many personalities that don’t mesh holding back those that do, and the songs that are easily skippable outweigh the genuinely good cuts. G.O.O.D. Music has a fantastic lineup, and individually, their works have done great things that can’t be replicated on a collaboration like this.
By this time, chances are most people have heard at least four or five of the tracks that were already released or leaked, and minds are pretty much made up. If you take the time to pick and choose which tracks are better than others, then there are a few songs here that are infinitely replayable.
Ultimately, the lack of focus kills whatever energy G.O.O.D. Music could muster, smothering quality tracks under the overbearing mediocrity of the rest of the album.Previous