G.O.O.D. Music – Cruel Summer
Buy: G.O.O.D. Music – Cruel Summer
On paper it sounds like a good idea – the self-styled ‘Prince’ of hip-hop shaking off the seriousness of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and getting the cream of his G.O.O.D. Music label together for a more spontaneous sounding album aimed squarely at the mix-tape loving Soundcloud generation.
As is usually the case with a Kanye album, the production is slick, the charisma is set to stun and the rhymes are fluid and attention-grabbing. For all of its good points, though, Cruel Summer suffers slightly from a lack of cohesion and consistency – although that’s probably the point.
The R Kelly featuring ’To The World’ opens the album – mixing his gospel-tinged vocals with plenty of ‘zingy’ production, including some huge snares and dramatic piano, to lay a great platform for Kanye’s Mitt Romney-baiting rap (“Mitt Romney don’t pay no tax” apparently).
Cruel Summer really, erm, clicks into gear with ’Clique’, with Jay-Z and Big Sean swapping the mic over a moody beat, and Kanye displaying his usual modesty – ”I’m way too black to burn from sun rays / So I just meditate at the home in Pompeii / About how I could build a new Rome in one day / Everytime I’m in Vegas they screaming like he’s Elvis / But I just wanna design hotels and nail it”.
’Mercy’ is the first proper Kanye-style epic track here. Kicking off with Big Sean and Pusha T trading hooks over an intense beat, before the track opens up into an electro-stomp for Kanye’s contribution. The huge scale continues with the awesome ’New God Flow’, which features Kanye’s strongest verse on Cruel Summer, in which he compares himself to Biggie, Martin Luther King Jr and Rodney King, gives shouts out to Whitney Houston and Richard Pryor and finds room for the line: ”Picture working so hard, and you can’t cut through / That can mess up your whole life, like an uncle that touched you”. Not to be outdone, Ghostface Killah pops up at the end with his own memorable line: ”I got soccer moms paying for cock / Asians get it behind while they cleaning their wok” – nice!
Four tracks in and Cruel Summer is sounding like the massive album it threatened to be. But the cracks soon start to show. Kanye struggles to control the focus of ’The Morning’, drifting from dancehall to electro without really nailing either, while the impressive list of contributors (featuring Raekwon, Pusha T, Common and Kid Cudi among others) swamp the song with more ideas than it can handle. DJ Khaled’s production on ’Cold’ attempts to bring the album back on track, but by now the impact of Kanye’s favoured bleepy electro backing beat begins to wear a bit thin.
The dreaded vocoder makes an appearance on the slightly forgettable ’Higher’, although Ma$e’s verse (”You know I ain’t Muslim nigga / I’m about my bacon” deserves a mention.
Predictably, when John Legend joins the party things take a turn for the softer. ’Sin City’ and ’Bliss’ (both also featuring Teyana Taylor’s soulful vocals) add an RnB sheen to Cruel Summer that it probably doesn’t need. Although as standalone tracks they’re both as good an example of brilliant RnB/pop as you’re likely to hear this year. Which can’t be said for the overly-soulful and meandering ’The One’ – featuring stomach churning self congratulatory verses from Kanye (”Yeah I’m the one baby / Since God gave his own begotten son, baby”), Big Sean (”I need a hundred million no compromise / I’m an XL nigga – magazine and condom size”) and 2 Chainz (”Bring your girl here nigga so I could fuck her face / Yeah I run this place”.
Thankfully Cruel Summer ends on a high point with the epic, cinematic ’I Don’t Like’, which features a star-making turn from Chief Keef and has Kanye signing off in his favourite martyr role: “They steal your whole sound, that’s a soundbite / The media crucify me like they did Christ / They want to find me not breathing like they did Mike”.
It may take a few wrong turns and lose focus in a few places, but for what it is (namely a platform for G.O.O.D. Music’s impressive roster and a reminder of Kanye’s prowess) Cruel Summer does exactly what it set out to do.