I’ma let you finish- but, in Kanye’s words themselves, y’all can’t spell G.O.O.D. without G-O-D, and that’s exactly what Mr. West wants his Cruel Summer compilation to be- a masterpiece. With friends like the illustrious Sean “JAY-Z” Carter (nicknamed Hov as the “Jehovah” of rap) and everyone’s favorite TWOOO CHAINZ, Yeezy surely knows how to amass the big names of Hip Hop into one talented group… or clique (as he likes to say), which we learn later into the album.
Cruel Summer begins with the mesmerizing “To the World”, a collaboration with fellow Chi-Town native R. Kelly. The extraordinary production of the track combined with its politically bold yet classic controversial Kanye lyrics (“Mitt Romney don’t pay no tax”), proves it to be quite a promising album opener which leaves the listener wanting more. Additional vocals for the track are provided by G.O.O.D. music’s only female member and West’s longtime fashion advisor, Teyana Taylor, who closes the song with her elegant and brassy voice.
The Billboard-topping “Mercy” follows second to “To the World”. This song takes hip hop posse cuts to a whole new level. How “good” is it? To be honest, the beginning is a little creepy, but hey- what’s a Kanye song that doesn’t surprise you? Mercy feels like a series of freestyle raps stitched together flawlessly with a layered, head banging beat. It’s followed by another posse cut- the Hit Boy-produced “Clique”. This is by far my favorite track of the entire album. In fact I find it completely irresistible. From the beat to the verses, Clique is a ghetto masterpiece. The opening to the track has West’s protégé Big Sean audaciously introducing himself as “B-I-G” with a reference to one of rap’s greatest, Biggie Smalls, while Jay-Z graces the track with a little more in depth braggadocio (“Your money too short/You can’t be talkin’ to me”). Overall while “Clique” hasn’t hit the radio waves quite as hard as “Mercy”, it’s already considered far greater by Yeezy fans all around. Another track, similar in size, is the massive “New God Flow”, a collaboration with Pusha T and Ghostface Killah- the latter steals the show on this song without even seeming to try.
While the album has many great moments, it has its share of shortcomings. Tracks like “Sin City”, “The Morning”, and “The One” all seem to be lacking focus, which begins to drag by the middle of the album. By the time the Kid Cudi solo “Creepers” begins to play, the listener is desperate for the album to return to its original spirit. Cudi rides the beat as if it was specifically tailored for his upcoming album Indicud. In the only solo track on the album, Cudi lives up to high expectations. “Creepers” is definitely not a disappointer, and manages to bring Cruel Summer back on track.
Kid Cudi sets up even higher expectations for the track that follows, where R&B crooner John Legend pairs up with Teyana Taylor to deliver “Bliss”, Cruel Summer’s sweetest. While it’s not a standout track, it is a simple pleasure to the ears. But what comes after it is what closes the album on a great note.
Kanye West brings back his Chicago roots in a remix so lyrical that Lisgarites are still enjoying it half a year after its release. As the final track on G.O.O.D. Music’s masterpiece, “Don’t Like” certainly is the perfect album closer. Its layered beats, clever rhymes, and infectious chorus all showcase unique talent. Each rapper serves up a list of what they “don’t like”- from two faces, to copycats, to fake Gucci. “They ain’t about that life”, explains Kanye on the subject of his haters. And so, Cruel Summer ends with a “bang bang” à la Chief Keef.
While I do feel Cruel Summer is a masterpiece, its drawbacks outweigh its hits. When Kanye leaves the stage, he takes the magic with him. Personally I find his previous albums Watch the Throne and My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy to be filled with much more insightful rap. However, I also find Cruel Summer to be a new essential piece in my Kanye collection. The smooth flows and variation between the artists, while rare, give the album a feel of a star-studded runway show of rap.