It would stand to reason that of all the heavyweight rap collectives that exist in 2012, Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music would have as good a chance as any to transcend the way in which the crew album has typically been reduced to second-tier status in the overall chasm of Hip-Hop releases. After all, the G.O.O.D. roster – while never crystal clear in terms of its official lineup – boasts an impressive depth of talent covering a wide range of styles. Perhaps most importantly in West, G.O.O.D. has a proven musical architect, one who has never been afraid of being overshadowed so long as it is in the pursuit of a greater good (think: Nicki Minaj and Rick Ross’ scene-stealing guest verses on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy).
And as Cruel Summer gets going, Kanye does indeed stir up the kind of spirited posse cuts that made 2010’s G.O.O.D. Fridays so exciting. Summer hit “Mercy” adds a certain G.O.O.D. pizazz to radio rap territory with its instantly recognizable keyboard loop and adventurous sample from Super Beagle’s chant-like dancehall track “Dust a Sound Boy.” West and Pusha T trade witticisms on “New God Flow,” only to have their invigorated performances dwarfed by a hard-charging Ghostface Killah. And then there’s the low warbling “Clique,” on which ‘Ye offers up a career-spanning encapsulation of his artistic personas – stunting on former CIA director George Tenent, name dropping foreign super models, and brushing off thoughts of suicide all in a single verse.
But where the G.O.O.D. Friday tracks that ended up on MBDTF acted as anchors for an album full of gems, the marquee collaborations on Cruel Summer – most of which were released in advance of the album – are the highlights here. And as that realization becomes more apparent as the album rolls on, you can’t shake the feeling that – while undoubtedly good songs – the first few tracks on Cruel Summer don’t quite match the highs expected from a Kanye West production, solo album or not.
And so Cruel Summer proceeds, starting and stuttering a few times in the process (making it West’s second straight release to suffer from surprisingly poor sequencing). “The Morning” is a well-rapped but disjointed mess, with little connecting D’banj’s reggae-styled chorus to Kid Cudi’s robotized wailing or the track’s digitized beeps. “The One” misses the mark in similar fashion, with clashing military drums and a lifeless 2 Chainz muddying what is seemingly supposed to be the token sentimental song on the album. The pulsing, textured “Higher” is one of the few instances where a few different things get thrown at the wall – some clever rapping by Pusha T and Mase, a couple of uniquely stylized vocal turns by The-Dream and Cocaine 80s – and actually stick.
As a vehicle for Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music co-stars to show out, Cruel Summer succeeds where you’d most expect it. Pusha T – who continues to seem significantly more focused with West nearby – is at his sneering best on “New God Flow,” delivering the most colorful explanation of his G.O.O.D. alliance to date: “They said Pusha ain’t fit with the umbrella, but I was good with the yay as a wholesaler… I came aboard for more than just to rhyme with him, think ’99 when Puff woulda had Shyne with him.” 2 Chainz’ verse on “Mercy,” meanwhile, is a 35 second window into how the rapper previously known as Tity Boi became one of the biggest rap stars of 2012. On the whole, G.O.O.D.’s other entities – from established acts like Big Sean and Kid Cudi to lesser known artists CyHi Da Prynce and Travis Scott – make sufficient but far from indelible marks on the album.
Aside from an ominous, almost noir-ish vibe running through much of the production, Cruel Summer flat out lacks an overarching vision, thus preventing it from being much more than the sum of its tracks. While the natural inclination is to blame it on the sheer number of artists, producers, and co-producers involved in the making of the album – a case of too many cooks in the kitchen – the fact is that Kanye has collaborated extensively with outside help to mostly excellent results since Late Registration. Cruel Summer simply does not sound like an album that was slaved over or given undivided attention. So while there’s enough cobbled together here to make Cruel Summer a worthwhile compilation, the album falls short of being a game changer or even a definitive statement of G.O.O.D.’s supremacy as a Hip-Hop crew.
Label: GOOD Music, Def Jam | Producers: Kanye West, Che Pope, Andrew “Pop” Wansel, Anthony Kilhoffer, Boogz & Tapez, Dan Black, Hit-Boy, Hudson Mohawke, Illmind, Jeff Bhasker, Ken Lewis, Lifted, Mano, Mannie Fresh, Mike Dean, Mike Will, The Twilite Tone