For almost a decade Kanye West and his team have proven their ability to utilize amazing samples from Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire” to Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” and G.O.O.D Music’s Cruel Summer is no different. This collective album has a good balance of street songs versus quasi poetic numbers; unfortunately only some of the artists in this hip-hop era are praise worthy in terms of innovation. The other problem lies in the media, and how most people are more focused on Kanye’s new relationship than his new music project, including Mr. West himself.
The album starts with a guest appearance from R. Kelly, his voice swimming in auto-tune. The second song entitled “Clique,” starts with an eerie stream of consciousness-type speech from James Fauntleroy, an R&B singer featured throughout the album. He introduces Big Sean, who holds quite the momentum in the beginning, but after Jay-Z and Kanye have their turn, it may be obvious that he is the weakest link of the bunch.
The most controversial verse belongs to Kanye, who brags about his new squeeze Kim Kardashian, claiming “My girl’s a superstar all from a home movie.” He goes from talking about his famous muse to car competitions with CIA agents and finally to the idea of death. “Went through deep depression when my mama passed/Suicide what kind of talk is that?” This last line gives the first glimpse of humanity we see from West, though his pronunciation of suicide as “Shoe-icide” correctly brings us back to his characteristic, fashionista façade.
The third song off the album, “Mercy” created waves in the hip hop world, a tsunami of sorts, surprisingly surrounding the sample more than the track itself. Fuzzy Jones, a reggae dance hall veteran got his posthumous claim to fame when Kanye took his intro to Sound Beagle’s “Dust a Sound Boy,” and put it in front of some piano keys and a lone drumbeat. This is followed by Big Sean’s verse, where he introduces “Swerve” into everyday vernacular, rendering “Swag” old-fashioned.
“New God Flow,” introduces the talented Pusha T to the audience, former member of Clipse, who carries the torch for the G.O.O.D music team. Here Pusha lays all questions to rest on whether he would be a good fit for Kanye’s posse. “They said Pusha ain’t fit with the umbrella/But I was good with the Yay as a wholesaler.”
“Cold” is the one song Kanye has to himself, and he doesn’t spend it wisely. Literally. He makes a jab at his lover’s ex-baller husband, and the rest of the song is dedicated to his fashion sense and bottomless wallet. Fortunately, all of this sounds fascinating with a signature DJ Khaled beat behind it.
The rest of the album is filled with duds, especially “Higher.” It features lady killer The Dream mixed with a washed up rapper turned preacher, Ma$e, who belongs in the pulpit instead of the streets.
Tracks like “Sin City” prove that some of Kanye’s minions shine on their own, those being spoken word artist Malik Yusef and Georgia based rapper Cyhi the Prynce. Guests like John Legend and Common always deliver, while 2 Chainz and Teyana Taylor are wasted space.
As for the ringleader of this dark circus? Mr. West says it best in “The One,” saying “Best way to describe my position is at the helm,” he admits to being the captain of the ship, leaving all the heavy labor to the ship’s crew. His leadership seems a bit nonexistent, based on the general layout of the album. The energetic “Don’t Like” brings the story to a close, and with the raw energy and talent spewing from all members and guest appearances alike, this closer probably should have been an opener. Don’t blame Kanye though; he is too busy Keeping up with the Kardashians, dressed in all denim, contributing to conversations in this televised reality with a smirk or the occasional giggle.