Eventually, he put down his hand lotion and his autographed DVD copy of Kim Kardashian's sex tape to announce the name of G.O.O.D. Music's group effort. He titled it Cruel Summer, evoking memories of Bananarama songs while explaining that it tied in sort-of closely to his film project of the same name, a film that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival as a multimedia eight-screen experience, because that's just how Kanye West rolls this week. He also spent more time signing acts to his vanity label than actually recording music, it seems, latching on to the artist formerly known as Ludacris's weed carrier Tity Boi (the popular 2 Chainz, who proves that all you need to do to become a success in this rap shit is not have a shitty nickname), Nigerian singer-songwriter D'banj, and A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip.
Although the excitement for Cruel Summer never ceased, even though the project suffered numerous delays, thereby pushing the album to damn near autumn, I questioned the logic of releasing what is essentially a label sampler featuring artists who have, for the most part, released their own shit in the past. Everyone already knows most of these guys and what they're capable of, both together and apart. 'Ye's biggest acts at the moment are Big Sean, Pusha T, and the aforementioned Tity Boi, all of whom have made noise in our chosen genre over the past twelve months; Common, John Legend, and KiD CuDi haven't released solo projects in 2012 (yet), but they've all been on the winning side of critical acclaim in the past. And don't even get me started on the whole Mos Def and Q-Tip thing (although neither one of those guys made the final cut, which provokes even more questions). The only guy I can see on this project that hasn't yet seen the benefits of the G.O.O.D. Music machine would be Cyhi The Prince, a dude whose breakthrough on 'Ye's "So Appalled" didn't even translate into anyone remotely interested in his mixtape shit. As usual, I question the man's taste in rap music.
One thing's for sure, though: Cruel Summer is going to be huge; all of the pushbacks only stirred up more interest in the project, as have the five singles released prior to now. In that way, Cruel Summer shares the same fate as Kanye's last solo effort, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: thanks to the man's overly generous G.O.O.D. Fridays series of freebies, half of the tracks from the album were made available before the album ever saw its release.
However, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy didn't include anything called a Chief Keef, so...
1. TO THE WORLD (KANYE WEST & R. KELLY)
Rather than apologizing to the audience for pushing Cruel Summer back so many times that its debut now marks the end of the summer season in the northern hemisphere, Kanye West and fellow Chicago hometown hero R. Kelly elect to give middle fingers “To The World” instead over this Andrew Wansel / 'Ye-produced introductory track. The mood is deliberately antagonistic for no apparent reason, not unlike the bully in elementary school who picked fights with the smaller kids because he was getting ignored at home by his whore mother and a series of increasingly abusive “uncles”. Kells even sings at one point, “The whole world is a couch / Bitch, I'm Rick James”. I can't make this shit up. Although that last line I wrote implies that some may find this song amusing, it really isn't, and it kicks Cruel Summer off on the worst possible note. Good job, Yeezy, alienating the fans right off the bat.
2. CLIQUE (KANYE WEST, JAY-Z, & BIG SEAN)
For me, “Big” Sean Anderson has made only two worthwhile contributions to the art form: his reading of the word “swerve” during the hook on “Mercy” (which is, coincidentally, the very next track on Cruel Summer), and his insistence on remixing his own “Dance (A$$)” with Nicki Minaj and convincing her to appear in the video for it, thereby giving GIF creators the world over the gift that keeps on giving, because, while most of you two don't care for Onika's rhymes, flow, or general sense of self-worth, I have yet to hear anyone complain about her ass. So I am pleased to report that I actually liked Sean's verse over this low-key and dope-as-shit Hit-Boy production. Sure, he's lyrically murdered by both an impressive Kanye West and “G.O.O.D. Music's drug-dealing cousin” Jay-Z, and his hook borders on annoying, but I still found this enjoyable as hell. Expect to hear this single on the radio for much longer than absolutely necessary.
3. MERCY (KANYE WEST, BIG SEAN, PUSHA T, & 2 CHAINZ)
I feel like I've been aware of this song for the past seven fucking years, it's been out so goddamn long. I know you two have been waiting impatiently for my thoughts on one of the first actual singles released from this project (as it dropped around the same time as “Cold”), so here's Max's official opinion: I like it overall, but there are elements to the song that are questionable. For example, why did Kanye West feel the need to perform his verse over an entirely different beat (other than the fact that he's Kanye West)? How the hell did Big Sean score the opening verse (his second of Cruel Summer thus far)? What's with the sampled chanting during the hook? And why is 2 Chainz receiving so much acclaim for a verse where he uses the word “horsepower” three times within the span of a single bar? And yet, I still really like this song for what it is: a celebration of excess, an exercise in shit-talking, and proof positive that repeated exposure can cause you to look at some songs with positive intent rather than wanting to rip it apart every chance you get. Contradiction? Perhaps, but it is what it is. Also, I liked Pusha T's verse.
4. NEW GOD FLOW (KANYE WEST, PUSHA T, & GHOSTFACE KILLAH)
This was easily my favorite of the singles released from Cruel Summer, and I still have my issues with it. Four specific issues, to be exact: (1) 'Ye's beat is cool, but in no way is it fucking with Ghostface Killah's “Mighty Healthy” (sampled on here), which took the Melvin Bliss “Synthetic Substitution” inspiration to an entirely new level twelve years ago (fuck, I feel old); (2) Pusha T sounds great with his two verses, which explain just why he signed with G.O.O.D. Music in the first place, but this song is pretty far removed from what the coke rapper is accustomed to; and (3) Kanye's verse is awesome, but that militant chanting bullshit at the end killed the entire track. I don't even think I've listened to the song all the way through because of that shit, it's really that bad. My fourth issue was more wishful thinking: I always hoped that Ghostface Killah would swipe the beat for a mixtape verse or something. So I'm fucking thrilled to report that, for the album version of “New God Flow”, Kanye has sort-of listened to my specific wishes, as his bullshit outro has been replaced with, lo and behold, a brand-new Pretty motherfucking Toney verse (after a grand entrance) that sounds fucking excellent, and it's so good that the rest of the track is elevated to the status of an instant classic. Yeah, I said it. Classic. Even with 'Ye sneaking back in at the very end; I can tolerate that horseplay when the rest of the song is this fucking great.
5. THE MORNING (RAEKWON, COMMON, PUSHA T, 2 CHAINZ, CYHI THE PRINCE, KID CUDI, & D'BANJ)
The other Wu sighting of the evening takes place on the Kanye West / Illmind-produced “The Morning” (which may as well have been labeled “Mercy 2: The Secret Of The Ooze”), as Chef Raekwon provides the opening verse (after an overlong intro), making a valid case for both his and Ghost's probable and eventual signings to G.O.O.D. Music. (I'm calling it right here and now, and I'm not joking: this needs to happen, if only to expand both of their respective fanbases. They of course would still be able to retain their Wu-Tang Clan day jobs; hell, Pusha T is still a member of the Clipse, after all.) The singing, from a My Fair Lady-aping D'banj, isn't all that impressive, but it keeps the ball rolling, and the actual rhymes are pretty fun, if only because of the unorthodox pairing of Raekwon with Common with Pusha T with 2 fucking Chainz (let alone everyone else on here). The beat is fairly hypnotic, too. Not bad, even though an uncredited 'Ye evokes his own work on “New God Flow” far too soon after “New God Flow” ended for it to make much sense.
THERAFLU WAY TOO COLD COLD (FEAT. DJ KHALED & DJ PHARRIS)
True fact: I'm not a fan of this song. “Cold”, which has undergone two separate name changes since its official debut practically alongside “Mercy”, never impressed me all that much. I thought the Hit-Boy beat sounded a bit too similar to that of “Mercy”, the hook was appalling (because 'Ye felt the need to lift lines verbatim from his hero Ma$e's “Lookin' At Me”, and some of his punchlines were ridiculous (especially the bit about threatening to get Jay-Z to drop his fuck buddy Kim Kardashian's ex-husband Kris Humphries dropped from the New Jersey Nets) and downright malicious. The two separate deejays (Khaled and Pharris, respectively) bookending the track always annoyed the shit out of me, too, since without them helping stretch “Cold” to a proper length, this would have been a glorified freestyle, doomed to spend eternity on a mixtape that nobody would give two fucks about after a few days, and even 'Ye seems to get really bored with himself, cutting himself off toward the end with all of that bullshit coughing and schilling for Theraflu. I will say that, when placed within the context of Cruel Summer, the beat actually resembles that of “The Morning” more than it does “Mercy”, but I've really got nothing else.
7. HIGHER (THE-DREAM, PUSHA T, MA$E, & COCAINE '80S)
Having the first verse you hear on “Higher” (not really the most original song title in hip hop, guys) be one made up of R&B vocals will pretty much turn off approximately ninety-nine percent of the audience. Here's the thing: that is exactly the correct reaction you should have to this shit. Yes, Pusha-Ton and Pastor Ma$e both spit actual verses, but neither of them are great, good, or even passable enough to warrant trying to plow your way through this shit. (2 Chainz also makes a brief appearance during the hook, but thankfully never gets around to doing anything else.) You'll have to be “higher than a motherfucker” to even pretend to enjoy this weak-as-shit Hit-Boy production. Meh.
8. SIN CITY (JOHN LEGEND, TRAVI$ SCOTT, TEYANA TAYLOR, CYHI THE PRINCE, & MALIK YUSEF)
A song entitled “Sin City” should veer into one of two extremes: either it comes across as a flashy fantasy, like Las Vegas in its prime, or noir-ish and dank, like the Frank Miller series of the same name. But it certainly should not sound like whatever the hell this shit was supposed to be. “Sin City” is mostly notable for proving that Kanye West hasn;t forgotten about poet Malik Yusef, who was one of the earliest signees to his G.O.O.D. Music imprint but hasn't been heard from as of late (speaking of which, I know he's off doing his own thing, but how much cooler would Cruel Summer have been if GLC has made a quick cameo?), but Cyhi The Prince, who actually impressed me during his verse from 'Ye's “So Appalled” (from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), is on here too, so...
9. THE ONE (KANYE WEST, BIG SEAN, 2 CHAINZ, & MARSHA AMBROSIUS)
This was pretty goddamn awful. The most surprising aspect of this radio-ready piffle (coupled with a Marsha Ambrosius on the hook that is apparently trying to dirty up her image a bit) is that former Cash Money Records in-house producer Mannie Fresh apparently had something to do with the beat. Oh, and Tity Boi doesn't introduce himself before he starts rapping this time around. So that's two surprising aspects. Two. How the fuck did this shit make it to the final product? This is like some weak sauce that the likes of Nas or Fabolous might try to pass off as entertainment.
10. CREEPERS (KID CUDI)
The only two artists on this label sampler to receive solo showcases are Kanye West and KiD CuDi, which says a lot regarding Scott's place in popular culture. (Once having your own show on HBO can do that for your career.) On “Creepers”, obviously a leftover from the not-yet-released Man On The Moon III: The Further Adventures Of The Dish & The Spoon (since the liner notes indicate that the song is "licensed" for use on Cruel Summer by CuDi's record label), Scott is back to his navel-gazing default mode, trying to hit on random chicks while never quite understanding that he spends too much time in his mind to ever truly relate to them (or anyone else, really). So, yeah, this sucked. The Dan Black beat was actually pretty interesting, though, for what it's worth.
11. BLISS (JOHN LEGEND & TEYANA TAYLOR)
Although 'Ye felt it necessary to ignore the likes of
Mos Def Yasiin Bey,
Q-Tip, and Mr. Hudson while putting this compilation together, he had
to acknowledge the R&B acts on his roster, especially when one of
them is motherfucking John Legend, practically the first person
signed to the label in the first place. Hudson Mohawke's musical
backing sounds 1980's-level cheesy, which may deter most listeners,
but the vocals from Legend and Teyana Taylor (best known for her
chorus on 'Ye's “Christmas In Harlem”) both transcend the
material. A bit too heavy on the queso factor for me to partake of
on a regular basis, but when playing the album straight through, I'd
probably leave it running.
12. DON'T LIKE (KANYE WEST, CHIEF KEEF, PUSHA T, BIG SEAN, & JADAKISS)
I wasn't really excited for much beyond the guest list when this G.O.O.D. Music-dominated remix to Chicago-based teen rapper Chief Keef's song was announced. And the fact that it made the final cut of Cruel Summer when there fucking had to have been other, better efforts to pursue actively explains what's wrong with hip hop in 2012. Young Chop's beat, which I understand is the same as the original version (I don't care enough to look it up) isn't the worst I've ever heard, but all of the lyrics push an agenda of ignorance onto the audience; every artist who isn't named Chief Keef is above this kind of material, but here they are, slumming it for a quick buck. As for Keef, the teenager lucked the fuck out by catching 'Ye's ear, parlaying a violent, self-indulgent, and rather misinformed lifestyle hating “bitch n----z”, “snitch n----z”, and the like into a rap career that is thisclose to imploding if it turns out that he really did have something to do with the murder of a rival artist in Chicago. This shit sucked when it first came out (even when Pusha's extended verse dropped, I still wasn't that thrilled), and it still fucking blows today. By the way, how hilarious was it to see other hip hop blogs suddenly acknowledging Keef as though they had been following his short career since day one? At least I have the balls to admit this: I had no fucking clue who the dude was when this remix was announced, and I still don't give much of a damn about him. And I'm sure more than a few of you feel the exact same way.
THE LAST WORD: There's a four-song tear on Cruel Summer, kicking off with "Clique" and ending with "The Morning", which fucking rocks. Those four songs (especially the new version of "New God Flow") are among the best hip hop songs released in 2012. I will not be accepting any arguments to the contrary: if you disagree, you need to get the fuck over yourself. However, the rest of Cruel Summer is pure horseshit. Kanye West, as expected, goes overboard with excess, mistaking "artistry" with "noise", and throwing so many guest artists at the listener that you won't even realize you're bored out of your mind before someone new picks up the microphone. With this glorified label sampler, Kanye tries to bring all of his artists into his world, which, again, only works during that four-song tear before everything falls to pieces; most of the artists involved sound uncomfortable, awkward, untrusting of the musical backing (this happens a lot on Cruel Summer), or are Chief Keef. Now I've enjoyed every single one of Kanye West's albums (even 808's & Heartbreak, which everyone seems to have come around on but I enjoyed first, and you can check the tape); hell, even Watch The Throne has grown on me a bit since its initial release. But Cruel Summer should go down in history as Kanye's first real misfire, as his insistence on having his fingerprints all over the final product leaves his artists in the dust, which sucks, since this compilation was ostensibly about them. However, none of this matters, because 'Ye and company will sell a bazillion copies of this shit. In the meantime, I'll just listen to my "Clique", "Mercy", "New God Flow", and "The Morning" and pretend the rest of this never happened.