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G.O.O.D. Music: Cruel Summer

G.O.O.D. Music: Cruel Summer

Rating: ★★¼☆☆ 

Compilations. Posse albums. Label samplers. No matter what type of release a “let’s get everybody we can get tangentially related to each other on one CD” project is, the primary motive is to raise the awareness of lesser-known acts by pairing them alongside established superstars with the hopes of raising these up-and-comers to a higher point in the industry echelon. While it’s benefitted a few rap outfits in the past both critically (State Property) and commercially (the Violator compilations), many times the result is a way for an artists’ friends and weed carriers to make a quick buck or a thinly-disguised vanity project for an artist to do a victory lap without much risk. G.O.O.D. Music’s {Cruel Summer} is the latter.

It’s almost frustrating to unpack everything that doesn’t work on Cruel Summer, but the complaint most have been vocal about is how much of it doesn’t feel like new material. With the first single predating the actual album release by a solid five months, and three more official singles in its wake, you have a solid third of the album we’ve already marinated over (not to mention a closing song, part of the official tracklist, that’s merely a remix of one of the year’s most ubiquitously quoted rap hits) putting additional pressure on the remainder to be either as-good or surpass what we’ve already heard. Given that these singles are all Kanye songs with guests, it’s not unreasonable to anticipate something on par with his considerably consistent discography. But the real flaw with Cruel Summer isn’t disappointment with what the album isn’t, but rather what an uncomfortably schizophrenic release it truly is.

Being Cruel Summer is under the G.O.O.D. Music banner, Kanye’s frequent collaborators are all here to jump in the mix with each other. However, while Kanye’s always had a talent for finding a comfortable middle ground with his guests, the chemistry they have with each other is the type you would find in a third rate bargain bin high school meth lab. Never before has an album sounded so pieced together from verses that might as well have been (and probably were) sent from across the country. While the album maintains a certain cohesiveness on the production side, many tracks become the audio equivalent of an uncomfortable family portrait. The line-ups bring out neither the best in each other, nor themselves. And when you factor in how uninspired and forced they sound next to the likes of Pusha T and Raekwon, it’s just a bad look for G.O.O.D. music as a whole. It’s a narcoleptic Frankenstein’s monster of an album.

Cruel Summer’s four month delay, which pushed the project back to the point of being released after summer, captures how it’s the least essential release of Kanye’s career. For an artist whose albums have carried a certain sense of urgency with their release dates feeling like full-blown events, Cruel Summer is Mr. West’s senior slide. Even after some of the best mic work of his career on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and his work on Watch the Throne sounding like M.B.D.T.F.’s best outtakes, Cruel Summer is just bottom of the barrel Kanye-trying-to-rap-like-Kanye. For instance, he’s developed a weird obsession with comparing himself to Jesus Christ, despite the fact that he’s already run to that well several times with the interviews surrounding his 2005 Rolling Stone cover. Yet, it’s even more frustrating when you realize Kanye, at his most exhausted, is still outshining the artists he’s supposed to be showcasing.

However, there are still some gems. Kanye’s “Cold” (formerly “Theraflu,” but a legal injunction forced a title change) still sounds fresh despite its age, the Ghostface and Pusha T assisted “New God Flow” is fun and 2 Chainz continues his incredible hot streak. Cruel Summer’s best moment comes from John Legend and Teyana Taylor’s “Bliss,” which is the only track that captures the “future of popular music” vibe that Kanye’s other projects over the years have emoted. Aside from these, it’s hard to recommend an album where every other song would benefit from having 1-3 verses removed. Cruel Summer is indicative of everything a label showcase album shouldn’t be. It’s bloated, uneven and has the togetherness of an unkempt scarecrow after a hurricane.

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