September 24, 2012
Kanye West started his GOOD Music imprint (a saccharine acronym for Getting Out Our Dreams) in 2004, releasing albums from the likes of Common, John Legend and Kid Cudi over the following years. Now he’s brought much of the label’s roster together for a collaborative team-building exercise called Cruel Summer.
Unfortunately not an homage to the Ace Of Base album of the same name, Cruel Summer is instead a showcase for the (variable) talents of the GOOD Music crew, with a bit of help from a few outside big hitters.
Things don’t start well. The R Kelly-voiced opener ‘To The World’ easily has to be one of the worst things on here, despite the R&B monolith’s absurdist sense of humour on lines like “the whole world is a couch, bitch I’m Rick James tonight”.
‘Mercy’ ties a Soulja Boy steel drum loop and southern crunk beat to some uninspired verses from Big Sean and 2 Chainz, and it fast becomes clear that Cruel Summer has all the swagger and arrogance of a Kanye-authored album, just without the creativity and marmite-like concepts of his production. Its blandness is definitely its weakness.
There are one or two brighter moments: ‘Clique’’s minimal production has a hint of mid-’00s Neptunes about it, with West’s Watch The Throne partner Jay-Z turning up to lend a verse, while Ghostface joins forces with Pusha T to good effect on single ‘New God Flow’. The Wu-Tang connection continues into ‘The Morning’, as Raekwon brings his husky street rap to a sparse IllMind production alongside a rabble featuring Common, Kid Cudi and Nigerian rapper D’Banj.
The auto-tune is kicked into overdrive on ‘Higher’, with R&B star The-Dream joined by one of rap’s perennial second-stringers Mase among others to knock out some phoned-in verses over another minimal beat.
‘Sin City’ is a low point, a mismatch of industrial snares and overblown vocal performances from John Legend and Teyana Taylor, before ‘The One’ trumps even that with cliché-ridden sentiments about being “a soldier” over a piano-ballad beat. It’s one of two productions on Cruel Summer from Hudson Mohawke — fresh from teaming up with Canadian beatmaker Lunice for the fantastic TNGHT EP — both of which don’t show him from his good side.
Outside of a couple of base-level bangers, Cruel Summer offers nothing new or of any real note, and perhaps it’s telling that West has taken a step back from the production duties so as to slightly disassociate himself from the work churned out by his underlings. While Watch The Throne and 808s & Heartbreak benefit massively from repeated listens and dissection, Cruel Summer acts as placeholder, a way for West to keep his name out there while he plans his next project. Here’s hoping for that Ace Of Base tribute.
Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON