Arguably the most anticipated release of the summer releases with one of the most unfitting times – who releases an album called Cruel Summer with four days left in summer? Kanye does, a man with clearly no regard for the seasons, and an ever-increasing ego to boot. People often get driven wild by Kanye’s egomaniacal antics and proclamations about being the greatest thing since Jesus Christ or sliced bread, but what goes wrong with Kanye’s G.O.O.D. music compilation album, Cruel Summer, is Ye passing his ego onto his friends and believing if they hang with him, they must be great enough to stunt as well. What results is an album as inconsistent as the rappers Kanye has accrued.
The opening cut “To The World” brings together two Chi-town kings in West and R. Kelly for the first time, but despite high production an exciting combination of talent the song suffers from juvenile lyrics (“put your middle fingers up to the world”) and a big silly opening premise – feeling like a contrived and overly pronounced into like “Lift Off” did on Watch the Throne – leaving “To the World” with much to be desired.
The three album singles follow (“Clique”, “Mercy”, “New God Flow”) and these fall as three of the four best on Cruel Summer – like seeing all the funny parts of a movie in the trailer. These songs are undoubtedly dynamic, but what has always separated Kanye from other rappers is producing albums chock full of goodness rather than a few strong singles and then some skits and fillers. It is fun hearing the addition of Ghostface Killah on the album version of “New God Flow” however, and “Mercy” really never grows old to me though.
The problem on Cruel Summer is the high levels of inclusion of Big Sean, John Legend, Cyhi the Prince, and 2 Chainz who all swag around like they own the place. It’s like a bizarro version of Entourage, where the entourage actually isn’t more interesting than their star friend – unlike boring as mud Vincent Chase – and they think they are the greatest by association. Pusha T is also included in high doses but he is pretty consistently strong throughout Cruel Summer, especially on “New God Flow” and “The Morning”, a song that leads with a sublime Marley-esque chorus from Nigerian singer D’Banji.
Cruel Summer’s saving grace is its production, which like every Kanye-produced album, is in a league of its own. All of these songs sound plain cool coming out of a quality set of speakers, even if all the verses aren’t. “The One” brings out that classic sprightly piano hook and gospel-tinged production from Kanye which is seemingly always refreshing to hear. So while Cruel Summer sports some killer singles and high-class production, inconsistent songs and contributions plagues this project like the cruel sun plagued anything that tried to sprout out of the ground this summer.
Can’t Miss: “Mercy” “New God Flow”, “The Morning”
Can’t Hit: “Sin City”, “Bliss”, “Don’t Like”, “Higher”
This is as strong a first six songs there has been on an album this year. Kicking off with a beauty like “To The World” is as bold as it gets. “To The World” is ostensibly a pure R&B song, despite Kanye’s verse, and makes R. Kelly as relevant as he has been in years. Kanye’s golden touch tends to do that for folks. In response to Wes, I’m not sure what is so juvenile about the lyrics “put your middle fingers up to the world”? Kelly actually found a more creative way to say “f**k the world” and didn’t have to offend Wes’ delicate sensibilities. This also perfectly gels with how Kelly probably feels right now after all he has been under fire for (namely pissing on chicks and videotaping it).
Beyond the opener, singles “Clique”, “Mercy”, “New God Flow”, and “Cold” (formerly called “Theraflu”) are fantastic. I do have to side with Wes that the release of all of these tracks prior to the albums release is a little strange and made my first listen anti-climactic to an extent. Still, its hard to deny all four are party-ready bangers that are better than 90% of what gets released on the typical hip hop album.
The big shocker for me was how big of a mark Big Sean left on the Cruel Summer. On four tracks, Big Sean delivered the strongest work of his career outside of “Big Nut Bust”. In my opinion he will never be a star, but shows enough consistency on these tracks to reinvigorate my feelings that there is more than meets the eye.
Despite all of the love for the first half of Cruel Summer, the second half kind of drops off a cliff. The Kid Cudi solo track, “Creepers”, is alright, but it doesn’t make sense on an album of collaborations. It is like everyone in charge of the composition of the album as a whole got lazy and decided to just throw a bunch of perfectly average tracks at the wall and see what sticks. Even more confusing is the inclusion of “Don’t Like” at the end of the album. Chief Keef’s original was great, and the addition of Kanye, Big Sean, Pusha T and Jadakiss is fine, but this is more of a mixtape play than anything, and seems just lazy. And I have one thing to say about lazyness, using Keef’s own words: “That’s that sh*t I DON’T LIKE”.
Can’t Miss: “Clique”, “New God Flow”, “To The World”
Can’t Hit: “Bliss” (I didn’t want to ramble on above, but screw John Legend), “Sin City”, “The One”
Like Austin, I sincerely disagree with your analysis on “To The World” Wes. The track is as good of an opener as they come. The track is home to R. Kelly’s incredible voice which has become too much of a rarity these days, an explosive and heavily percussive beat, and one of Kanye’s sickest verses on the album. I use the word sick with both the use of sweet and disgusting intended. First, Kanye spits out one incredibly hilarious wordplay in which he capitalizes on his increasingly annoying but hilarious Lambo obsession by calling himself Francis Foreign Car Coppola (pretty genius drop of the Ford as a side note). This is just after talking about his movie, score, and ghetto opera he created, so the director name drop is relevant and hilariously used on many levels. He then pulls a classic Kanye by swinging one of his most hilarious enunciation adjustments to date by pronouncing “tax” as “tack” when needing to rhyme the word with “back” and “stack”. “Mitt Romney don’t pay no tax (tack)”. This notorious Kanye maneuver pays off in a big way when put in context. Then the verse finale. “R. Kelly and the God of rap, Sh**tin’ on ya, Holy crap!” Seemingly simple and juvenile you say Wes … ok, it is a “holy crap” joke. But if you’re too mature to find humor in that simple word play, how do you at least not find humor that he is suggesting R. Kelly is sh**ting on someone after the whole “pissing debacle”. I feel like it’s a pretty bold (but awesome) move on Kanye’s part to simply endorse R. Kelly, let alone suggest that they will be sh**ting on anyone, even if that sh*t is holy.
To both of your points, the album does blow its load a bit early, I do agree, especially in the respect that the first five out of six tracks we have already heard. However, it does have a few pleasant surprises that I wasn’t aware of. The new addition of a Ghostface verse in “New God Flow” was a pleasant surprise. And Raekwon, who I am almost now convinced is my favorite WTC member to hear in a featured role just absolutely kills it in “The Morning”. His presence in his verses, and this one is no exception, is so cinematic and poised. It’s as if the rest of the song stands still as he lays it all out on the table. In the verse he used the word illustrious to describe himself, and I really can’t think of a better word for him. Soon after, Common manages to almost bring the song crashing to the ground with his very amateur hour performance. I swear I’d pick ANY member from Dame Jones’ “Hot Cheetos and Takis” crew up to guest spot in my song before I picked up Common’s broke attempt at flow, I don’t care if he is from Chi-town.
Kanye once said, “don’t leave when you’re hot, that’s how Ma$e screwed up.” Well great Kanye, you pin-pointed the problem. Step two is NOT inviting Ma$e to try to revive himself … again. This was the Ye’s first mistake with this album. Mistake two and three was allowing John Legend to participate. I couldn’t agree more with you Austin, screw him. The worst two tracks on the album are on his shoulders if you ask me. It was also a bad idea to play rhyme-time with the word city on “Sin City”, but since John was on that track, I simply blame him.
To break this all down, I see an album with twelve tracks. Six of those tracks are stellar. Three out of the remaining six are above average works. Two out the remaining three contain John Legend (‘nuff said), and “Higher” is just ploy to make Ma$e seem relevant again. All things considered when you take into consideration that this was a collaboration between 23 rap artists, 20+ producers, and a slew of writers … I think it’s an impressive feat. I wish I would have more time to ramble so I could discuss how awesome “The One” actually is. Or that after Kid Cudi’s lackluster performance in “The Morning”, he pulled off a better solo track than almost anything off his last album. But we already have way too many words for all that. Simply put, a collective group of GOOD artists just pulled off some GREAT music.
Can’t Miss: “To the World”, “New God Flow”, “The Morning”, “The One”
Can’t Hit: “Higher”, “Sin City”, “Bliss”
Strong(ish) points from the both of you. At least we can all agree that John Legend is a waste of space on Cruel Summer. I think there is a certain level of blindness that comes with reviewing a Kanye project because he is arguably the most important artist in pop music in the past decade, but I think it’s ok to accept this isn’t up to Ye’s usual high standards; I blame Kim. Todd, you are consistently lovestruck by his favorite artists, and I consider this no exception. I am disappointed regardless that you turned your back on your boy Ma$e like that. We all seem to agree on the highlights and the lowlights here, beside Austin somehow being enamored with Big Sean.
I do agree with you Todd in saying that this project from the get-go was a bold feat, and Kanye has become quite the renaissance man in terms of putting out projects and ideas that are simply unrivaled. That doesn’t mean we should grade this on a curve though.
Aggregate Rating: 7.3/11