by Ama Debrah
If you have encountered me in certain, shall I say, “state of affairs,” you are certain of one thing: I’m a fan of Kanye West. And not just a casual, “Oh, he’s a pretty good rapper. I like that one song Gold Digger—” NO. In my mind, Kanye West is the end-all-be-all of hip hop. I have on multiple occasions gotten in intense arguments with acquaintances over who’s the best rapper alive—“Name me a song better than ‘Never Let Me Down‘! You can’t and you fail!”—and once even stormed out of a room after someone simply suggested that Mac Miller was better than ‘Ye. It’s not a party unless I’ve gone over to the DJ and angrily ordered him to play “N***** in Paris.”
Needless to say, I’m not the most un-biased critic of Kanye’s work. But when West’s dream-team collaboration, G.O.O.D. Music, came out with their first album, Cruel Summer, this past Tuesday, I was already hailing it as the album of the millennium.
For those that don’t know, G.O.O.D. Music, which stands for “Getting Out Our Dreams,” is a record label founded by Kanye in 2004. Since John Legend and Common initially signed with the label, G.O.O.D. Music has gone on to include big names such as Mos Def, Kid Cudi, and Big Sean. Although Kanye’s done multiple collaborations with G.O.O.D. Music artists in the past, such as the beautiful “Blame Game,” Cruel Summer marks the first time that all of the G.O.O.D. artists, plus some of rap’s elite, are featured on a single album. The all-star line-up goes as follows: Kanye West, Pusha-T, Kid Cudi, Q-Tip, Mr Hudson, Common, John Legend, Big Sean, CyHi the Prynce, Teyana Taylor, D-Banj, Travi$ Scott, 2 Chainz, R. Kelly, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Ma$e, Marsha Ambrosius, Jay-Z, Malik Yusef, Chief Keef, and Jadakiss. With this star-studded list of artists and the extreme popularity of the first singles “Mercy” and “Clique,” Cruel Summer was arguably the most anticipated album of the fall.
Due to the intense hype, the buzz around the initial release of Cruel Summer has been mixed, to say the least. With some critics calling the album “overproduced” and “good but not great,” it seems that the majority of issues center around the album’s lack of consistent theme and cohesion. This confusion is partially rooted in the wide variety of musical genres in the album. Cruel Summer tries to tackle reggae styling’s with “The Morning” and pop with the airy Teyana Taylor and John Legend collaboration “Bliss,” while incorporating almost tuneless, experimental melodies such as “Higher” and Kid Cudi’s confusing “Creepers.”
Despite these lukewarm reviews, Cruel Summer does pack a definite punch. The album starts off with “To the World,” which is a lofty, powerful R&B number sung primarily by R. Kelly, and also features Kanye’s infamous line, “Mitt Romney don’t pay no tax.” “To the World” is followed by “Mercy,” “Clique,” and “New God Flow,” three of the strongest songs of the album. Jay-Z’s verse on Clique is second to none, and Pusha T makes a name for himself on “New God Flow,” which uses clips from Melvin Bliss’s “Synthetic Substitution.”
Although Cruel Summer is by no means a bad album, its collaboration of so many different artists is simultaneously its greatest strength and greatest weakness. The wide range of musicians makes Cruel Summer different from any hip hop album currently on the charts, but at the same time, the contrasting genres cloud any sort of theme or vision for the album. While it’s great to feature newer artists like Big Sean and Teyana Taylor with already established rappers, the variation in experience can sometimes be glaringly apparent; for example, in “The One,” where Kanye raps, “You wanna run baby/ You think you free but you a slave to the funds baby,” Big Sean responds with, “I don’t wait/ I marinate/ Perrier/ Everyday.”
That being said, Cruel Summer definitely did not disappoint, and is sure please everyone; rapid-fan and casual critic alike.
Ama Debrah is a junior at Barnard and Arts and On Campus Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.