Album Review: G.O.O.D. Music’s “Cruel Summer”

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Ned Hardy, Editor-in-Chief

I wanted to like this album. I really did.

Based on the tracklist alone, the album should be flawless. Features range from hip-hop heavyweights like Ghostface Killa, Ma$e, and Raekwon to three of the best rap lyricists of all time: Pusha-T (of Clipse fame), the ever-illustrious Jay-Z, and Mr. Kanye West himself.

Given that West hasn’t exactly put out trash over the course of his musical career (his 2010 magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is still my favorite album of all time), you’ve got what should be a recipe for success.

Unfortunately, the credentials of the aforementioned only serve to make the flaws of G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Summer (Sept. 18, Def Jam / G.O.O.D.) all the more apparent. Don’t get me wrong – some of the songs are excellent. It’s just that what is bad is egregiously bad.

The album starts off well with slow-building anthem “To The World,” which features Mr. West (lyrical highlight: “I’m just trying to protect my stacks / Mitt Romney don’t pay no tax!”) and none other than R. Kelly; perhaps back from a few years of mixtape-obscurity to reclaim his title as the “King of R&B.”

The next three songs are where the album truly shines: rapidly shifting from the icy-hearted, gothic “Clique” (Jay-Z’s verse is Best-of-the-Year quality), to the already-classic dancehall-smash “Mercy,” to “New God Flow,” in which Wu Tang-legend Ghostface Killa trades hoarse rhymes with West and Pusha-T.

From here, though, Cruel Summer begins to go downhill. Most of the next seven songs are quickly forgettable: a blur of soft R&B hooks interrupted by snippets of 2 Chainz yelling “Yeah!” That being said, this section is notable for one reason: it does not, for the most part, feature Kanye West. I can’t help but wonder whether West – known for his technical expertise in the booth as well as at the production board – had much input on the latter half of the record.

Of course, Cruel Summer is not a Kanye solo album, and other musicians in the G.O.O.D. collective deserve to shine. On the other hand, it is officially titled Kanye West Presents G.O.O.D. Music Cruel Summer, and I’ll be honest: I wanted a little more Kanye West Presents and a lot less G.O.O.D. Music.

The second half of the album isn’t without its joys. “Cold,” a Hit-Boy-produced track that first leaked in April as “Theraflu,” is an upbeat, mile-a-minute song on which Kanye West is Kanye West, never pausing to take a breath while name-dropping Vogue editor Anna Wintour and shouting, “Tell PETA my mink is dragging on the floor!” It’s an unbridled, uninhibited, glorious hip-hop track, and one of the album’s finest.

The final track, “I Don’t Like,” centers around a remarkably catchy chorus of obscenities shouted by Chicago rapper Chief Keef, culminating with the line, “That’s that s**t I don’t like!”

It’s a boisterous track that, while exciting, seems misplaced. Sadly, much of Cruel Summer follows this trend: excellent singles that stand out well on their own, but make little sense together.

Cruel Summer (Sept. 18, Def Jam / G.O.O.D.) can be purchased on iTunes.