Cruel Summer (to be released September 18, 2012)
Back when I was a wee playa (i.e., a young boy, not a Wii player…), the best feeling in the world was rushing to the record store on release day, paying $14.99 or whatever for a new CD, ripping off the plastic and popping in the disc. Back then, besides the radio single, the remaining album tracks were a complete mystery. You never knew what was coming next – that next track could change your life, or make you hate that artist forever. It’s what made experiencing new music so exciting.
The digital age has dampened that since of wonder. These days, it’s not uncommon to hear half an album months before it hits shelves – as is the case with this long-delayed compilation from Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music collective. Cruel Summer? More like Aggravating Autumn at this point.
My biggest fear with Cruel Summer was that we already had heard the best of what it has to offer months in advance. “Mercy,” “I Don’t Like (Remix),” “Clique,” and “The One” have all been around in some shape or form for awhile now. Heck, “Theraflu” even had enough time to change names twice – to “Way Too Cold” and later just “Cold.” Sean “Puff P. Diddy Daddy” Combs would be proud.
I worried that Cruel Summer would be the equivalent of a movie that gave away all the best scenes in the trailer. That’s true to an extent, but there’s still a few surprises.
By far, the best track here is “New God Flow.” Now, I might be a bit biased (the track samples one of my all-time favorites, “Mighty Healthy” from Ghostface Killah) but Pusha T and Kanye exhibit a surprising amount of chemistry as they maraud through the track. When Ye spits “I’m from the 312/Where cops don’t come through and dreams don’t come true/Like “Where did God go?” In his Murcielago/From working McDonald’s, barely paying the car note” the track wallows in excess but still stays connected with the streets. Finding that balance is a lost art these days.
This, of course, is Kanye’s project, so he’s obviously the featured attraction, which he gleefully reminds us by spitting rapid-fire heat on “Cold.” But Push is by far the album MVP. He leads the charge on “The Morning,” decimating the landscape before being joined by Raekwon and Common (not surprisingly, the quality of that track drastically drops when 2 Chainz and company show up later). Pusha also abducts the beat of “Higher” and holds it for ransom. And in one of those surprises I mentioned earlier, Ma$e shows up out of the blue and actually holds his own. I’m not sure how Pastor Mason will explain to his congregation why he told a girl to “bounce on it” and “throw her mouth on it” but it’ll make an interesting sermon on Sunday.
Other members of the G.O.O.D. music roster also make strong showings. I’ve never been very high on Kid Cudi but his sing-songy flow is perfect for “Creepers.” And “Bliss,” John Legend’s duet with Teyana Taylor, may finally be the vehicle to propel her career.
Still, the set suffers from some of the usual Kanye pitfalls – sometimes he just goes overboard. R. Kelly’s yelling and overblown lyrics on “To The World” are way too over the top. I have no idea why it was selected to open the album when it’s one of the weakest tracks. Hearing Marsha Ambrosius sing about keeping a pistol on her hip just sounds wrong on “The One,” almost as wrong as Kanye is for switching up the beat of “Mercy” to that dreadful eurotrash as he spits his verse. Biggie on “It’s All About The Benjamins” it’s NOT. And the “I Don’t Like Remix” is still as lazy and uninspiring as it was when it dropped months ago.
By the way, I still don’t get Ye’s fascination with Big Sean and 2 Chainz. They are all over this album and besides finding new and creative ways to describe big booties, they don’t offer very much.
Early reviewers that have pegged this album as a modern classic need to calm down. It’s definitely a strong set and a great showcase for Ye’s lesser-known cohorts. But like a good movie that gave away big plot twists months ago, you won’t be on the edge of your seat but you’ll definitely enjoy the ride.
Best tracks: “New God Flow,” “Cold,” “Bliss”
4 stars out of 5