Love him or hate him, Kanye West might just be the hardest working guy in the music biz. Or at least the guy who works the most. He released his last solely-billed album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in late 2010 to rave reviews, followed it up with Watch The Throne along with Jay-Z less than a year later and now has a compilation album released on his own GOOD music label as rumours circulate he is working on a new record for release in early 2013. All of this while having a hand in writing and producing nearly all of the music on these records. Kanye also knows the worth of his name, so much so that he has successfully gotten away with leaving it and the title off of the cover of his records. The album images become iconic on their own and are enough to indicate that, yes, this is Kanye West and yes, you should own this. In the case of Cruel Summer, it’s a Kanye West and friends record.
Cruel Summer is a compilation album from Kanye’s record label GOOD Music – he serves as the executive producer – with the goal to introduce the world to the newest flock of rappers that are on the label’s roster. With the exception of a song with R. Kelly and a verse from Jay-Z in Clique, the other names on here are relatively new and up-and-coming like Pusha T, Big Sean and 2 Chainz or artists re-establishing themselves or building a stronger foundation like R&B crooner John Legend and 90s rapper Mase. Either way, with a huge list of names on one record, there’s bound to be some level of hype, at least from Kanye himself as he unleashes the next couple of years of hip-hop.
As with anything Kanye has input with, there is hype surrounding this album which was initially announced earlier in the year. Kanye is one of the most innovative and creative producers and rappers in music today though this album shows little of what he’s capable of. Cruel Summer plays out like a straight up rap record than either of Kanye’s recent outputs. Perhaps that was the point. Rather than letting Kanye’s magic touch transform this compilation into something groundbreaking that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and, to a lesser extent, Watch The Throne became, he steps aside and allows the others to fend for themselves. The album therefore presents itself as being uneven and offering nothing impressive.
The highlights are with Mercy, which relies on the Super Beagle sample placed between verses by Big Sean, Pusha T and 2 Chainz before opening up to a full-on electro interlude backing up Kanye’s single verse; one of the few moments that the album strays. New God Flow has the most even raps while The One is an R&B jam with some authenticity provided in the verses by 2 Chainz and Big Sean.
Cruel Summer is a step down from Kanye’s typical delivery of the multi-genre hip-hop that he has continued to experiment with to near-amazing results. Instead it falls flat as a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, all vying for the spotlight that still stays on Kanye, even when he graciously tries to refocus it on anyone else. There’s little doubt that some of the names featured on this album will make their mark but there isn’t anything on here that they will do it with.
1. To The World – Kanye West, R. Kelly and Teyana Taylor
2. Clique – Kanye West, Jay-Z and Big Sean
3. Mercy – Kanye West, Big Sean, Pusha T and 2 Chainz
4. New God Flow – Kanye West, Pusha T and Ghostface Killah
5. The Morning – Raekwon, Pusha T, Common, 2 Chainz, Cyhi the Prynce, Kid Cudi and D’banj
6. Cold – Kanye West and DJ Khaled
7. Higher – The-Dream, Pusha T, Mase and Cocaine 80s
8. Sin City – John Legend, Teyana Taylor, Travi$ Scott, Cyhi the Prynce and Malik Yusef
9. The One – Kanye West, Big Sean, 2 Chainz and Marsha Ambrosius
10. Creepers – Kid Cudi
11. Bliss – John Legend and Teyana Taylor
12. Don’t Like – Kanye West, Chief Keef, Pusha T, Big Sean and Jadakiss