Kanye West has never seemed to me like a man with anything to prove about his character, but wanting to demonstrate something about his incubating hip-hop collective G.O.O.D. Music (Getting Out Our Dreams) is the only reason why he would allow such mediocre artists like 2 Chainz, CyHi The Prince and DJ Khaled, all of whom speckle the motley crew of the G.O.O.D. Music roster, to have such a major role in the sloppy collaboration album Cruel Summer, out Sept. 18. The album shines with none of the perfect luster that a Kanye studio album (see My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) has, and, indeed, at times often feels like some kind of two-bit hip-hop circus when Ye is too far in the background.
Though his production (not done entirely by Kanye, but with assistance from Hit-Boy and other industry regular) is solid, varied and colorful as one would expect from Yeezy, he’s not at the pinnacle of his lyrical talents here (though he clearly outshines nearly every other performance, including Common). The impression one gets when he throws out lines like, “It could ruin your life like that uncle that touched you,” there’s almost a sense that he’s phoning it in or else dumbing down his lines like a father purposely making mistakes to let his children win at Monopoly. Fear not, though, there’re still quite a few zingers from Ye as well as his characteristic humor.
Kanye is ever-present through the production, clearly the tying-together of the whole affair, but when he fades out and lets the other members of G.O.O.D. Music take the stage, the result is most often the hackneyed effort of a bunch of mixtape-caliber artists throwing rhymes at each other, as if they laughed childishly and made songs using Kanye’s equipment while he was out of the room taking a leak.
R Kelly’s middle-finger-praising cornball verses over the opener “To The World” sound more like a parody of R Kelly than anything else, and the duet of “Higher” and “Sin City,” the two single worst tracks Kanye has ever attached his name to, feature the malignant Ma$E and the cancerous CyHi The Prince, both of whom should be defenestrated immediately from hip-hop’s fourth-story window. Also, who invited Big Sean? He sounds like someone rejected from OFWGKTA because his GPA was too high and at best comes off as a poser. There’s also the strange interlude from DJ Pharis on “Cold” (formerly “Theraflu”), which crowns itself the single funniest verse from any artist this year because it consists of a “DJ” you’ve never heard of shouting the names of Chicago streets for a minute and a half, entirely serious.
Still, for every “Sin City” there’s a moment like Jay Z’s blowaway verse on “Clique”, and a gem like John Legend’s and Teyana Taylor’s synthetic croon “Bliss”. The fact of the matter is, none of these artists besides Ye are album people—a cohesive effort from all of them above the quality of a single B-side or throwaway mixtape is downright impossible. I’m speaking of CyHi, 2 Chainz, Big Sean and pretty much everyone besides Ye and Pusha T, who proves himself to be line-for-line the best rapper on the album (and hasn’t released a studio album yet, though his mixtapes are decent). The finished product is simply not up to Ye’s caliber, and it seems he must drag the other artists into the market not as peers but as parasites (with the exception of Jay-Z, Pusha and John Legend, who has long been established in the industry). Hopefully, now that he’s finished showing off his new crew, Ye can get back to work. Score: 5.5/10.
Jake Bittle / A&E Editor