Founded by Kanye West in 2004 with only Common and John Legend on the roster, G.O.O.D. Music – an acronym for “Getting Out Our Dreams” – has come a long way. Picking up a host of talented artists including Kid Cudi, Big Sean, Pusha T, D’banj and more, the label has built up to this full-length release in an effort to catapult these artists to stardom.
The first 28 minutes are mainly comprised of the already released singles, which are easily the album highlights. Current single ‘Clique’ is an american grime track which sounds simply epic. It’s huge moments are matched with deeply personal raps from West as he admits “went through deep depression when my momma passed / suicide, what kind of talk is that?”. ‘Cold’ AKA ‘Theraflu’ is another which is certainly one of the better tracks on the record, despite it’s controversial lyrics as West raps “Tell PETA my mink is draggin’ on the floor.” However it’s no surprise that these are two of the best songs on the record as these beats were produced by Hit-Boy who was also responsible for Watch The Throne’s ‘N*ggas in Paris’. Hit-Boy is vital to the success of this album.
Any doubts of D’banj being signed to G.O.O.D Music will be quashed when listening to ‘The Morning’ on which he sings, which is one of the greatest tracks on Cruel Summer with a minimalist, funky, distorted keyboard riff. ‘Mercy’ presents echoing air-siren like vocals mixed with heavy verses from Pusha-T, Big Sean, Kanye West and 2 Chainz whilst ‘New God Flow’ is a more upbeat piano-lead track.
Opening track ‘To The World’ is a laughably stereotypical hip hop number as they chant “Put your middle finger in the air” with the odd “motherfuckerrr” thrown in here and there, and these parody-like lyrics aren’t limited to this track. On ‘Higher’ The Dream repeats “higher than a motherfucker” multiple times and on ‘The One’ Pusha-T brags “I’m a double X L n*gga, magazine and condom size”. I guess this is something to expect on a hip hop “gang” album but I can’t help but feel that the G.O.O.D. Music team don’t realise that this gives people cause to lose faith in them.
These laughable lyrics become more commonplace towards the end of the record and as the buzz of released songs on the first half dies down, the second half of Cruel Summer does start to drag a little. ‘The One’ is a slower track which is as close to a ballad as you’re going to get from these artists and ‘Bliss’ is an R&B number which is nothing but filler. Although ‘Sin City’ features John Legend’s talent, he is not enough to save this track from the grips of CyHi Da Prynce, and even Teyana Taylor’s part is downbeat in comparison to her shining performance on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Perhaps the trouble with Cruel Summer is that Kanye West is just, well, too good. Kanye is as cocky as ever but has his typically personal raps, including those that discuss the topics of his “crucifixion” by the media in ‘I Don’t Like (Remix)’, suicidal thoughts on ‘Mercy’ and ‘Clique’, and his relationship with Kim Kardashian in ‘Cold’. He shines brighter than anyone else on the record and he is the centre-piece for the majority of the tracks. On ‘Higher’ where Kanye doesn’t feature, an R&B attempt ends up in a bland mess as Kanye’s understudies seem unable to perform on their own, and instead fumble around a bit uselessly. West won’t let anyone sound better than him and whether this be accidental or to protect his already inflated ego, it’s easy to hear. This album is meant to be one showcasing the high degree and range of talent in G.O.O.D. Music but ends up sounding like a forced, sub-standard Kanye album with lots of special guests. 2010‘s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was one of the most well received and best-reviewed albums ever but Cruel Summer has none of it’s finesse or artistic direction. It’s an amiable collection that works effectively as a glimpse into hip hop in 2012 but it isn’t breaking any barriers, and will be better remembered for a few good singles rather than as a whole album.