Album Review – Cruel Summer

What’s really cruel is that this album came out in September.

I’m testing a new review format here. Rather than rating each individual track well after I finished listening to the album (like I did with my Action Bronson review), I’m reviewing this album from a “first impressions” kind of standpoint. I’m just writing down my immediate thoughts on each track as I hear it.

Kanye West is pretty much on top of the rap game right now. After a blockbuster comeback with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, one of the most hyped (and celebrated) hip-hop collaborations in years with Jay-Z on Watch The Throne, and a massive tour to accompany it, the man has a certain knack for theatricality. So when it was announced that a G.O.O.D. Music compilation album (Kanye’s own record label) was in the works back in the Spring, and with no other information other than that the title would be Cruel Summer, the hype train was back in full effect. The hypothetical guest list alone was the stuff of legend, with Common, Kid Cudi, John Legend (heh), Q-Tip, and Yasiin Bey all being signed to the label, among numerous others. And after a couple of delays to include verses from Bey (which sadly never materialized), anticipation was raised even higher. But could the album live up to the expectations?

Let’s find out.

1. To The World – This song is just astonishing in how huge it sounds. I mean my god, when the drums kick in at like 2 minutes in, it’s like Kanye called down Olympus to back him up on the track. It’s a hell of an opener. And R. Kelly’s line of “The whole world’s a couch, bitch, I’m Rick James tonight!” is quite possibly one of the best of 2012.

2. Clique – Well, I’m not much of a fan of Big Sean, but his verse here is actually pretty good. Jay goes hard as always, and when he speeds up his flow at the “250” part, impressive. Kanye’s line about buying 80 gold chains had me cracking up. Holy hell, he goes all out with the boasting here, and it’s awesome. Those massive beat flourishes as the verses and chorus escalate are just amazing. Also, is that a sample of the HEY from “Mighty Healthy” by Ghostface mixed in there?

3. Mercy – The hook is annoying as all fuck, I’m sorry. The verses go harder here than on the previous two, but I can’t stand that high-pitched wailing of whatever the hell is being said. Sounds like some sort of church sermon sped way waaaaay up, and I know the hip-hop blogs love this track, but I almost skipped through after the second repetition of the chorus. Ass-quake, LOL. Ye’s “suicides” bit floored me though, I wish more of the song sounded like that. The Artist Formerly Known As Tity Boi’s verse at the end there seals the deal for me on this track: If not for the chorus bugging the fuck out of me, it’d probably be one of my top five tracks of 2012 already. The parts of this song seem to be greater than the whole for me.

4. New God Flow – This track gets points for sampling Ghost for possibly the second time in the album. Pusha T sounds on point as he has been all year, Ye kicks ass as per usual (“Went from most hated to the champion god flow/I guess that’s a feeling only me and Lebron know!”, “DID STRIPPERS NOT MAKE AN ARK WHEN I MADE IT RAIN!?“), and WHAT THE FUCK GHOSTFACE IS ACTUALLY ON THE TRACK oh my god this is incredible. Ghost was not on the single version of the song, and his verse just straight up bangs, classic Pretty Toney-style. Best song so far, one of my favorites of the year.

5. The Morning – It opens with Raekwon, immediately following Ghost on the last track. Not much to be had from that, I just thought it was an interesting coincidence. Wow, this beat is low-key. It’s kinda perfect for Rae actually. Weird reggae-ish chorus, that’s two hooks now that kinda disappointed me. Nothing like POWER or most of WTT (I really want another hook like Gotta Have It, with the yelping James Brown samples). Common’s verse was depressingly short, I wanted more of him. Pusha goes hard once again. CyHi The Prynce is one of my favorite members of the G.O.O.D. Music crew, good to see him get a verse on this album. 2 Chainz and Cudi’s parts went by almost unnoticed.

6. Cold – A solo Ye joint about his new boo Kim Kardashian with some pretty decent punchlines. Except for DJ Khaled shouting over the fucking track for like the last minute. Why is he credited in the iTunes release instead of Kanye? What has he ever added to any track, like…ever?

7. Higher – A severe departure from the previous six tracks, at least early on. Weird hook, but it picks up near the middle. I honestly had no idea Ma$e was still doing shit. Pusha T is all over this tape, and I love it. Also, pardon my ignorance, but who the hell is Cocaine 80s?

8. Sin City – This one just sounds ominous as hell. The synth line in the background of the bass, it’s unnerving in the best ways. No idea who Travi$ Scott is, but the verse was decent. Malik Yusef’s spoken verse sounds kinda monstrous, it’s cool. Apparently I’m the only person online who enjoyed it in any capacity. CyHi gets another verse here, and he gets the best stupidly funny line yet with “She rode the broom on the beach, that’s a sand witch”. Malik comes back for another spoken-word section at the end with a demon voice for some goddamn unknowable reason, this whole song was very weird overall. Interesting, but I’m probably not gonna give it any frequent listens.

9. The One has a hook that starts slow and then HOLY FUCK THE DRUMS. Olympus is back once again to blast the living shit out of this song’s chorus. Ye’s verse reminds me of his verse from “Made In America” off WTT, not for lyrical content, but because it’s over a slow, soft beat with sparse percussion. Also he bit Jay’s “Jackson, Tyson, Jordan” line from “Niggas in Paris”, but then again, Jay stole that line from Biggie, so whatever. Big Sean crashes and burns in typical Big Sean fashion, but 2 Chainz comes in to be both heartfelt and hilarious to pick it back up.

10. Creepers – Wow, this is bad. Cudi’s tone of voice sounds like he’s parodying himself at this point. When I think of words to describe Kid Cudi, “intense” is probably near the bottom of the list. I did start to like the overall sound of it near the end though. Maybe I’ll give it another listen.

11. Bliss – This one sounds like literally nothing else on this album. No rapping to be had whatsoever. That’s not a bad thing though, because Teyana Taylor and John Legend both have voices smooth as velvet and can make this song work. okay wow is that a bald eagle screech in there

12. Don’t Like – Another big-ass posse cut similar to the earlier songs on the album. RIC FLAIR GETTIN’ NAMEDROPPED. Never heard Chief Keef before until now, all I know him for is being a dumbass and posting a pic of himself getting a beej on Instagram. The beat knocks though., so I really can’t complain. fucking big sean again jesus christ. Jadakiss had a short verse, but it was cool while it lasted.

Overall, I’d give it about a 3.5/5. When the songs go hard, they’re on par with some of the best shit Kanye has ever done. But the back half of the album often ends up going in weird directions or just flat out sucking in places. It’s in my top ten for the year so far, but since everyone’s still salty over the album getting pushed back for Yasiin only for him not to show up, I get the frustration with all the best songs being the singles.

Standout Tracks: The first four tracks.

VERDICT:  Buy it. However, if you don’t like Kanye, take a pass on this album, because even with a slew of other artists being highlighted here, his influence is still all over this record. It’s decent overall, but it wasn’t really worth the mad hype it got earlier in the year.