Back in 1983, Bananarama dropped a hit single entitled “Cruel Summer.” It was a smash and strange for its time because it was a bit sinister for a summer song. Unfortunately that song exists nowhere on the G.O.O.D. Music compilation of the same name, sample or chorus. Nothing. What is there is a collection of songs by Kanye and his brethren boast of pop godhood, stunt like Colt Seavers and deliver an uneven compilation with some solid highs, a couple stunning missteps and an unusual disjunction not present in any of Kanye’s previous projects.
Cruel Summer’s weaknesses don’t really manifest until the latter half of the record. It opens strongly with the R.Kelly-helmed “To The World,” a middle finger to all haters and doubters. The concept is overdone, but Kanye swings for the fences with a swagtastic flow that apes Rick Ross’ “Hold Me Back: flow. From there we get to the Hit-Boy production “Clique” featuring Big Sean and Jay-Z, While Jigga’s verse packs an oomph that is wholly absent on Watch The Throne, his verse is disposable and rightfully sandwiched between two better ones.
By now, early summer gem, “Mercy” has had its run and is relatively played at this point. The usual cast of characters, Pusha T, 2 Chainz, Big Sean and Yeezy each take their turn and Kanye again applies the tried and true formula of changing the beat up with his verse, both to add drama to his verse and to compensate for a lack of flow when placed with serious rappers. Throughout the album he employs operatic device similar to Queen, changing the gravity and intensity of songs midway and then returning back to the calm normal.
“New God Flow” was released to much ado, and with good reason. Both Pusha and Kanye blast off over the “Synthetic Substitution” drum beat made famous by Ghostface Killah on “Mighty Healthy” from the classic Supreme Clientele. Adding Ghost for a cleanup verse not only makes the track the highpoint of the album , but was the only way to breathe life into yet another song that had it’s run. The groove slows down considerably for the Raekwon-led “The Morning,” which also features cameos from Common, Ye’ protégé Cyhi Da Prince, album mainstay 2 Chainz and Kid Cudi. The Reggae tinged hook comes courtesy of D’banj.
“Cold” seems ancient and deserves kudos foro just having DJ Khaled on it sans the WE DA BEEEST, but it’s really a Kanye ego stroke masquerading as a record and lacks replayability. The Dream-Produced “Higher” is both rote and inventive at the same time with its Middle Eastern vibe and middling lyricism on the chorus. The novelty and surprise factor of a full Ma$e verse lifts the song. While many are disgusted by his pulpit turn and return to the mic, his skills are still there and you realize how much of his DNA is present in the veins of rappers like Kanye and Pusha T.
From here the album takes a turn for the worst with left turns such as the thruway Cudi solo “Creepers” and the could-have-been-solid-with-real-singer “Bliss,” featuring Teyanna Taylor. She doesn’t sound bad, she’s just not the star necessary to lift the rock-fueled composition. The overly dramatic and unsuccessful “Sin City” does nothing for Cyhi’s resume and lame “The One,” fails in its attempt at resounding survivor tale with cliché rhythm and weak song construction. Closing note, “I Don’t Like” is dope but also has run its course throughout its summer rampage.
Cruel Summer would have been much more effective if some of the highs weren’t as dated and some of the missteps were mitigated by a tighter wound continuity and better songwriting. It will blast in your whip until those left turns start and you’ll find yourself “whatthefucking” to yourself. Most of the guests turn in solid performances and Big Sean continues and increased lyricism since his weak debut album. 2 Chainz could have used this direction on his own album. In the end it’s a front loaded but solid album whose highs outweigh its lows.
Out of 5
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