Review: G.O.O.D. Music ‘Cruel Summer’
Release date: September 18th
Fuck it. I like Kanye West.
This should come as no surprise: I, too, am a relentlessly self-aggrandizing asshole with a chip on his shoulder about things that may or may not be legitimately true. I, too, was born a poor middle-class black white child. I, too, spend way too much time on the internet overanalyzing what people are saying; either about me, or otherwise. An only child with a lot of drive. I went to college in Chicago at exactly the time he became a cultural phenomenom and I got to witness that happening up close.
For what it’s worth: I’ve always kinda had a soft spot for Kanye. I think he’s self aware enough to roll with the punches. I like the guy. I imagine we’d get along OK. A lot of people deride Kanye for the same reasons I like him: “famous people” have spent years pretending that they want out of the public eye yet Kanye does everything but directly ask for it. He’s perhaps a slightly less-talented Notorious B.I.G. but with a Barnum and Bailey element — he understands spectacle more than any other rapper out there right now.
All this is to tell you that I truly think that Kanye West is extremely fucking talented. I’ll get to why in second, but first off we’ll review “Cruel Summer” — the group mixtape-cum-album from his G.O.O.D. Music label which houses artists like Kid Cudi, John Legend, and others. It’s less a vanity label and more a legitimate label in and of its own right — Kid Cudi and Legend alone have gone platinum.
“Cruel Summer” is a pompous, over-the-top album.
But: “Cruel Summer” would suck if it wasn’t pompous. Rick Ross’s “God Forgives I Don’t” mixtape fell totally flat for being pompous, so why does “Cruel Summer” win? I’ll tell you why — “God Forgives…” is a vanity project by someone who doesn’t know what vanity really is, just collects the accoutrements. “Cruel Summer” is a vanity project done by a vain person, yet a vain person that understands spectacle and drama better than any other rapper out there.
Kanye West understands this so well that he can turn the elements of vanity and narcissism into legitimate art. One listen to his shockingly brilliant (the “Use Your Illusion” of hip-hop) “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” can prove that. This narcissistic asshole who shamed Taylor Swift in front of America at an award show — that fucking guy — he actually knows what he’s doing and that alone will piss off people. Across the board and for hundreds of years, in any entertainment field, drama and spectacle go together hand in hand.
There isn’t anything here that matches the excitement of “New God Flow” or “Mercy,” at least not right away. The real suprise on the album is John Legend’s “Bliss” — a track so hot that it took me three solid listens all the way through to begin to write a sentence about it. “Bliss” sounds like R&B if pandering to 14 year old girls wasn’t an issue — it’s one of the best, most alluring, and downright catchy songs of the year. Bravo to whoever the fuck penned that one: it slays.
“Cruel Summer” shouldn’t be good. It shouldn’t. It’s honestly a handful of tracks that have no real flow together, but “Cruel Summer” is bitter, angry, and whether it knows it or not, on the winning side of history with a high caliber roster of artists that actually shine in every verse. If you’re expecting the worst from Kanye Fucking West, you’re going to have to wait a lot longer. Sure, he might be a leather-tank-top wearing Kim Kardashian dating cheeseball half the time, but the fucking guy knows exactly what he’s doing.
And he doesn’t apply himself here. Here, he plays the part of a party-hardy Star Magazine celebrity and raps about fucking your girlfriend in his expensive car. That shouldn’t work. He’s like an R-rated mid-90’s Will Smith. But it works. It totally works. And it’s awesome.
Which is the scary part. If he sounds this good when he’s slacking off and playing a stock character, what’s he going to sound like when he applies himself for a full album again?