As I continue covering items from “What to Look Forward To: A New September,” I caution that there may be some fanboy-esque giddiness. And that’s sort of the case with Cruel Summer.
My first run through of this album caught me off guard, not because of what I heard, but because of what I recognized. Between “Clique,” “Mercy,” “Cold,” “I Don’t Like (Remix),” and “New God Flow,” I was already familiar with slightly less than album. So was Cruel Summer really that big of a deal? Not necessarily…
To the World – Kanye West & R. Kelly
If Cruel Summer wasn’t trying to be a big deal, they probably wouldn’t have lead off with this song. Quite possibly my favorite R. Kelly song after the legendary “Ignition,” this song combines some things we heard from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to Yeezy’s work as The Throne. The hook is accompanies with sprawling synths reminiscent of “Lost in the World,” while the hard hitting bass-in-your-face verses suggest the poppier Kanye that’s been all over the place as of late. R. Kelly may have the best line of the album: “The world is a couch, bitch, I’m Rick James tonight.”
Clique – Big Sean, Jay-Z, and Kanye.
Leaked just before the album’s debut, “Clique” is definitely top three off of Cruel Summer. Each rapper has a distinct verse that either brings the Detroit, Brooklyn, or Chi-Town sound. While Big Sean offers well, his Big Sean-ness to the track, Jay-Z is just like butter, gliding over the beat. Kanye is a bit of an afterthought on this because the first two kill their verses. Apparently white people get money, but don’t spend it. Some rapper should make money about being a smart saver, though I guess that’s covered in Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop.”
Mercy – Kanye, Big Sean, Pusha T, and 2 Chainz
The most widely known song prior to the album’s official release, “Mercy” was a near-perfect single. It was a quality rap song that was bump-worthy for a drive or for the bar. I say near-perfect because 2 Chainz (or Tity Boi) is on it, in my opinion, the weakest member of G.O.O.D. Music. Then again, he’s actually pretty good here, so maybe it’s just his other work tainting the song. Otherwise, “Mercy” is an essential song in all these rappers’ careers, and the video is also really cool, which is what we’ve come to expect from Kanye’s songs.
New God Flow – Pusha T and Kanye
While this is a great song, it lacks something to put it in the same conversation as “Clique” or “Mercy.” Perhaps it’s how it ends, with Kanye’s march flow, which is humorous, but also takes away from the song somewhat. Pusha T, per usual, brings everything he can to the song, making me even happier that he’s a part of this clique. (Perhaps I’ll do a Clipse-themed Music Monday next week.) Kanye’s verse is also pretty song here, and I really like the beat and hook as well, so it really must be that odd ending…even though it’s funny…guess I just have to trust my gut.
The Morning – Raekwon, Pusha T, Common, 2 Chainz, CyHi Da Prynce, Kid Cudi, and D’banj
Won the song, killed it, killed it, ehhh, second-place, didn’t even realize it was Cudi, and who? That’s how this song goes. Raekwon opens this song, which is unfortunate for everyone else, because he is silky smooth on this. Then again, Pusha T and Common (surprise!) did very well, Common being a surprise because he’s usually boring for me. Then 2 Chainz comes on, contributes pretty much nothing, and then CyHi continues shining while receiving very little recognition for what a fantastic lyricist he is. I barely recognized Cudi on this, maybe it’s because he’s been doing his WZRD stuff too much, but he was definitely a good verse capper. D’banj handles the choruses well, but doesn’t blow me away on this. Another non-single track, and another victory. But then it all goes downhill…
Cold – Kanye & “DJ Khaled”
Ok, so DJ Khaled isn’t really on this track, and his name alone bumps this song down a couple of notches. Out of all the singles, this song is definitely the weakest. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad song, it’s just that it’s second-tier. Granted, it’s Kanye basically all by himself and features Hit-Boy’s great production, but there’s something missing from it. The beat is good, but not fantastic. I could say that the beat and Kanye’s flow being a mismatch is the reason why this song doesn’t sit well, but instead, I’ll go with it being DJ Kahled’s fault.
Higher – Pusha T, Mase, and The-Dream
Yawn. The beat is uninspired, and that makes this song pretty boring. That shouldn’t take away from the fact that it also features some great lyricism. Pusha T seems like he wants the pace of the song to pick up, but for Mase, this song is perfect. His laid-back delivery seems fitting for this song, but it also feels a bit lazy. But then again, Mase’s lyrics a pretty damn good, so that certainly saves it a bit.
Sin City – John Legend, Teyana Taylor, CyHi Da Prynce, Malik Yusef & Travis Scott
This song feels pretty cold, features relatively more unknowns, and is among Cruel Summer‘s weaker songs. Yet, it’s not actually that bad of a song. CyHi goes 2-for-2, crushing another one of his verses, while Malik Yusef brings dark, creepy breaks “You are all unwelcome to Sin City.” John Legend is somewhat unrecognizable, as he sings with the much clearer Teyana Taylor. Travis Scott’s opening verse to this song is pretty weak, the beat does him a favor, but otherwise he sounds like an off-brand Kanye.
The One – Kanye West, Big Sean, 2 Chainz, and Marsha Ambrosius
While I can’t take Marsha Ambrosius seriously, I think her chorus is one of the best on this album. This song actually sounds a bit like something from Late Registration or College Dropout in terms of production, which really works for Kanye’s verse. Big Sean seems somewhat bored with the pacing, only shining when he picks up his own in the middle of the verse, being bookended by slower, unimaginative flow. And don’t even get me started on 2 Chainz, the man should not be on this track, falling victim to the same problems Sean had on this.
Creepers – Kid Cudi
The production screams Man on the Moon: End of the Day, Cudi’s delivery screams…almost there. His return to form is evident here, but not quite up to the standard of his debut album, or even his mixtapes. He sounds more like Mr. Rager, but not so much the artist he was on WZRD, which is a good thing. I’m sure being surrounded by his G.O.O.D. Music buddies helps him out a bit. But rather than making this a Cudi classic, it’s just a decent chill out song. But at least it’s not WZRD.
Bliss – John Legend & Teyana Taylor
Snoozefest. This is a song that most would not expect on this album, and for good reason. It’s a poppy R&B song that doesn’t offer anything in particular. Legend and Taylor certainly have amazing voices, but this song really doesn’t belong on the album, especially when it’s followed by a song like…
I Don’t Like (Remix) – Kanye, Pusha T, Big Sean, Jadakiss, and Chief Keef
Say what you want about Chief Keef, and trust me, there’s a lot to say, “I Don’t Like” is a megahit that lead to this really fun single. Keef’s chorus is somewhat laughable, but the revamped production really brings it out and makes it a great section of the track. Pusha T opens “I Don’t Like (Remix)” with a great flow, and when the beat fully enters, it makes this song big. Kanye offers a standard, but solid verse that allows his fellow rappers mess around with the formula a bit. For example, Big Sean’s comes at a big break that builds up towards a banger of a finish while Jadakiss growls his way though a decent verse, but if anything, he really fits in with this remix, and it fittingly closes with Chief Keef’s original lyrics. Though, as the final words on Cruel Summer, the choice seems odd.
Overall, Cruel Summer is a great album, but that comes from what we already had heard. The second half of the album definitely drops off from the first, with the three weakest songs all appearing in the latter section. But between the singles and a couple of surprises from new tracks, Cruel Summer is a commendable effort that will make fans craving the next Kanye joint even more.