Anytime that Kanye West’s name is attached to anything musical, the ‘hype’ machine accelerates ‘full throttle.’ The oft-delayed and much talked (rumored) about, and confusingly titled G.O.O.D. (Getting Out Our Dreams) music compilation
Kanye West Presents Good Music Cruel Summer finally materializes as of September 18, 2012. The set’s final track list was even a mystery to the members of the G.O.O.D. Music roster, showing how concealing, perfectionist, and unpredictable executive producer Kanye West is when it comes to album releases. For the better part, West’s albums have transcended that perfectionist and secretive approach, delivering some of the most compelling and creative albums on the market.
Kanye West Presents Good Music Cruel Summer is a compelling affair by all means. It does not eclipse a masterpiece like say West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but like that effort, features
plenty of captivating, creative, and out-of-the-box production and rhymes. Something anyone who purchases or listens critically should bear in mind this is a compilation, which makes it more ‘mixtape’ than ‘studio’ affair. Featured artists aside from West include R. Kelly, Big Sean, Jay-Z, Pusha T, 2 Chainz, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, DJ Khaled, The-Dream, Kid Cudi, John Legend, Teyana Taylor, and Marsha Ambrosius among others. Add to that list producers including the profound Hit-Boy, Pop Wansel, Huson Mohawke, and perhaps most surprisingly and anticipated, Mannie Fresh (where has the legendary producer been?).
Rarely do I spend the time analyzing the physical design of a CD package. Particularly if I have purchased the digital version, the album cover/design means little with the credits carrying greater weight. Part of the ‘charm’ of any Kanye West album is what he package is going to look like. I think this unpredictability raises several notable ideas, some of which transcend West and rap. While comparing West to romantic composer Richard Wagner (1813 -1883) would be lofty, there is a parallel.
Richard Wagner innovated the idea of gesamptkunstwerk. You’re probably wonder well ‘what in the world is that?’ Gesamptkunstwerk is a German musical term that means ‘the total artwork.’ Since Wagner was an opera composer, his music transcended just his compositional pen; it included the costumes, the set design – the total package. The parallel here with West is that with the physical CD package in particular, there has always been more of a connection to the ‘total artwork’ as opposed to merely taking a basic photograph and pasting it to the jacket.
Here, gesamptkunstwerk plays a role in regards that Kanye West finds the packaging important and relevant as much as the music. Kanye West, a ‘college dropout’ and son of a late college professor, was an ‘art’ major of all things. Every
album cover he has released has been creative and shown his love for artistic means. For Cruel Summer, the cover is the oddest I have seen in sometime. It is oversized, boxy, and gray, noted for its statue of a woman. On the back, the track listing fails to appear, only the words “In Good We Trust,” a play on the phrase “In God We Trust.” Inside, there is a specially designed CD pouch (cardboard-like material) and the jacket, which doubles as a poster. Kanye West may not be Wagner or even consider the concept of gesamptkunstwerk in the same regards as the moody composer, but West obviously puts great stock into the packaging, just like Steve Jobs put much thought into how his Apple products looked and appealed.
Kanye West has been known for his openers, though traditionally, none of them garner the same respect as his ‘best’
tracks. On My Beautiful Dark Twisted Family, “Dark Fantasy” was a great track, though by no means the ‘best’ in a stuffed affair. Here, “To The World,” produced by Pop Wansel featuring West and R. Kelly is by no means the best cut. West aims for an anthem to open Cruel Summer and while he achieves this, “To The World” doesn’t quite yield the moment that fans/listeners envision. The production is interesting and has its moments, but it also as ‘all-over-the-place’ and as clunky as R. Kelly’s gimmicky, over-dramatic performance. West doesn’t rap until after the 2:00 mark, leaving lots of space for R. Kelly. “To The World” grows on one with successive listens, but never seems to be on ‘autopilot’ like many of the proceeding, higher profile cuts are. Solid, but not valedictory.
“Clique,” the most recent single released prior to release of the compilation is superb. Featuring West, Jay-Z, and Big Sean, “Clique” easily atones for any improprieties of the opener. Produced by Hit-Boy, he delivers a somewhat low-key but subtle production, but knows when to strike the right ‘punches.’ Big Sean delivers the catchy hook, laced with his signature, expected profanities and highlighting the title of the track. He then delivers the first ‘punch’ with the first verse (“I tell a bad b*tch do whatever I say/my block behind me like I’m coming out the driveway…”). Jay-Z Takes the reins on verse 2 (“…Your money too short, you can’t be talking to me/Yeah I’m talking LeBron, we ball in our family tree…”) while West closes out on verse 3 (“…Went through, deep depression when my momma passed/suicide, what kinda talk is that? But I been talking to God for so long/And if you look at my life I guess he’s talking back…” Overall, “Clique” delivers the expected Kanye West-influenced brilliance.
“Mercy.1,” a popular buzz single for Cruel Summer continues a high level of enjoyability and consistency. “Mercy”
features samples “Dust A Sound Boy” as performed by Super Beagle and “Co-oonuh” as performed by Reggie Stepper. Lifted delivers sound production work in incorporating the samples cohesively, assisted by West’s additional production. Fuzzy Jones delivers the intro, which is hard to decipher without researching the lyrics (“Well, it is a weeping and a moaning and a gnashing of teeth…” The hook proceeds, in all it glory and catchiness: “Okay Lamborghini Mercy, your chick she so thirsty/I’m in a two seat Lambo with your girl…” – we’ll exclude that last bit! Big Sean again gets the first spot (“…whoa, make the ground move, that’s an ass quake…”) followed by Pusha T (“…All she want is some heel money, all she need is some bill money/he take his time he counts it out I weight it up that’s real money…”). Fuzzy Jones’s has an interlude that is altered from the intro, which leads into West’s third verse with altered production (“Let the suicide doors up…I step in the Def Jam building like I’m the shit/tell ‘em give me fifty million or I’mma quit…”). 2 Chainz closes out the cut in standard fare on the fourth verse (“Ok, now ketchup to my campaign, coupe the color of mayonnaise…”) Well produced, captivating, and ‘out of the box,’ “Mercy” is all it is advertised to be and more.
“New God Flow.1,” produced by West and co-produced by Boogz and Tapez, is a personal favorite, sampling numerous things. The musical samples include “Synthetic Substitution” (Melvin Bliss), “Mighty Healthy (A Cappella)” (Ghostface Killah), and “Bodas De Sangue” (Marcos Valle). The opening samples a portion of Rev. G.I. Townsend’s sermon, which is a creative, cerebral touch, where the pastor echoes “Somebody, been running a long time…” Most amazing is how well West is able to cohesively assemble all the sampled elements and buttress things down with his signature, dusty drum programming. The hook is surprisingly catchy and memorable: “Shake that body, part that bod….come and have a good time with G.O.D.” Pusha T slaughters two consecutive verses with numerous highlights, followed by West on verse 3 (“…Man the summer too hot you can feel it in the street/Welcome to Sunday service if you hope to someday serve us…”), and Ghostface Killah closing out on verse 4. Six minutes never felt so inspired – must be something about that “New God Flow.”
“The Morning,” featuring an all-star cast of Raekwon, Pusha T, Common, has the tall task of following three nearly
perfect cuts in “Clique,” “Mercy,” and “New God Flow.” “The Morning” is just shy of that level, making it a ‘second tier’ cut. Produced by Craig Balmoris and Julian Nixon, the production is as solid as anything else, again sampling (“Get Me To The Church”). Nigerian artist D’Banj provides the intro and later the hook: “I’m getting this n*gga in the morning/he gon’ think he been chiefin’ just too long when/he sees me in the evenin’/want to catch all this feelin’/well let me be the first to get mine..” Raekwon covers verse one, Common two, Pusha three, 2 Chainz has a short verse four, while CyHi da Prynce has a lengthier proceeding verse (“…I could never sell my soul, I gave it back to God at my Christening…”) West and Cudi combine with D’Banj for a break before West closes out the cut. An intriguing listen, it falls just short of the glory of its predecessors.
“Cold.1” (formerly referred to as “Theraflu” and “Way Too Cold”), features Kanye West and DJ Khaled, and produced by Hit-Boy. “Cold” contains interpolations of “Illegal Search” (James T. Smith/Marlon L. Williams). Hit-Boy’s production is energized here, characterized by its pounding hard drums and prominent use of a bass-heavy 808 kick. DJ Khaled introduces Yeezy in typical DJ fashion (“Kanye West! Swag King Cole, DJ Khaled!”) before West raps, clearly on autopilot. The hook takes a stab a PETA that makes all of the animal lovers of the world cringe: “Can’t a young n*gga get money anymore? Tell PETA my mink is dragging on the floor/Can I have a bad b*tch without no flaws/Come to meet me without no drawers.” He goes on to have several highlighting lines, perhaps none more notable than “And I’ll admit, I had fell in love with Kim/Around the same time she had fell in love with him…” Yep, he went there. Capped off by the outro to the company that made him re-title the song (“uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, Get the Theraflu…”) Brilliant.
“Higher,” another Hit-Boy production, features The-Dream, Pusha T and most shockingly, Mase. The-Dream handles the intro, using autotune at the ends of his phrases prominently. The hook is lush, just the way The-Dream likes it. Despite the ‘VIP’ treatment, The-Dream still gets it in – his profanity that is, proclaiming that “…we buzzin’ yeah, higher than a motherf*cker…” Pusha T handles the first verse, followed by Mase on the second (no, he doesn’t curse). Cocaine 80s outro is notable, contrasting everything else that has occurred within the cut.
“Sin City,” produced by Travis Scott and Tommy Brown, features John Legend, Travis Scott, Teyana Taylor, Cyhi the Prynce and Malik Yusef. New signee Teyana Taylor sings the hook, supported by lush background vocals. John Legend’s part is minimal here, but he does perform with Taylor later within the song (and on track “Bliss”). “Sin City” is one of the weaker showings on the compilation, though still above average.
“The One” is excellent, featuring production from the ‘long lost’ Mannie Fresh. Fresh is assisted by co-production by
Anthony Kilhoffer and the Twilite Tone. Featured on the track are West, Big Sean, 2 Chainz, and a feisty Marsha Ambrosius, who delivers the edgy hook fiercely. Sampling Public Enemy’s “Public Enemy No. 1” and Dave & Ansel Collins’s “Double Barrel,” the production is excellent. There is both a ‘heavenly’ sound and stomping/clapping sounds used throughout this cut. West, Big Sean, and 2 Chainz slay their respective verses, with James Fauntleroy singing the outro at the end.
“Creepers” features Kid Cudi and is produced by Dan Black. While Kid Cudi does his usual quasi-rap/sung ‘stoner’ mix, “Creepers” does not standout amongst the elite of this compilation. The John Legend and Teyana Taylor duet “Bliss” is lovely, though a bit ‘odd’ given the fact the compilation is more rap-centric. While Taylor sounds lovely, Legend’s experience and soulful grit outperform the ‘rookie.‘
Closing cut “Don’t Like.1” features West, Chief Keef, Pusha T, Big Sean, and Jadakiss. Compared to the past couple of cuts (“Creepers” and “Bliss”), “Don’t Like” restores a bit of ceded momentum. “Don’t Like,” which is produced by Young Chop, does not match up with the likes of “Clique,” “Mercy,” or “New God Flow,” but it is a fine way to close this effort. The order of verses are Pusha T, West, Chief Keef (who also provides the hook), Big Sean, and Jadakiss. Arguably, Pusha T’s initial verse may be the one to beat on this version of a track that is credited as “I Don’t Like” to Chief Keef. Whatever, it is a compilation.
Overall, Kanye West Presents Good Music Cruel Summer is quite enjoyable and effective. Perhaps it was ‘overhyped’ ever so slightly, but it still delivers by my estimations. My disappointments lie mostly towards the end and arguably the opening ‘anthem’ which falls shorts. I’m more impressed by cuts I’d already heard as well as a few surprises I hadn’t been privy to such as “The Morning” and “The One.” Keep in mind listeners expecting another Kanye West masterpiece that this is a compilation – liken it to a studio mixtape, not a new studio album from everyone’s favorite a$$— err I meant MC.
Top Tracks: “Clique,” “Mercy,” “New God Flow,” “Cold,” “The One”
Second Tier: “The Morning,” “Bliss,” “Don’t Like”