Hip Hop crews were abundant in the ‘90s, with Wu-Tang, Dungeon Family, Hit Squad, and Roc-A-Fella running the game over the course of the decade. Somewhere in the early 2000s, posses disappeared from prominence. In recent years, Rick Ross’ MMG has emerged, but now Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music squad is pushing to be the top collective in the Hip Hop game (now with artists other than Kanye and Common that release music). The first collective step, being, Cruel Summer.
R. Kelly absolutely butchers an otherwise promising cut in “To the World,” with a needlessly Auto-Tuned and incredibly obnoxious hook. “Clique,” on the other hand, is outstanding, featuring some of the industrial sounds heard in Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne. “New God Flow” features Pusha T, Kanye West, and one of Kanye’s favorite emcees, Ghostface Killah. Aside from Ghost’s strange decision to claim he still has his famous golden eagle after admitting years ago that he had it melted down, the cut is mostly a winner. Ghost and Pusha work deftly over a haunting piano loop, but some of Kanye’s rhymes are cringe-worthy. Rhymes Kanye: “Hold up, I ain’t tryin’ to stunt, man / But the Yeezys jumped over the Jump Man / Went from most hated to the champion god flow / I guess that’s a feeling only me and LeBron know / I’m living three dreams / Biggie Smalls, Doctor King’s, Rodney King’s… / Picture working so hard and you can’t cut through / That could mess up your whole life like a uncle that touched you.” ‘Ye is guilty of occasionally forcing an absurd simile here and there, and is certainly guilty of being self-aggrandizing. Both critiques ring true for that particular verse.
The only thing particularly interesting about “Cold” is that DJ Khaled is listed as a feature, adding further to his mysterious legacy of being the most credited-for-doing-nothing personality in Hip Hop history. Mase surprisingly delivers a strong verse on “Higher,” which takes its cues from Timbaland in sampling a baby’s cries. The album ends on a particularly bad stretch, as “Creepers” is an aimless mess courtesy of Kid Cudi, and “Bliss” and “I Don’t Like (Remix)” sound completely out of place.
Fans expecting to hear more of a traditional Kanye sound (whatever that is) on Cruel Summer need look elsewhere. With cuts like “Higher” and “Mercy,” the album is much heavier than your typical West fare—and it makes sense. Big Sean, Pusha T, 2 Chainz, and CyHi Da Prynce are featured on multiple cuts, even though Kanye has access to Common (one appearance) and Mos Def, who doesn’t make an appearance. This isn’t to say that those artists should’ve been included more; it simply points out the type of aesthetic this album was intended to capture. Cruel Summer is heavy and brash, and in that sense, it succeeds. G.O.O.D. Music’s first outing successfully showcases the collective’s talents, but it’s ultimately an underachieving and uneven effort.