Thursday 20 September 2012

Kanye West/G.O.O.D Music - 'Cruel Summer'

Kanye West has certainly become one to collaborate.  Single All of the Lights from his 2010 album ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ features no less than fourteen additional vocalists (most of which can barely be heard).  And of course there’s last year’s lauded collaborative album ‘Watch The Throne’ with Jay-Z.

And now he releases the first mixtape from his G.O.O.D record label, set up back in 2004 (standing for Getting Out Our Dreams).  ‘Cruel Summer’ features the majority of artists signed to the label, including the likes of John Legend, Big Sean and Kid Cudi, as well as guest additions from Jay-Z and R. Kelly.  West is at the centre of it all, on both rapping and production duties.  It’s good to see he’s as ego-centric as ever, but creating this album has surely been a test of whether he can keep not only his own ego in check, but those of his collaborators.  For the most part, ‘Cruel Summer’ is a little bit special.

Lyrically, this contains the usual vitriol and expletives spouted by rappers.  The most talked about is West’s mention of girlfriend Kim Kardashian in Clique with the line “eat breakfast at Gucci, my girl a superstar all from a home movie".  And there’s room for political leaning too, with mentions of Mitt Romney (he “don’t pay no tax” – To The World) and Sarah Palin (“white girls politicking, that’s that Sarah Palin” – Mercy).  It’s race that is the most prominent theme across the album, which is understandable from an album of black artists.  West himself is perhaps the most outright on Clique – “you know white people get money don’t spend it…blame it on the pigment” and later “I’m way too black to burn from sunrays”- a line that seems to sum up West’s ego and sense of cool.  It’s not just the guys though: on Higher The-Dream states “my shit, not make niggas get guns but the white girls say ‘where you get that cool beat from?’”, noting a divide in the status of ‘black’ music between black and white musical cultures.

As you’d expect from West’s output though, ‘Cruel Summer’ is full of “cool beats”.  In line with the lyrics, the production is dark, explosive and aggressive.  The beat of Clique is one of the hardest you’ll hear all year, only emphasised by the repeats of “ain’t nobody fuckin’ with my clique”.  Other tracks offer something altogether more atmospheric – To The World features a vocal from R.Kelly accompanied by a syncopated beat and swirling synths.  Penultimate track Bliss, featuring vocals from Teyana Taylor and John Legend, is positively vibrant with its stabs of neon amongst the darkness of the rest of the album.  The production follows on from ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ and ‘Watch The Throne’ – for some this will disappoint, but for others it’s hardly a bad template.

That said, this is an inconsistent album, as you’d perhaps expect from so many artists fighting for attention.  Some tracks are less imaginative in their construction and some rappers have better cadences than others.  Crucially, the best tracks are those with the least artists and, thus, the greater focus.  Even so, ‘Cruel Summer’ doesn’t quite hang together as a complete album, with tracks ending suddenly and bleeding from one to the next.

The end result is an album that can’t quite stand up to West’s solo efforts, with some of his protégés in further need of his expertise.  But when it’s G.O.O.D, it’s downright awesome.


Gizzle’s choice:
* To the world
* Clique
* Bliss

Listen: 'Cruel Summer' is available now.

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