“The lingering feeling is that for Kanye, when it comes to collaboration, it appears that less is definitely more…”
Kanye West & Various Artists | Cruel Summer
Kanye West is without doubt one of the most famous hip-hop artists of modern day history, but even creating Cruel Summer must have taken some organisation on his part. You see, this isn’t just Kanye’s album, this is an album created by a Kanye-formed hip hop supergroup entitled G.O.O.D. If anyone thought Kanye had a slight God complex creating such a group (see the spelling link with G.O.O.D?) then they might be right, but having the stepping stone of past success and fame to get his music instantaneously publicised across the globe upon its release ultimately brings a higher pressure to deliver on whatever next project he creates. As a consequence, will this album ultimately recognise Kanye’s talent to merge such collaborators to create something musically explosive enough to ignite the hype he has previously experienced, or will it keep him firmly in his place of solo artist?
Interestingly, having been out of the industry for quite a while, the album kicks off with ‘To The World’ featuring the highly recognisable voice of R. Kelly, one of the true r’n'b singers of the past twenty to thirty years, indeed having been in the business longer than Kanye himself. As the first track the song unsurprisingly holds a large streak of Kanye’s most defining feature; ego – citing ‘let me see you put your middle fingers to the world’. ‘Clique’ follows in the same vein, boasting a big beat courtesy of Hit ‘Niggas In Paris’ Boy and a jaw-dropping roster. Arguably the most powerful of the power rangers are used here with Kanye, Jay-Z and Big Sean, and as Jay-Z perfectly illustrates ‘Its the Dream Team, meets the Supreme Team’. Although only two tracks in and despite the overall repertoire of artists, when Jay comes onto the track there is almost a desire for the album to be another pure Kanye and Jay collaboration. However, the album’s first single ‘Mercy’ with Big Sean, Pusha T & 2-Chainz then provides fans with plenty of swagger. With verses starting with Big Sean and ending with 2 Chainz, it starts off relatively commercial, progressing through to the highlight of Kanye’s section where he raps how he steps ‘in Def Jam building like I’m the shit, tell ‘em give me fifty million or I’mma quit’ over a crescendo background. If you weren’t sure yet, The Ego has now certainly landed.
A subtle musical shift emerges with ‘The Morning’ which posseses a chilled Jamaican/Moby-esque introduction before dropping to a somewhat old-school beat, and despite the extremely Fisher Price notes, a highly effective, wonderfully laid-back chorus. The similarly horizontal ‘Higher’ – which is immediately unique and likeable – again embraces the more relaxing side of modern hip-hop.
It’s in the latter third of the record that Cruel Summer takes an ever so slight detour. ‘Sin City’ – featuring Cyhi The Prynce, John Legend, Malik Yusef, Teyana Taylor & Travi$ Scott – builds to the chorus of Teyana Taylor with floaty multiple vocals providing a real highlight, and for the first time on the album you hear the work of a female. Taylor is present again during standout track ‘Bliss’, alongside John Legend. With an introduction typical of a Legend solo number it once more showcases the voice of Teyana Taylor and how the two singers blend beautifully well together; indeed suitably picked for such a song.
Unsuprisingly, looking at Cruel Summer as an album doesn’t quite work. This is an piece of work that should be viewed, or in fact listened to as what it is: a mix tape. This is an album made up of multiple rappers, singers and producers which is a tough feat to achieve as successfully as the past solo efforts of Kanye himself – indeed this lacks perhaps the substance and emotion of his earlier work. Collaboration itself isn’t the problem – illustrated clearly in the huge success of Watch The Throne – however, the fact that this is such an epic collaboration on which many different musical paths are trodden no doubt means that piecing them all together to form a classic, streamlined piece of work would have been damn near impossible. Thus, viewed as a sideline project this is a solid album which, to give it recognition certainly improves over time. Sadly though, the lingering is that for Kanye, when it comes to collaboration, it appears that less is definitely more.