Various Artists, “Cruel Summer” (G.O.O.D.) — A year and a half ago, Kanye West trotted the roster of his G.O.O.D. Music record label across a Texas stage in the middle of the night, like a musical fashion show. Then we waited for the compilation.
And waited. It was delayed, and delayed again.
Finally, on Tuesday (and after a handful of previews and a couple of online leaks), “Cruel Summer,” Kanye’s latest collection from his boutique rap label is due.
Worth the wait? Yes and no.
Like Kanye’s full-length collaboration last year with Jay-Z, “Watch the Throne,” the looming hype casts too great a shadow for the project to shine on in own merits. Plus, the star power of this comp’s guestlist is blinding, including G.O.O.D. folks (Big Sean, Pusha T, Cyhi the Pynce) and other pals (2 Chainz, Kid Cudi, a rare appearance by Ma$e). As Jay-Z describes the crew, it’s “the dream team, meets the Supreme Team” (“Clique”). (Alas, despite earlier hints, Frank Ocean isn’t here.)
It’s Kanye’s party, though, and his eight contributions stand out. “New God Flow,” the hardest and best track of the set, finds Pusha T railing and Kanye comparing himself to allegedly kindred targets (MLK, Biggie, Lebron, Jesus) and marveling at the turnaround time in his celebrity during the last year (“Went from most hated to the champion“). As usual, throughout he’s full of pop culture allusions both current (“rest in peace, Whitney Houston“) and ancient (“‘I’m on fire, ay,’ / that’s what Richard Pryor say“). Dressing up “Don’t Like” with the now-notorious Chief Keef and others, Kanye reels off a blazing list of his least favorite things (snitches, bitches).
Other highlights: Kid Cudi rolls through an anxious, pitch-lazy shuffle (“Creepers”), Kanye’s overdue official duet with R. Kelly is surprisingly not creepers (“To the World”), and John Legend, as usual, injects a bit of class into the proceedings via a chilly, funky Prince groove with old-school synths (“Bliss” with new find Teyana Taylor).
Laced with Kanye’s Chicago shout-outs — “Chi town till I’m on my back,” “This is Chi, right?” and “I’m from 312” (though he grew up mostly in 773) — “Cruel Summer” is an apt title for the city currently. Still, Common, Kells and Keef seem to be the only other real locals in this posse.