Kanye West has made a career out of controversy. Taylor Swift, George Bush, the religious right and almost every award show has been left in the rapper’s arrogant, chaotic and brash destruction path. West’s headline-grabbing antics may be off-putting if it wasn’t for his ability to fulfill his true purpose – making great music.
Despite all his self-indulgence, West is one of the hardest working men in modern music.
In the eight years since his 2004 debut “The College Dropout,” West has recorded seven studio releases and received production credits on more than 70 albums. His newest record, the 2011 Jay-Z collaboration “Watch The Throne,” was released just nine months after his last solo album, 2010’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.”
Now,West is back with his musical military on the compilation album “Cruel Summer.”
The album, a joint venture from GOOD Music, West’s record label and musical collective, is the same mix of moody dark narrative lyrics and pop sensibility as the 80s pop Bananarama record from which its name is derived.
The album opens with “To The World,” a melodic match between West and R. Kelly. The song is as anthemic as the title would suggest; a grandiose mantra completely with blaring horns, banging drums and unruly lyrics noting royalty has arrived.
“Clique,” the album’s latest single, morphs choral chants, orchestral strings and a hiccupping bass-heavy 808 into a certified club banger. Producer Hit-Boy, the phenom behind 2011 hit single “Niggas in Paris,” lives up to his name.
Big Sean is as charismatic as ever on the album, and Jay-Z switches up his rhymes and rides the bassline in the only way he can.
But it’s West who steps out as lead wordsmith. He goes from tongue-in-cheek, poking fun at his highly publicized and criticized relationship with Kim Kardashian (“My girl a superstar all from her home movie/Bow on our arrival – the un-American idols”) to shockingly vulnerable (Went through, deep depression when my momma passed/Suicide, what kinda talk is that?) in a single verse.
In “New God Flow,” Pusha T’s verbose snarls lay perfectly over the dark piano-heavy beat. The track sample’s “Mighty Healthy” by Ghostface Killah who in turn closes out the track with the song’s strongest verse.
“The Morning” delivers a pulsating electro beat and strong verses from Raekwon, Common, 2 Chainz and Kid Cudi, but Nigerian singer D’banj’s chorus feels awkward and out of place.
The singles “Sin City,” “Higher,” “Mercy” and “Cold” are particular standouts and unique musical gems.
“Cruel Summer” is a decadent record; it’s insanely braggadocios and takes listeners into a world of paparazzi flashes, Italian sports cars and front row fashion shows.
The excess can get a little nauseating after a while, but innovative musicality makes up for what the lyrics may lack. And in the era of re-emerging hip-hop collectives, (YMCMB, Odd Future, A$AP Mob) GOOD Music stands in undisputed hierarchy from thier peers.