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Kanye's ‘Summer’ not so hot

After listening to G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Summer, my very first thought was that Kanye West did not need to make this album. West’s fifth studio album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, was the best-reviewed record in several years. Then, less than 10 months later, he teamed up with Jay-Z on Watch the Throne, which quickly became a cultural landmark — did anyone even say words like “cray” or “HAM” before? — and a defining moment in hip-hop history.

Cruel Summer serves as a formal introduction to West’s clique/label G.O.O.D. Music, which includes a plethora of personalities from “ex”-drug dealer Pusha T, to more socially conscious artists such as John Legend and Common, to relative newcomers Big Sean, CyHi the Prynce, and more recently 2 Chainz. This album should have been a huge victory lap for Kanye — summing up his successful production of career-defining music from the past two years.

And it certainly starts off that way. “To the World,” which features R. Kelly, is basically a big middle finger to everyone, with West declaring himself the “God of rap.”

But the first four tracks just happen to be the best of the album. “Clique” sounds like what Watch the Throne: Part 2 would be: essentially perfect production from Hit-Boy — “N***** In Paris” — featuring a subtle apocalyptic choir that seems to tell us to bow down to these hip-hop demigods. “New God Flow,” possibly the best track on the album, samples Ghostface Killah’s “Mighty Healthy” for the hook, who also happens to offer a fiery verse. West and Pusha T both spit quotable bars, with Pusha essentially mocking Lil Wayne’s crew YMCMB. The monstrous production on “Mercy” doesn’t even make the actual verses on the song matter anymore — all you need is the hook. How many people have tweeted “Lamborghini Mercy, yo chick she so thirsty?” Exactly.

The myriad of singles that have been circling the blogosphere/airwaves for the past few months have already solidified some commercial success. And perhaps this is the downfall of Cruel Summer. The album quickly disintegrates into a collection of strange collaborations — 2 Chainz/Marsha Ambrosius on “The One” — to almost incoherent songs that teeter to the point of laziness — Kid Cudi’s “Creepers.”

West makes rare appearances toward the end of the album. But even in his more mediocre verses, West sounds more passionate and spits with more vigor than his G.O.O.D. Music counterparts. West raps on “Cold” — formerly known as “Theraflu” — “and if you can do it better than me, then you do it.” Sadly, the rest of the crew can’t do better. When left on their own, they tend to fall flat.

In a YouTube video explaining the concept of Cruel Summer, West claims he gets “bored easily” and is “majorly underwhelmed in general.” Ironically, Cruel Summer is generally an underwhelming experience. Unfortunately, if you’re Kanye West, it’s difficult to live up to the impossibly high standards set for you. But Cruel Summer proves it’s still West’s show, and his counterparts best serve as his backup dancers.

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