With outstanding talent like Kanye, John Legend, Kid Cudi, Pusha T, Common and Mos Def on the G.O.O.D. label, there’s no reason that Cruel Summer shouldn’t be near-perfect, but that is far from the case.
Too much input from 2 Chainz and Big Sean — each of whom has his bright points, but often comes up short — keeps the disc from reaching a high level. Similarly, a lack of input from outstanding rappers Mos Def and Common raises concerns. Add in questionable features from the likes of R. Kelly, Ma$e, Chief Keef and DJ Khaled, and it’s clear that the project has its problems. Also alarming is that the album, with 10-plus artists, only has 12 tracks, at least five of which were released previously.
Cruel Summer is packed with posse songs like singles “Clique” and “Mercy,” and while these are entertaining, they get old fast. The bulk of the lyrical content focuses on played-out subjects like money, clothes, drugs and women. This isn’t overly surprising, given the frequent appearances from the likes of Big Sean, Kanye and 2 Chainz, but it’s disappointing nonetheless.
This is an area where Common and Mos Def could have contributed positively, but save for one appearance by Common, they are nowhere to be found. A few of the songs, like Kanye’s “Cold” and Cudi’s “Creepers,” escape the posse feel, but are sure to leave you wanting more.
Regardless of the disappointments, the album does have its high points, including a few solid guest spots from the likes of Raekwon, Jadakiss and Jay-Z. The production for the project — handled by the likes of Hit-Boy, Mannie Fresh and Kanye himself — is pretty strong for the most part. Pusha T shines throughout, his lyrical technique apparent the whole time. His talents earned him the most appearances of anyone besides Kanye, landing him on five of the 12 tracks.
One of the better songs, “The Morning,” is actually a good example of a posse cut. It features a reggae-sounding hook from Nigerian singer D’banj, a smooth break from Cudi and strong verses from Raekwon, Common, CyHi Da Prynce, 2 Chainz, Pusha and Kanye. While most of the posse songs are lacking, this one is smooth and doesn’t disappoint.
Also strong is Kanye and Pusha’s “New God Flow.” It includes high-powered rapping by two of hip hop’s heavyweights over a hard-hitting beat. The R&B oriented song “Bliss” by John Legend and Teyana Taylor is solid as well, featuring a smooth beat and fantastic vocals. The album could have benefited from more songs like these. While many of the songs seem rushed or poorly put together, these three give a view of what could have been.
Like most Kanye-affiliated projects, this one has received and will receive mixed reviews, but in the end, it just seems to come up short. Perhaps the best way to describe Cruel Summer is better than average, but far from great. —Ryan Querbach