Kanye West has proved two things above all else to his scores of followers since he first released “The College Dropout” in 2004. The first is that, above all else, Kanye West is the biggest artist in the world today. His vision for records, his innate ability to produce a music catalog over the past eight years that is both consistently commercially successful but also critically acclaimed, his clever wordplay and super-intensive producing abilities; all of these things have defined his career.
The second thing we’ve all learned about Kanye is that he is out-of-his mind, somebody-get-him-a-straitjacket insane. He’s perverse, obsessive, irrational, yet somehow masterful. He’s a crazed genius of music, and any attempt to make sense of what he does would be futile. Instead, we should just sit back and enjoy the wild, crazy ride that is Kanye West.
Such is the case with “Cruel Summer,” featuring Kanye and the rest of the G.O.O.D Music crew – Pusha T, Common, Kid Cudi, Cyhi and 2 Chainz. Half is a psychological study, and the other half is a braggadocios dissertation, all wrapped up in a grand, orchestral and epic production.
Take the first song of the album, “To The World,” featuring R. Kelly. The song starts out with some music that is absolutely over-the-top epic. A hard driving beat with a drum line fit for a military march begins, and suddenly, this album is off to a roaring start.
You feel like Kanye has prepared this album, as a coronation of sort, crowning himself the king of music today. R. Kelly’s voice, as soulful as ever, comes in over the beat and it feels both incredible and dignified at the same time. Yet, somehow, the song delves into a sort of nihilism, with R. Kelly crooning to listeners to, “Stick your middle fingers up to the world.” This is the overriding, and at times disconcerting theme to this album. We find a man who has a God-complex, but also a perpetual sense of under appreciation. Only Kanye could rap about how he’s balling out in mink coats and how nothing anybody says can affect him, yet insult Kris Humphries, for no particular reason, for dating Kim Kardashian in the same song, “Cold.” He says Kris is “lucky I didn’t have Jay drop him from the team.”
It doesn’t make sense when you’re Kanye West, the most successful rapper of the past decade, to have to start beef with a no-name NBA player for briefly being married to your fame-mongering, attention whore of a girlfriend. Sorry Kanye, Kim Kardashian sucks.
The end result of these two divergent schools of thought (one says: “I’m God,” the other one says: “Nobody likes me”) is a perplexing album. It isn’t the introspective and at times confessional masterpiece that “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” was. Nor is it the over-the-top, look-at-how-I’m-balling banger that “Watch The Throne” was.
Instead, it is an album that vacillates between the two. “Clique,” “Mercy,” “I Don’t Like,” “New God Flow,” and “Cold” are all absolute bangers, songs filled with guest features that will be blasted through car stereo systems for months to come. Others like “To The World,” “The Morning” and “Sin City” have flashes of the introspective, soulful side of Kanye. Yet all of these songs are sprinkled with his idiosyncrasies and character flaws that we’ve come to expect from the type of guy who would drink an entire bottle of Hennessey on the red carpet and then ruin Taylor Swift’s night in front of millions of people.
The end result is an interesting look into the conscience of a mad genius that considers himself both the high king of American culture, but also the most under-appreciated man on earth. It’s a self-contradicting album made by a man who is as easily detestable as he is lovable. Ultimately, it’s a hell of an album, filled with incredible production and a plethora of amazing guest verses, fully worth its sticker price.