In his famous poem, “An Essay on Criticism,” Alexander Pope wrote these enduring words:
“Our judgments, like our watches, none
go just alike, yet each believes his own”
Why did I include a quote by a dead 18th British century writer, essentially guaranteeing that readership for this review will be nil? Because this is literally the only occasion I will be able to incorporate my 5+ years of English studies into actual real-life application, and in the fantasy world in which I live, I like to think that my life up until this point has not been a complete waste of time.
Pope’s main sentiment, as translated in modern English, is that opinions are like assholes, and we each have our own (hopefully, that is). But critics have been almost unanimous in their caustic judgment of Kanye latest project, the G.O.O.D. music compilation album. This might seem puzzling on the surface, because you are probably listening to “Clique” right now (maybe against your will). But radioplay is seldom indicative of a rapper’s critical success. Although “oh oh oh oh oh-kay” seems to invade my ears every time I turn the key of my ignition, most critics have shown little mercy to Kanye’s recent project. Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe and Nathan Rabin of The A.V. Club voiced their opinions regarding the album’s supposed lack of focus. The prevailing criticism against Kanye’s compilation album seems is the discordant feel.
As listeners of music, we often subconsciously wish for a consistent musical aura in our albums. Albums that fair well with critics are constructed like a Martin Scorsese film, minus the Italian mobsters. Inherently, we expect a certain cohesive ambiance that establishes the record’s thematic significance. This is a difficult atmosphere to produce in a compilation album, however. With so many different players, each accompanying different perspectives and styles, coherency is a tall order to fill.
I can think of only few examples of this being demonstrated successfully, and the album that comes to mind is The Wu-Tang’s Enter The 36 Chambers. Fresh from a failed stint with Cold Chillin’ records, a group of nine emcees met in an apartment room, smoked a lot of weed, and produced one of the greatest albums ever made. The cohesion of 36 Chambers resulted not only from the titanic talent of the rappers involved, who to this day are noted for their uniqueness, but from the near identical situation they found themselves in 1993 (all broke as hell, all Kung-Fu movie enthusiasts, all with a weakness for smoking copious amounts of weed, all containing mutual understanding that their group was nothing to be fucked with, and a universal faith that cash ruled everything around them, cream get the money, dollar dollar bill ya’ll). Their desperation to escape their bleak surroundings was the impetus to create something groundbreaking, and once they became famous and starting convincing people that Wallabes were actually cool shoes, they never did recapture the brilliance of their debut disc with their later group albums.
With G.O.O.D. music, things are not quite the same. For one, you have 2-chainz, famous for rapping about big booty hoes as birthday presents. Then you have Kanye West, among other things, is famous for rapping about and dating Kim Kardashian, who no doubt falls in the big booty genre. And of course there’s Big Sean, who likes to sing about his love for ass ass ass ass ass ass ass. With such ideological and musical diversity, how can we expect this with the G.O.O.D. music crew?
All jokes aside, the members of G.O.O.D. are all at different phases of their careers, thereby making their musical direction somewhat murky. Of course, Kanye really needs no introduction. Since 2004, when he appeared on the cover of his debut album dressed in a furry bear suit, he has ascended to musical supremacy while never abstaining from controversy. Whether you like him or not, he has consistently pushed boundaries and shattered limitations. Look, I ain’t trying to front man, but the Yeezys did jump over the Jumpman. (He is also currently dating Kim Kardashian, which for some reason also feels relevant). But G.O.O.D. music is one of the strongest labels in terms of both the quality and quantity of its artists, so while executively produced by Kanye, this isn’t your grandma’s Kanye album. Their names? After his brother Malice got religion and sacrificed his music career in the process, the talented duo Clipse disbanded, causing Pusha T to join forces with the G.O.O.D. label. Then there’s Kid Cudi, who first enthralled the world with the mixtape A Kid Named Cudi and his debut album, Man on The Moon. Big Sean first emerged on the scene with a style he invented (cough, a style that has been used for years, cough) that resulted in some of the worst hip-hop lyrics to happen since the days of unsliced bread. And last but not least…fuck I’m saying? Girl you know 2 Chainz.
In an Complex magazine article featuring an open interview with the entire G.O.O.D. music roster, entitled “New Religion,” Cudi prophesied that the varying styles featured on the record was actually a, well, good thing: “Luckily, everybody has their own vision. No one is lost. A lot of artists get lost. They drop an album, and then they go fucking blank. But everybody here sees their career 10 years from now. I don’t think anybody is seeing their career year to year, like a motherfucker working check to check. Everyone has their own vision, so there’s no pressure.” In my estimate, the different personalities featured on the record all hold their own, and the biggest respect I can pay to Cruel Summer is that all the songs are, well, good. Some are even great, such as the singles the radio has inundated us with, like the “Don’t Like Remix,” “Clique,” and of course, “Mercy.” Production wise, Kanye and his many collaborators are still dabbling in the sonical exploration of the opera-meets-hip-hop genre (which is why 2 Chainz’s “Birthday Song” sounds like something Mozart would’ve deeply admired, or is it just me?)
But aside from production, one of Kanye’s compositional talents is his abilities to blend seemingly disparate figures on the same song and make it come out sweeter than old Sadie. If Kanye was a film director, I imagine him crafting 2-hour film which featured the likes of Kirsten Stewart, Denzel Washington, Joe Biden, Kermit the Frog, and somehow making it all work. I for one, never thought I’d ever see the day when the artist formerly known as Titty Boi would be on the same track as Raekwon (“The Morning”). But the best moments on the album come about during these superbly jarring collaborations. Plus, the long-time hip-hop fan will appreciate the efforts of the G.O.O.D. music chief to merge past with present. Artists like Jadakiss, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and R. Kelly allow us late 80s/early 90s babies a chance to reminisce about the times when these names were still very much relevant, and when they rapped/sang about things we were then too young to understand (I’m ashamed to admit, but I used to think of “Bump and Grind” as a term strictly for the virtual friction that stemmed from heated Mario Cart races). Even Harlem rapper-turned-preacher-turned-back-rapper Mase appears on “Higher,” who surprisingly, holds his own in an arena outside an Atlanta congregation. Although Mase has been the victim of severe rape-age (I just invented a word…Skip Bayless) of his image and style over the past decade or so, he somehow escapes the act of becoming just another amalgam of his many copy-cats (Fabolous, Loon). In fact, his verse stands as one of the highlights of the album: (“I bumped into Loon/He’s like A Salam a Lakum/You know I ain’t Muslim my nigga/I’m about my bacon.”)
Despite lacking the mass appeal of artists like Sean and Kanye, Pusha T in my estimate is the Chris Bosh of the record. I’m fully aware that commercialism is dictated by 13 old girls living in Montana, so until Pusha T adds his own verse to Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake,” his day of mass public recognition will not come. “New God Flow,” a brilliant sampling of Ghostface Killah’s classic “Mighty Healthy,” is one of the best tracks I’ve heard in recent times, and as Pusha T is wont to do with nearly every track he touches, he scorches it (“I believe there’s a God above me/I’m just the God of everything else/I put holes in everything else/New God flow, fuck everything else”). But Pusha T is aided by a impassioned verse by Kanye, who chimes in with a thought-provoking verse. Ghostface Killah aka Ironman aka Tony Starks himself is even featured on the official album version of the track, and provides the final dagger to a tremendous record, showing that physical aging has not slowed his 40+ year old ass from ferocious lines and his customary lyrical rapidity.
Kid Cudi is the only artist to have a solo on the record with the song “Creepers.” (I don’t count “Cold” as a solo, even though I have learned, through intense Chinese meditation techniques, to completely disregard DJ Khaled’s voice entirely. If anyone can brief me on Khaled’s actual role in the music industry, other than effectively aggravating eardrums with his annoying, random shouts of “We The Best!,” I will pay you a million dollars, and vote for Governor Romney.) Cudi’s solo marks his return to rap after a brief foray into rock territory with his WZRD album (which isn’t bad at all). The song is pure Cudi, a brief lament about his moral failings, and his vow to “keep doing his thing” in spite of the imaginary critical ghosts that always seem to be attacking him. Cudi’s typical musical lane is simple, yet it’s this formula that makes him an artist we like to listen to. Deviation from one’s lane rarely ends up in the musical success that artists like Kanye have found, and most often leads to the garbage can, like Best Coast’s latest offering. Amid raps like “I tell a bad bitch do whatever I say” and “A fuck nigga/That’s that shit I don’t like”) songs like “Creepers,” along with other meditative tracks like “The One,” which features Kanye, Sean, Marsha Ambrosius (of Floetry), and 2 Chaaaaaainz!
Another of my personal favorites is “Sin City,” which features John Legend, new G.O.O.D. music signee Teyana Taylor, and Cyhi The Prynce. Aside from a brilliant verse on Kanye’s “So Appalled,” (that managed to eclipse the verses of Jay-Z and Kanye) and a few stellar mixtapes, Cyhi’s name is rarely known, even in hip-hop circles. Hopefully, the world will stop sleeping, because Cyhi continues to establish himself as a lyrical monster with lines like (“I know who Christ is/And he never hung with the saints/It makes no sense to save the righteous”). “Sin City” is one of the most engaging songs on the album in terms of imagery. The chaotic feel of the track, coupled with the allusions to societal decadence, makes it seem like a perfect compliment to Kanye’s 2010 critically acclaimed album, My Beautiful Dark Fantasy.
Plans for a sequel to Cruel Summer, entitled Cruel Winter, are supposedly already in the works. With G.O.O.D.’s roster growing at the same pace as Kim Kardashian’s ass (Q-Tip recently struck a deal) I imagine that the album will be another success. Hopefully, Kanye will not take the Kris Humpries route and attempt to sue me for mentioning Kim Kardashian so much in some sort of defamation of character suit. If such a situation arises, you gon’ see lawyers, and journalists in Jordans.