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'Cruel Summer': Kanye doesn't need more people, he needs new people

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 6/20/2013, 12:12 p.m.
'Cruel Summer': Kanye doesn't need more people, he needs new people

It might be high time for Kanye West to drop some of his G.O.O.D. Music label mates.

West's first compilation album, "Cruel Summer," was released to the record-buying public--do they still buy records?-- earlier this month.

West, a great artist on his own, has also been a master collaborator. Whether it was the secret weapon of violinist Miri Ben-Ari on "The College Dropout," co-producer and multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion on "Late Registration," late 90s populist dance music on "Graduation" or Meatloaf and Elton John's catalogues on "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," West also knows who he should work with in order to get the best out of him.

But can the likes of Big Sean, Cyhi the Prince and 2 Chainz get the best out of him? Not really. Soaked in first-rate engineering, top production, shine and major label sheen, West's crew album--which doesn't include two crewmembers, Q-Tip and Yasin Bey, aka Mos Def--sounds like it cost a million dollars. However, the celebration of that money spent sounds joyless.

"Cruel Summer" is front-loaded with some excitement. Despite its ridiculousness, the major chord electronic flourishes on the R. Kelly-West collaboration "To the World" is triumphant enough to sound great when chanting along to it at a club or lounge near you. The 808 and minor chord minimalism of "Mercy" continues to demonstrate why it earned "Song of the Summer" status. Big Sean is at his most tolerable on the wobbly-bass and Gil-Scott Heron hiccup assisted "Clique," while Jay-Z's verse steals the show (for once) from West.

Ghostface Killah adds a verse to the much-welcomed breakbeat-inspired "New God Flow." And the somewhat sluggish "The Morning" (featuring Cyhi, West, Raekwon, 2 Chainz, Pusha T, Common and D'banj) suffices as a posse jam.

But once the album hits "Cold," a track whose impact was lost once the blogosphere ran the Kris Humphries and PETA references into the ground, "Cruel Summer" slows down considerably, if not simply hitting a brick wall. It's not that the songs aren't somewhat enjoyable, but they're extremely underwhelming.

While every Yeezy fan knows that Mase was his favorite rapper, someone needs to tell him to stop wasting feature checks on Mr. Harlem World. His guest verse on the strip club, freak dance-worthy "Higher" (featuring Pusha T, the Dream and Cocaine 80s) adds nothing to the song except length. The less said about the cluster you-know-what that's "Sin City" (featuring Cyhi, Travi$ Scott, John Legend, Teyana Taylor and Malik Yusef) the better. It's a disjointed electro-R&B rap track that doesn't know what it wants to be.

Kid Cudi comes to the rescue a bit with his off-key (and yet still endearing) sing-songy raps on the melodic "Creepers," and the best beat on the album might belong to the John Legend-Teyana Taylor lead "Bliss." As for the remix of Chicago rapper Chief Keef's "I Don't Like"? It's unnecessarily placed on an album that didn't need anything else that's unnecessary.

"Cruel Summer" suffers in its dead spots for similar reasons "Watch the Throne" did: too many cooks in the kitchen. With up to four or five people credited as producers on some track, not to mention the number of vocalists on others, West needs to do a better job of trimming the fat. Maybe the success of his G.O.O.D. Friday campaign in 2010, followed by the critical praise for his incredible "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" album, has given him the rope necessary to push his recent maximalist approach even further--but one can only push so far.

Again, "Cruel Summer" isn't a bad album. It's enjoyable, but it's an average album. West doesn't do average--at least, pre-"Watch the Throne" West didn't.

What the Louis Vuitton Don's fans can hope for is that he's pulling the usual trick of saving his best material and production for his solo projects. After listening to "Cruel Summer," it's all we've got. Yeezy needs some new inspiration. He won't find it with his crew.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10