"I could die right now and still be happy," shouted my rather unhinged friend as the first Birmingham show of the Watch the Throne tour came to a close. After 3 consecutive deluges of 'Niggas in Paris' and then one more after a tantalising encore, everyone was in an entrancing bliss, maniacally dwelling in the ephemera. For 2 hours there was not a greater show on earth: Jay-Z and Kanye West in the unassuming former industrial city of Birmingham. Metres away from them both, basking in their aura yet still glaringly aware that vicinity is just a geographic fact. We were close but we weren't close, something that they let everyone know. But while they spew this comforting vitriol, it doesn't please them to prophesise the end of an era once they cease to rap. Below the consumerist precipice of Watch The Throne, there was a message of legacy. Their success is to be a manual for others; how to dodge the right bullets and take the rest, in order to achieve the American dream.
Cue the clan base: it seems that the days of hip-hop groups based on kinship are gone, replaced with hierarchical associate grouping or 'pied-piperism', if you will. Post-success, these kingpins adopt surrogate families, Murder Inc. G-Unit, Young Money, Maybach Music and in this case G.O.O.D. Music that are bound by a thinly veiled omerta – stick with the style and by all means stay loyal. G.O.O.D. Music is Kanye's tune and to some degree, the premise of it is to relay talent to listeners. But the other end is to maintain power by producing it: vicinity is a geographic fact, yes, but geographic association creates connotations and presumptions of standard and expectation. Kanye want to be and be seen as Brahma, the Creator and his produce are his Manas Putras, deriving from the same spiritual vein as himself…
It's a patronising philosophy. Actualising Kanye West's prophecy of this all-encompassing, talent-filled super group is far more difficult than saying it and the only true judge is the consumer. It remains that on Cruel Summer Kanye's understudies show inability to perform without explicit direction from their leader. The compilation's high points mainly encircle West, and given the chance to be independence, his understudies go off track. 'F.A.I.R Music' is perhaps more fitting and though he may be aware or blissfully ignorant, no one quite matches up to him.
"R. Kelly and the God of rap, shitting on you, holy crap," Cruel Summer starts with foolhardy hopefulness of 'To The World'. Aside from the hilarity of 'Ye's antonymous reference to R. Kelly's penchant for the potent 'golden shower', the production of this track is inexplicably cliché pulling those typically grandiose notes and heady drums that are ultimately oxymoronic. Just like on 'The One' featuring Marsha Ambrosius' brilliant but wasted vocals, the track is a triumphant military march in an objectively pacifist nation, or a guttural gospel choir singing to a room full of atheists.
The track is followed by 'Clique' with Hit-Boy on production. This sequence – from lax to brilliant – is indicative of Cruel Summer’s scope: on one end shameless mediocrity on the other, perfectly fluent lyrical prowess and production. As with the now double platinum selling 'Mercy', you see Kanye West at his tightest, the ubiquitously svelte Big Sean at his wittiest and as the beat shapes, a revived Pusha T.
As much as there are some major players on this compilation, the rest are unexceptional features. Just like the essentially republican philosophy (I highlight with a small 'r' in this post-Minaj-Republicanism world) Kanye West espouses to death, why must the ubermensch share a porch with Kid Cudi’s mixed bag of treats or the utterly modest vocals of Teyana Taylor? She's made a 'name' for herself as being an urban socialite and though she can hold the note of grade 2 vocalists she drags the powerful neo-soul production of 'Bliss’'to flatness (which are thankfully salvaged by John Legend). Paris Hilton possessed a laughable music career that was fun to ridicule. She didn't take herself serious, but most importantly neither did anyone else. The truth is that anyone who's well versed in hip-hop will assume duress on West's part that Common is featured just once on the Clipse referencing 'The Morning'. Perhaps he's in a sensitive phase, being egalitarian and giving anyone with an A-for-effort a gold star and a feature. But it's not the time and it's simply not fair on the others.
Cruel Summer closes with a remix of Chief Keef's 'I Don’t Like'; on the highest note, especially given how the album started. It also showcases, Kanye's philosophy of producing power with teen Chief Keef born, bred and relaying the Chicago's street philosophy and "Young Choppa on the beat." But for the moment and without real promise of change, the only unquestionably out-and-out good things that Kanye has to show of his pied piper project are other hometown rappers Big Sean and Common as well as John Legend.
Another friend asked, "where are the awards for the mediocre people?" She was joking, but this G.O.O.D Music compilation is her answer. Despite her pleas, the fact remains that mediocrity shouldn’t be awarded because it's a stifling force.