On 2012′s greatest nothing, G.O.O.D. Music’s “Cruel Summer”
The great musical pieces of the era when classical music dominated the world were built upon the notion of variations on a theme. As an artist whose level of obsequious quality control and product management creates sounds that present rap music as a style with grace and a regal air worthy of philharmonic performance, Kanye West’s Cruel Summer hearkens to the days of Johannes Brahms, but for a wildly different generation. The theme is Mr. West himself. G.O.O.D. Music doesn’t feel as altruistic as Roc-a-Fella, the Diplomats or other dominant hip-hop stables of yore. Those were spaces where top emcees like Jay-Z or Cam’ron could put their friends and colleagues on, allowing them to excel and live the dream. G.O.O.D. certainly stands for “Getting out our dreams,” but it becomes readily apparent on this record that the “our” is a clear identifier of the belief that the great Kanye West has a multiple personality disorder. What this means for rap music in 2012, just like any steady diet of confection, is that its emblematic of a decadent era glazed in demise.
Cruel Summer sadly proves that great men are made greater by their intrinsic relation to the inspirational core of Yeezy’s creative being. In a woefully depressed economic era in the music industry, artists like Pusha T, 2 Chainz, and yes, even pop pariah Big Sean deserve the space to headline as fully functional superstars. But in the era where the polarity gap – the space between what is very right and what is very wrong – in a music industry struggling to find its identity in the digital era, exists, we’re stuck with this floating dirigible of an album obstructing the view to much of anything else in popular music at any given moment.
Yes, “Mercy” and “New God Flow” are incredible. “Mercy” is the antecedent to “Monster,” the notion of jet propulsion to superstardom occurring here for 2 Chainz in the same manner that it did for Nicki Minaj. The track is a minimalist’s dream dashed by a half-time sampled instrumental breakdown from 1980s cocaine nightmare Scarface, the noodling instrumental resurrected just in time for discussion of cream colored coupes and lavish lifestyle raps voiced by the prime minister of ratchetmania, Tauheed Epps. “New God Flow” is all boisterous braggadocio, Kanye playing the dozens against the universe with Pusha T and Ghostface Killah. To be so powerful as to have the industry heft to take Chainz from crunk mixtape don to superhuman celebrity in less than six months, plus support the North-South-Midwest triangle of lyrical terror that is the dominant “New God Flow” is stunning. To have the power to have people float in your creative orbit and benefit from a sealed vacuum leading to the top of the game is impressive.
I’m fairly certain that the Jay-Z, Kanye West and Big Sean trifecta known as “Clique” is the most pedestrian great song of 2012. Amazingly enough, this has absolutely nothing to do with the song itself. In the variations of themes of Kanye West, Big Sean is to Kanye what Kanye was to Jay-Z. Sean’s big brother became Jay’s brother by expanding and developing his creative scope into something that exists as a dominant creative space within the universal empire of Jay-Z. If we think deeper about this, then within the creative world of Kanye West, Big Sean is the dude in the corner shouting about artsy hoes with big booties while hypebeasting on the world. That’s cool, but when you’re one man striking one chord in an intentionally bloated world that’s part of a sizable universe, the self-worth of your rhymes feels incredibly hollow. In the game of proximity, it’s easier to succeed in Kanye’s orbit as a voice from another equally enormous yet parallel plane. Shouting to be heard, if you understand the size and depth of the game at this level, is much easier. Sadly, as great as Big Sean is (and yes, for a segment of the world that loves sneakers and b***hes there’s few better) he’s stunted here. It’s a telling sign of the incredibly stratified and corporate nature of hip-hop culture in the present era that the mere mention of a song’s core components can sully it’s impact before it’s even heard.
Since Watch the Throne, there now exists a rarefied space of rap intellectualism where urban music exists as finely tuned classical symphonies with themes and variations. Even further, if you stare at the cover art of Cruel Summer long enough, it’s likely akin to an ode written on a Grecian urn. But most people that listen to rap music just like nodding their head, laughing at 2 Chainz and wanting to live Big Sean’s life. When an entire world of rap music is predicated upon the dreams and fantasies of one man being a reality lived by a group of men, it feels like hip-hop culture is enslaved. Anybody who studies slavery long enough will tell you that it reduces a man to having no human value whatsoever. Thus, Cruel Summer, as a tale told as themes and variations on Kanye West, is the greatest nothing of 2012.