Summer's cooling off, but Kanye West's passion project has finally arrived. Cruel Summer, the G.O.O.D. Music compilation album, hit stores Tuesday.
There are 22 artists featured on the disc -- a veritable "something for everyone." Hip-hop heads were amped when Wu-Tang giants Raekwon and Ghostface first appeared on the Cruel Summer tracklists floating around the internet, and Top-40 fans are sure to be pleased by the inclusion of buzzy young stars like Big Sean and genre mainstays like Jay-Z.
It's inspiring to see West continue to highlight those who supported him: Grammy-winning songwriter Malik Yusef (one of the folks behind "All of the Lights") and young vocalist Teyana Taylor (you've unknowingly heard her on "Dark Fantasy" and "Hell of a Life") are also featured on Cruel Summer. It's a narrative not often seen in the media -- where lazy tales of Kanye's sometimes erratic behavior dominate headlines for weeks -- but it's clear to anyone paying attention to music that West not only cares deeply about production quality, but about those around him.
In many ways, Cruel Summer is a departure from both My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West's latest solo effort, and Watch the Throne, the album he shared with Jay-Z. MBDTF was all emotion -- tales of aching loneliness and frustration with one's self. The Throne was at once the announcement of and an investigation into a new black elite, of what it means to be successful when you started out like Jay-Z or act like Kanye West. However, the singles released in the build-up to Cruel Summer release teased a wild, irreverent Kanye; the inclusion of Southern trap rapper 2 Chainz and the constant mention of Kim Kardashian's exes -- when mixed with equally brash production from the likes of Hit-Boy -- heralded a party album. Early tracks off Cruel Summer were the stuff of nightclub sing-alongs.
As it turns out, that's certainly what we're presented with here. Many parts of Cruel Summer can be described as violent shrugs. The album begins with R. Kelly crooning about presenting the world with one's middle finger.
Still, Kanye's interest in relationships reveals itself. It's no wonder that Jay-Z, the most famous big brother in West's life, appears on "Clique" -- a song about friendship. Nor is it surprising that on that same track, West reveals perhaps his most intimate secret: that he had suicidal thoughts when his mother, Donda West, passed.
Much will be said of Cruel Summer in the coming days and weeks. Never mind that Kanye fans have already heard a great deal of the album ("Mercy," "New God Flow," "Clique," "Cold" and "Don't Like" had all been previously released in some fashion). But before all the reviews, exquisitely produced live performances and (perhaps inevitable) Twitter rants, remember that Cruel Summer is the work of a 35-year-old who flew 22 of the people who believed in him to a studio in Hawaii, and showed them that he, too, believed in their talent.
Cruel Summer is now in stores and on iTunes. Below, a brief bio and earlier songs from every credited artist on the album, in the order in which they appear.