“G.O.O.D. woulda been God, except I added more O’s”
Cruel Summer is Kanye West’s child. The album was technically released under the name of his label, G.O.O.D. Music. He doesn’t rap on every song. Yet when he is not at the forefront rapping, he is lurking in the shadows, organizing and crafting the album exactly the way he wants it. The album’s purpose isn’t to please critics – he could care less about them. He uses the other artists on G.O.O.D. Music to create a barrier between him and the outside world, instead opting to take absolute control over what he can – his label.
The first song of the album is “To the World” featuring R. Kelly. The chorus is simple: “Let me see you put your middle fingers up, to the world, to the world, to the world.” There has always been a “fuck the world” edge to Kanye’s music, but he rarely lays it out in terms this clear. He is creating a divide between him and everyone else – not just within the rap game, but in life. To do so, he enlists R. Kelly, one of few whose exploits have been as, well, misunderstood as Kanye’s. Kelly’s verse is funny and reflects his own middle finger to the world- “The whole world is a couch / Bitch I’m Rick James tonight” but only serves to set up West’s eventual entrance
Within fifteen seconds, Kanye begins the trend that defines Cruel Summer – equating himself to God. “Hmm, ain’t this some shit / pulled up in the A-V-entador / and the doors rise up like praise the Lord.” The doors are only opening for Kanye – he is the Lord in this line. The verse continues, and he eventually concludes, “R. Kelly and the God of rap / shittin’ on you, holy crap.” Never mind the missed opportunity to make this the greatest lyric of all time by replacing shittin’ with pissin’, Kanye establishes just what religious idol he is – the God of rap. Not a God of rap. Kanye sees no pantheon, no Mount Rushmore of rappers. He sees only himself on top, everyone who isn’t his subject sitting in a pile of his divine feces.
This is not an isolated incident. The allusions pile up through the entire album. Kanye references making something from nothing (feeding the masses), people saying “There the God go in his Murcielago” as he drives past, Moses parting the Red Sea for him, the difficulty of preaching the gospel to the slums, and more.
Kanye isn’t foolish enough to deify himself unjustly, he simply defines both God and rap in a different way. He knows that he will never be the God of rapping. He knows that nobody will ever be the God of rapping. It is a title too subjective to be absolute.
The next song, “Clique” establishes that there is a group of people immune to his divine wrath – his clique. Big Sean and Jay Z, featured on the track, represent the old and new guards of the clique. It is perhaps the hardest song on the album. But moreover the song establishes which members of his audience Kanye doesn’t care about.
Cruel Summer was not created for those who would listen to the album critically. All micro-motives within it eventually tie back to Kanye establishing himself as the God. On “Clique” he raps, “My girl a superstar all from her home movie / bow on our arrival, the un-American idols.” He could care less that his girlfriend is most famous for a video of her having sex with another dude – he still expects people to bow before him like a God when he rolls up.
“Mercy” reveals more terms of Kanye’s godliness. The song starts with verses from Big Sean and Pu$ha T, both firing on all cylinders over a bass-driven banger beat. Kanye is obviously going to rap next, but when he comes in, the beat morphs into a choral, church-like “ahhhh” overlain by electronic pulsations. When his verse is done, the beat reverts back to its original form, 2 Chainz spits, and the song concludes.
We see an distinct disconnect between Kanye and the stable of rappers he features on the album. He descends from above to rap over a beat he has no business rapping on. Mercy should have belonged to the three trapstars, not him. So when he does spit, the beat has to change to adapt.
Yet West is absolutely crucial to the song. “Mercy” was the first single released off the album and was a radio hit. If the song was just Big Sean, Pu$ha T, and 2 Chainz, it would have been viewed as an interesting collaboration. But with Kanye? It blew up. Much of Cruel Summer is devoted to the development and popularization of rappers either signed to G.O.O.D. Music, or whose struggle he admires – 2 Chainz, Big Sean, and Pu$ha T are prime examples. Kanye is their God. Pu$ha admits as much on the first line of “New God Flow” – “I believe there’s a God above me.” The illusion is striking within the context of a verse about Pu$ha’s willingness to play the role of Shyne to Kanye’s Puffy. Their success depends on Kanye and his benevolence. All experienced a degree of success before, but know that Kanye’s push could grant them superstardom.
G.O.O.D. Music is not meant to be a rap supergroup, but a collection of talented artists who depend on Kanye. Megagroups typically take time to stratify by talent, but Kanye’s crew begins that way. He doesn’t want them to be another Wu Tang – he brings Ghostface and Raekwon on consecutive tracks to implicitly affirm their approval of his Kanye clan.
At the halfway point of the album, Kanye drops out, only appearing on two of the last six songs. He instead lets his underlings shine, their God acting only as the producer behind the scenes, driving their successes by giving them beats perfectly suited for their styles.
The album concludes with a remix of Chief Keef’s “Don’t Like.” Accomplishing this is what ultimately cements his status as God over his domain. In taking control of Chief Keef’s destiny, Kanye transforms him from 16-year-old one-hit-wonder to potential superduperstar. The much more talented rappers surround Chief Keef on the track, but rather than killing him, they rap in stunted chunks, mimicking Keef’s style. They are all riding together.
Kanye begins his verse with one final comparison between himself and Jesus before piecing together a strange string of seemingly unconnected ideas. He eventually concludes with a shoutout to his new subject, “Chief Keef, King Louie, this is Chi(cago) right? Right?”
Kanye creates a system for himself in which he can be God. For those signed to him, Kanye is omnipotent. After Chief Keef attempted to revolt against his lord, Kanye revoked his support and Keef has gone back to being a sideshow.
Kanye has long been expected to complete the initial arc of his album releases and drop Good Ass Job. Cruel Summer was not an attempt to boost his status in the eyes of critics or to move up the ladder of the greatest lyricists. His name alone dictates that expectations for any album he drops are too lofty to ever be met. So he doesn’t try to meet them. Why bother making Good Ass Job when people will deride it as worse than The College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation? Tupac famously said to Bad Boy on “Hit ‘Em Up,” “Ima let my little homies ride on yo’ bitch-made ass.” Kanye says the same thing to the critics. He makes his album a middle finger to the world, instead preferring to rule his own sovereign kingdom and be the God of G.O.O.D. Music.