"Little fanfare" isn't a phrase you usually associate with Kanye West, the producer/wrapper/aggrieved guardian of plastic bottles. But that's the applicable way to describe his G.O.O.D. Music label's collaboration, Cruel Summer, pushed so far back that it should have been called Cusp of Fall. The album is little more than an officially packaged mixtape with cuts from Ye and his label mates you heard upwards of four months ago. The tracks "Cold" (formerly known as "Theraflu," "Too Cold"), "Clique" and "Mercy" carry the day, and while Ghostface adds a nice cameo on "New God Flow," it's not like he's dropping lyrics from the Purp tape. The real revelation comes right up front, as Kanye is never one to miss a grand entrance.
"To The World" is the perfect Kanye West song. Not because it features his best verses – far from it – nor does it feature a great beat – probably not in the top ten – nor a phenomenal hook. Like Wes Anderson and this year's Moonrise Kingdom, this is what you show to a friend and say, "this is Kanye West." His overarching power of personality shines through like never before, combining the humor and grandiosity that mark his work. It doesn't hurt that it's echoed through the bellowing voice of R&B legend R. Kelly, the former second half of the Best Of Both Worlds power couple with Ye's mentor (and frequent collaborator), Jay-Z.
As ?uestlove pointed out in his epic review of the less-than-epic Watch The Throne, we forget just how funny Kanye is. Think of the clout he has for R. Kelly to belt out "the world's a couch / bitch, I'm Rick James tonight / I don't give a fuck." That's straight up ridiculous, especially when you track the reference to its originator, Dave Chappelle, who famously took R. Kelly's "slippery" sexual antics with "Piss On You" (drip, drip, drip). Who knows if R. Kelly even gets the joke. He did this with a straight face, after all.
But Kanye doesn't just drop jokes and walk away. The song tells the tale of a man who is trying to fight the establishment all the while worrying about his place in the middle of it. That he's the only black guy in Beverly Hills is a boast, a set-up for a joke ("where's Axel Foley at?") and a bit of sly social commentary on the white washing of glamour, fame, and status. Chris Rock's neighbor in rich-ass Alpine, NJ is just a normal white dentist. Don't think that the refrain of "Mitt Romney don't pay no tax" isn't a populist move; it's pure jealousy that happens to be a relatable, current, and pointed bit of humor.
"To The World" is the standard bearer for the rest of the tracks that follow. Kanye, by "doing things [his] way," has formed a label that stacks talent about ten deep, even if their best work isn't featured in the proceeding 11 tracks (I'm looking at you, CuDi). By shaping what popular culture is instead of being forced to conform to it (I'm looking at you, Lupe, B.o.B., J. Cole) he's earned his own niche as one of the true rock stars, taking like-minded artists (including Q-Tip, Common, and John Legend) through the door with him. Let's get one thing straight: this isn't an album from the likes of St. Lunatics or D12. These are guys that are G.O.O.D. enough to come up on their own, with youngens like Big Sean, Cyhi the Prince, and under-the-radar Pusha T, able to grow in the way they should.
Taking inventory of it all leads to an incredible amount of valid boasting on the track. Kanye needs a new house for all his plaques (an idea from Rick Ross, who you're damn right he name checks). He can put on fashion shows, or make short films in Dubai on a whim, all with the kind of independence that the Francis Ford Coppola (whose name he also drops, oddly enough) was never afforded, and he made Apocalypse Now. Kanye did all of this this without losing an ounce of anything. He's "Chi-town 'til I'm on my back," sure, but he's also clearly the outgrowth of an art school education; a genius like Mozart who was brought up on an 808 instead of a piano.
By the time he ends his verse with, "R. Kelly and the god of rap / shitting on you - holy crap," he leaves the listener no choice but to respect. By the time Teyana Taylor puts some sexy R&B polish on a walk through of how one gives the middle finger to the world ("From the ground to the moon / here's to the mountains / yeah, hands to the roof") it sounds almost like a parody. Then, she ends the refrain on, "Give it up / give it up / won't let you deny me. Makin' you love me / makin' you love me."
Kanye West's next album drops sometime in early 2013. If this track is any indication, it'll only force us to love him more.