Def Jam/ GOOD
First things first: Kanye West can pick beats. Considering he doesn't do much solo production himself anymore, the man still has an ear for what sounds good. From the plucking strings of the Hudson Mohawke-produced, R. Kelly-featuring "To The World" to the dope boy beeper tones and snapping drums of "The Morning" (With an instant classic of a Raekwon verse), the track selection stands out. The understated star of the entire collection is California producer Hit-Boy. Basically, the hottest beat maker in hip-hop today, he doesn't fail to disappoint on his 3 tracks on the compilation. Nothing quite captures the bombast of last year's smash "Niggas In Paris" but he still turns in a more than respectable selection here. "Clique", with it's jittery synths and sneaky drums is a definite standout (Having a Jay-Z verse never hurts either). And the smooth auto-tune of "Higher" with a Mase (Yes, THAT Mase) verse is some of the slickest R&B production you'll hear this year. Yet, as is so often the case with "Posse" albums, the overall tone is muddled at best. With no less than 4 references to the Illuminati (A now-tired rap cliche) the album finds Kanye's entire roster spitting opulent rhymes that, frankly, come off as hollow and flat. Make no mistake, West is a bonafide superstar and talent who can say whatever he wants and you kind of have to believe him. (Point in case: The unapologetically fun, if somewhat hollow, 1% raps of last year's entire 'Watch The Throne' LP) But to hear newcomers like Cyhi The Prince and the uninspiring Big Sean tell the story, you would think they had already dropped a few classics themselves. This is simply not the case. Rap has always been built on bravado but sometimes you just feel like this new crop of MCs have been brainwashed into thinking they're the next coming of Shawn Carter himself. While Pusha T's work as half of Clipse is legendary in it's own right, most of his verses here sound like more of the same, Italian sportscars and haute clothing, and leave you wishing for a cameo from Malice just for some balance. (Spoiler alert: Doesn't happen) Make no mistake, there are hits here. And if you live anywhere near a respectable urban radio station, you've probably heard them. There are high notes and grandiose rap tracks that, at times, echo the over-the-top greatness of Kanye's "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" but overall, the album misses the mark. After you get past the first 5 or 6 tracks, you've pretty much heard everything you need to. One of the most disappointing things about the entire album is the misuse of such talents as Common and Kid Cudi. They both just feel out of place here, each contained to just one track. While Common's mainstream draw may not be what it was, say, 5 years ago when he first linked up with Kanye's GOOD roster, he is still, arguably the best true MC on the entire label and to hear one verse from the veteran is just downright disheartening. Kid Cudi, meanwhile, gets a whole song to himself but it feels desperately out of place within the collection. As someone who has enjoyed Cudi's music throughout his career, it's hard to overlook the fact that he simply doesn't gel on a roster with the likes of "punchline" rappers such as the wildly (and somewhat inexplicably) popular 2 Chainz and the already mentioned Big Sean. Kanye has always had a reputation for being a perfectionist and his own harshest critic but I think it would serve him well to point a little bit of that criticism to the MCs that he employs in the background. It's not a horrible album, hell, it's not even that bad considering the disappointing rap projects that have dominated the airwaves and charts the last few years. It just makes you anxiously await the next proper Kanye West project, which speaks volumes to the man's skill and importance in the pantheon of popular music today.