When looking at the current state of the commercial rap industry Def Jam stands out as the overall winner this year dropping most of the commercially successful albums in 2012 even in the dismal sales environment the mainstream industry finds itself in. To continue the trend they bring out the big guns in the form of Kanye West and his troupe signed to G.O.O.D Music management company. Kanye has been dropping singles like “Mercy”, “Cold (Theraflu)” and “New God Flow” all summer in the build up to this showcase compilation album for his “Clique”.
Coming into this album I was not sure what to expect, even though it turns out nearly half the album has already been floating around for a few months. Along with the “already out there” tracks, there is also a choice to go with only 12 tracks which will probably upset a few people. I try to limit the number of singles I listen to before an album drops. “Mercy”, “New God Flow” and “I Don’t Like” are probably the songs I had the most familiarity with. So for the most part the element of surprise was still there.
Mr West kicks things off, enlisting R Kelly to sing the rousing and rebellious chant over the marching band like drums of “To The World” which reminds me a lot of “All Of The Lights” in a way, except without the same depth brought about by having 50 singers on the hook. R Kelly does his thing though with a little help from the vocoder, swooning defiantly;
“Let me see you put your middle fingers up To the world, I made up in my mind I’m doin’ things my way, I’m burnin’ shit down tonight I’m doin’ things my way, it’s my way or the highway Let me say it one more time”
Kels then goes on to have a little verse as well, then we get the defiant Kanye, setting the tone for the rest of this album in terms of its overall message; which as I understand it is that Kanye is a rap God and his crew are living large.
I might as well say it early since I know I am going to sound like a broken record. There is not much else in terms of takeaways from this album content wise but I think people will be happy with the music overall. After the rousing introduction song we go into the made-for-the-club banger “Clique” joined by Jay-Z for his guest obligatory appearance. The lyrical level doesn’t really get raised on this song either, with its stripped down “Drop It Like Its Hot” type drums and musical garnishes added by Kanye this song is aimed pretty much for the clubs and the strip joints. I must say I was pretty disappointed with Jay who basically mailed in the verse with a very generic “I have more money than anyone and you are not in my league” verse. But again can’t really complain about the beat on this one, it knocks. Same can be said about the next song, “Mercy”. I could pretty much put the first 6 songs into the same bucket in terms of having nice beats but what I would consider below-par to average emceeing. And yes that includes Ghostface, who has never failed me before, but for some reason his surprise appearance on this redux of “New God Flow” didn’t really amaze me. But I wont complain about getting a Ghost verse on this type of project. However there is one shining diamond for those of us who not only like nice beats but also like premium lyrics on top of those beats. That diamond is the person who I think may end up benefiting most from this album; Cyhi the Prynce.
Cyhi for me is the saving grace of this entire album, coming from a person who grew up with Ghostface, Raekwon and Jay-Z. His verses are the most coherent yet intricate lyrics on the tape to go along with a gravely distinctive voice and buttery effortless flow. The standout track on the album for me is ”The Morning” ft amongst others, Raekwon and Common. Raekwon is not bad, but doesn’t really do anything new. Common starts strong but doesn’t get a lot of time before his verse is cut off by Pusha T and then 2 Chainz gets all of a few words in before Cyhi runs through and puts down a legitimate contender for verse of the year. Its one of those verses where every line has something in it. He has a great introduction, he has an ill, what I call “transition” line and he ends the verse with a dope witty punchline. And he does it efficiently, its not like Ye gives anyone room to spit 100′s of bars. As far as I am concerned its one of those “drop the mic” type moments. I am not going to quote this one since I am expecting it will be written about quite a bit.
The album then slows down a little bit on “Higher” where we get Pusha talking like he has Jay-Z money and Mase bragging like his pre-born-again-preacher days. Flow is dope as always, content is a little…….well…….corny.
The next joint has a beat that follows on with the slower tempo of the last song, but this time it’s a lot more broody and includes the second Cyhi highlight on “Sin City”. Cyhi is on his philosphical gangsta ish and drops gems from line to line.
“Sex, drugs, and playin’ dices, /those are our favorite vices/But this life’ll take a toll on ya/ Well I guess you gotta pay the prices/ I know who Christ is /And he never hung with the Saints/ it makes no sense to save the righteous”
For full disclosure I have been a Cyhi cheerleader since hearing his verse on “So Appalled” downloading his mixtape and hearing the song “Whoopty Doo”. His recent “Ivy League” mixtape has some dope material on it as well. I am not saying he’s the best emcee ever, I just think he made the most of the limited opportunity he was given on this album and rose above all the others. On a compilation like this sometimes someone’s stock rises. I think Cyhi was the clear winner given his less accomplished position in the game. I think overall I was most disappointed by Pusha, given he is supposed to be releasing an album soon.
After ”Sin City” Kanye rounds things out with another verse proclaiming his greatness, Kudi gets a solo, there’s another R&B track then we end things off with the remix to Chief Keef’s “I Dont Like”. Overall the album is like a mix between Kanye’s last solo album and the MMG drop from this year. The typical Kanye’isms are there in terms of the production, packaging and overall aesthetic. However it is tamed down a little to help shine a light on the clique and not completely over-power everything. While I am bringing MMG into this I will say this is probably the better of the compilation albums I have heard this year, comparing it to MMG and the DJ Khaled album. If you are a fan of Kanye’s work over the last couple of years and want to bump some bass in the whip, I think you will enjoy this album. However, If you are looking for some dope lyricism, I would stick to the 2 songs with Cyhi and not waste my time with rest.
Rating: I would buy the 2 best songs on itunes, not the whole album.