According to JAY-Z’s disclosure on David Letterman’s My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, Kanye West stood on a table during one of HOV’s recording sessions, and demanded to be taken seriously as a rapper. This was before he was Yeezus Almighty, prior to adorning terrifying, bedazzled masks and emitting a genre-bending stigma he cultivated as one of music’s most schizophrenic minds. He was naught but a beat-making prodigy with nary an intimidating bone in his body. Unlike his mentor and big brother JAY-Z, Kanye didn’t channel street energy into his façade; he was a well-groomed, fashion-forward musician desperate for a way out of the loop that he was in. While some may have saw this as plea for attention, ‘Ye’s willingness to break the mold would come to define his entire being.
He went from understudy to boss in only a few short years. In 2004, he launched his own imprint G.O.O.D Music, in conjunction with Sony BMG. The collective was loaded from the start — John Legend and Common joined West as the label’s initial artists. The three-headed trident established a mantra as strong as Aquaman’s hold over Atlantis. G.O.O.D. Music was a place of harmonious bliss; the creation of quality tunes was the only thing that the label was concerned with. They became more than an imprint under another label ; they were a family, a brotherhood of generational talents with a vision to take over the game. They were the rap’s sweethearts, proof that nice guys finish first sometimes.
Through the years, the G.O.O.D. Music imprint has embraced the collective title. The roster’s been around the revolving door, with different faces coming in and out for more than a decade. Consequence and Mos Def came to the table and left to pursue their own ideas of success. Big Sean and Teyana Taylor entered through the front door and planted their feet in the ground, showing their commitment to meeting the success of their label forbearers.
In total, there are 12 artists currently in the mix. Each offers a drastically different aesthetic than the next; Pusha T pushes hauntingly bare, drug-fueled discourse about his glory days of narcotics-peddling while Valee knowingly laughs in the face of traditional rap mainstays and trolls ever so sweetly even if he’s technically spitting. The dozen makes up the constantly changing face of G.O.O.D. Music and its continuing commitment to providing the best, most individualistic art around.
When Kanye announced G.O.O.D. Music’s impending summer lockdown with a slew of upcoming releases from the label, fans gasped for air in rooms that suddenly lost it all. Pusha T’s Daytona crashed through the streaming gates first, containing a series of cocaine monologues, on May 25. Kanye himself came a week later with the puerile ye, exploring the misunderstood genius that constitutes his middle-aged brain. Exactly a week after that, Kids See Ghosts came out, proving to be the rollout’s biggest, and best, rollout so far. Nas’ Nasir recently released this past Friday to middling reviews; then, to cap off the G.O.O.D. calendar, Teyana Taylor’s sophomore album will arrive on June 22.
Five albums in the span of a month (although Nas isn’t a part of G.O.O.D. Music, Kanye produced all five projects) should be semblance of a takeover that can only be matched by the surprise release of Everything Is Love from iconoclasts Beyoncé and JAY-Z, but a strange trail of missteps could mean that this rollout could ultimately end up a fumble that continues to push the collective farther behind its competition in the hectic race for relevancy in 2018.
It took G.O.O.D. Music six years to reach its pinnacle. When Kanye West instituted a free weekly music release schedule called G.O.O.D. Fridays in August of 2010, the world fell head over heels in love with the collective’s rich cast of colorful characters. ‘Ye created rap’s first musical sitcom, with 15 installments airing through the week of December 17. Like a real television burlesque, a holiday chapter called “Christmas In Harlem,” aired a week before Christmas. This would be the final installment, but fans were salivating for new content. Everyone had their favorite characters, whether it was the recently introduced Big Sean, Common, or even Charlie Wilson. They wanted more. It was the collective’s time to shine.
The problem was that success for G.O.O.D. Music as a whole never congealed. Common left the label in 2010, telling HipHopDX later that the lack of collaboration was the reason he packed his bags. Consequence, noticeably absent from the collective’s esteemed “Rosewood” cypher at the 2010 BET Awards, released a diss song aimed at his old gang the following year. He cryptically rapped, “My crew ain’t been the same since Amber Rose and Taylor Swift.” If that wasn’t an indicator of trouble stirring under the hood, reception from projects released after the group’s high point were troubling. Big Sean’s debut album Finally Famous, released in 2011, was very prosaic to critics, with Pitchfork giving the album a 6.1, saying, “We can only hope that for album two, Sean will step out from the herculean shadows of the artists he surrounds himself with and learn the art of subtlety.” Pusha T’s Fear of God 2: Let Us Pray, released a couple months after, fared slightly better but still reeked of disappointment, critically and commercially. Kanye’s My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy, which came out towards the tail-end of 2010, was critically acclaimed, but the problem with that was that it was supposed to be. It’s Kanye. We knew his musical brilliance — we wanted to see how the rest of his hand-picked throng of artists could fare by themselves.
By 2012, the label buffed out the rough edges and tried for another run at rap supremacy. Their compilation album Cruel Summer released in September 2012, a couple of months before the widely-prophesized Mayan Apocalypse. The album’s modus operandi functioned as if it would be the soundtrack to Earth’s destruction. Lead singles “Clique” and “Mercy” leaned away from the colorful quirkiness of the collective’s last releases; a new, anarchic, trap-based sound manifested in its place. Elsewhere on the project, “Cold” and “Don’t Like” were angry and stark departures from the sound cultivated on the same album. Reviews were generally favorable from esteemed publications, but the group’s aesthetic was finally called into question. Do these guys even mesh together? What’s their give?
Maybe the album’s humdrum performance on the chart has prevented the label from creating any more compilation projects. We hear the G.O.O.D. Music name, but we don’t see the collective together as the days of old. The time that could have been devoted to establishing a sense of camaraderie between artists has instead been used to groom individual careers. Big Sean’s career has flourished with multiple well-received projects painting him as one of rap’s elite. Pusha T has released two more projects and has become President of G.O.O.D. Music. Teyana Taylor has become the ideal matriarch of mainstream media with her killer physique and over-the-top personality.
These artists are currently converging as each release date comes, one after another. Kanye announced their albums in bulk, painting them as a collective even if their releases are singular projects. Was his announcement an indicator of conviviality or a spur-of-the-moment sequence of announcements? Has Kanye imparted some of his knowledge into his hungry vessels? What does this mean for the summer?
It’s too soon to say if G.O.O.D. Music’s releases have a lasting impact. Of the four projects released so far, two have been applauded while two have been laughed at. Years of misalignment and lackluster projects have created a sense of collective apprehension from rap fans everywhere. Individually, a Kid Cudi, Pusha T, or Teyana Taylor project may sound nice. But in the same sequence of time, will these works speak to each other in the way that fellow collectives’ projects speak engage in conversation?
At one point, Frank Ocean was synonymous with Odd Future, hip-hop’s version of Jackass‘ motley crew. On his debut Channel Orange, the imaginative, idiosyncrasy that comprised Tyler, The Creator’s Goblin echoed true. “Super Rich Kids” captured the innocence of a meandering day of youths looking for purpose in a world of suffering; without anything to do, they turn to the wild theatrics evident in “Bitch Suck Dick” from Tyler’s Goblin. Two projects, separated by release dates months apart, seemed to be in conversation with each other, solely from the friendship and similar ideologies formulated by the album’s creators.
Each release from G.O.O.D. Music’s camp exists in its own continuum. Big Sean’s Finally Famous was a coming-out party for the new guy in rap, bereft with all of the bells and whistles that label executives believe make a “good album.” None of it could be seen in the same breath as Kid Cudi’s WZRD, an experimental rock-rap hybrid album that forgoes the industry semantics and focuses on the liminal space between emotion and understanding. And don’t even get me started on John Legend’s immensely personal brand of singing on Love in the Future and how its unspoken relation to G.O.O.D. Music doesn’t even exist.
Establishing the connections of the group never seemed to be the focus of G.O.O.D. Music; locking down some of the industry’s most unique minds seemed to take priority. We’ve seen over the years that, although they haven’t necessarily gelled like hip-hop collectives normally do, they’ve had flashes of brilliance unlike any other. If these could be harnessed and mastered, the group’s path to legendary status would be secured. Connecting the dots that exist between the roster’s eclectic cast of characters should be the one thing on Kanye’s mind as he thinks onward past these releases.
Beyoncé and JAY-Z’s surprise release of joint album Everything Is Love surely blasted a hold into G.O.O.D. Music’s scheduled rollout plan, so it’ll be interesting to see how Teyana Taylor’s rollout ultimately turns out. But if it’s successful and has a semblance of interconnectivity with the mental health vein of both ye and Kids See Ghosts, it will give strength to the chain, similar to the Lemonade, 4:44, and Everything Is Love trilogy. In order for G.O.O.D Music’s takeover of summer to have been successful, being able to connect the dots was, and continues to be, extremely important. While we eagerly digest each new project, let’s look for the hidden spiderweb connecting it all. If we can ultimately see G.O.O.D. Music for more than the sum of its parts, Kanye’s collective did its job properly.
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