By Andy Bustard
Last month, Common confirmed his departure from G.O.O.D. Music. Sitting down with Sway for a special edition of MTV’s RapFix, the veteran Chicago MC explained that he’s no longer in business with Kanye West’s label, adding that Ye’s “focus was somewhere else” when he approached him to work on his newly-released album, Nobody’s Smiling (the two, however, remain good friends).
Common’s departure wasn’t exactly breaking news. Nobody’s Smiling was released through Def Jam and Artium, the imprint owned by No I.D., who solely produced the project, while his previous LP, 2011’s The Dreamer/The Believer, was also distributed without the help of G.O.O.D. Music. We all secretly knew the truth of the situation, but to actually read the headline “Common Speaks on Parting Ways With G.O.O.D. Music” was like watching Christopher get killed on The Sopranos. It’s just a heart aching reminder of how far removed Kanye’s once-exciting crew has become.
With every new offering, G.O.O.D. Fridays exemplified the tasteful ideology of Kanye’s clique: eclecticism in unison.
It was all good just
a week four years ago. In the run up to the release of his magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, in late 2010, Mr. West and his loyal disciples—Pusha T, Big Sean, Kid Cudi, Common, Mos Def, Q-Tip, John Legend, and CyHi The Prynce—topped up our music libraries with a new song (three of which would eventually appear on said album) every Friday for a total of 15 weeks. With every new offering, G.O.O.D. Fridays exemplified the tasteful ideology of Kanye’s clique: eclecticism in unison.
There was the euphoric posse cut “Good Friday” starring the slick rhymes of Common, Pusha T and Big Sean, with Kid Cudi and Charlie Wilson harmonizing the hell out of the hook; Kanye, Lupe Fiasco and Pharrell’s short-lived reunion as the supergroup Child Rebel Soldier on “Don’t Stop”; and the sophisticated yet sorrowful “Christian Dior Denim Flow,” on which Pusha T bragged, “The best thing in music’s being offered here.”
He was right. But where is the music now? More importantly, where is G.O.O.D. Music now?
Like Common, Kid Cudi’s departure last April was a blow for G.O.O.D. Music, and you could argue the group hasn’t been the same since. Cudi’s announcement was a little more surprising, and certainly more definitive than Common’s, but the signs were there as early as when Cruel Summer arrived two years ago.
The Cleveland crooner only made two appearances on G.O.O.D. Music’s somewhat disjointed debut compilation, including the solo effort “Creepers,” which couldn’t have sounded more out of place if MMG had shown up and turned it into their own posse cut—Torch included. Rewind even further to Complex’s July 2012 cover story on Kanye’s troops, in which Cudi fiercely bigged up his “family,” only to later reveal that he was mulling over his decision with Jay Z just a couple of months after the issue dropped.
Although his split was seemingly amicable at first, Cudi vented to Complex’s Joe La Puma this past February that he felt “underused” at G.O.O.D. Music, pointing to his minimal input to Cruel Summer, as well as his four-bar interlude buried towards the end of Kanye’s Yeezus album cut, “Guilt Trip.” The Lonely Stoner has since released his self-produced Indicud album, via his own Wicked Awesome imprint, followed by this year’s Satellite Flight EP—both of which display the kind of ambitious, genre-expanding vision that is no longer evident in G.O.O.D. Music’s ranks (outside of the boss, of course).
That community spirit that epitomized G.O.O.D. Fridays and Cruel Summer now feels like the Rosewood suit that’s gathering dust in the back of Kanye’s wardrobe. Name one G.O.O.D Music guest on Yeezus.
As for G.O.O.D. Music’s remaining roster, well, that’s a bit of a head scratcher. The output from Q-Tip, Mos Def and Mr. Hudson has been so scant, if existent at all, that you begin to wonder whether they’re even on the team anymore. Pusha T, Big Sean, John Legend, and Kanye himself have all released solid albums on the label over the last year-and-change, but that community spirit that epitomized G.O.O.D. Fridays and Cruel Summer now feels like the Rosewood suit that’s gathering dust in the back of Kanye’s wardrobe. Name one G.O.O.D Music guest on Yeezus.
It’d be easy to point an accusatory finger at Kanye. When Common said ‘Ye’s “focus was somewhere else,” he was right. Yeezy’s a father to a gorgeous baby daughter, a husband to one of the most famous woman on the planet, and an ambitious yet frustrated fashion designer with an Adidas collaboration in the works. Who else could even begin to imagine juggling all those roles, on top of trying to sustain not only your own phenomenal music career, but those of a label’s worth of established artists? It makes sense that Common and Kid Cudi left for greener pastures, and also why Kanye “gave up” the summer to Drake for the first time in his career last year. Simply put, he’s preoccupied with other things.
In a weird way, for all the lamenting of G.O.O.D. Music’s apparent decline, you can’t forget that this is the team led by Kanye West, the man with the highest quality control in hip-hop, the man who literally postponed his North American tour because he didn’t want to “compromise on bringing the show, as it was originally envisioned and designed, to his fans” after an LED screen got damaged.
Perhaps we should be grateful for G.O.O.D. Music’s scarce yet sacred output over the last four years, which can’t be said for many of rap’s other leading crews, who are either polluting the ecosystem with half-assed, formulaic “hits” or forcing new acts upon us who are mediocre at best (and who probably only got put on after threatening to waive their weed carrier rights). At the heart of everything G.O.O.D. Music does is quality. The glue that holds them together isn’t marketing appeal or mutually beneficial success, but an actual history between Kanye and every member of his team, whether it’s knowing Common from back in the day or letting Big Sean (before he was Big Sean) rap for him at a Detroit radio station.
The fact that, four years and a wave of new crews and movements later, we’re still talking about G.O.O.D. Music says it all. Their music cut through the crap then, and it continues to cut through the crap today.
The fact that, four years and a wave of new crews and movements later, we’re still talking about G.O.O.D. Music says it all. Their music cut through the crap then, and it continues to cut through the crap today. And nobody knows that better than Mr. West himself. “We never try to force-feed a lot of products to you just off the name,” he told XXL in October 2010. “It was about the music just being really, really, really good.”
Aside from being really, really, really good, Kanye’s music transcends its timestamp and continues to push hip-hop forward, even as it always us back to that time and space in which it was released. In the same way that people petition for that old College Dropout Kanye, it’s inevitable that you’ll hear “Good Friday” or “Christian Dior Denim Flow” and ache for G.O.O.D. Music to take over the game again. That’s the bittersweet curse of Kanye West.