It’s been only two summers since 10 Summers, but it may as well have been ten. 2014, now, comes mostly in brief barbs of sensory memory. It was a hot year, meteorologically and sonically. And it was an unlikely, unsung upstart with an admittedly whack moniker whose understated yet unshakable anthems soundtracked the now-fragmented record of that year’s temporal motion picture.
Mustard, as I remember, wasn’t always an accepted figure within the current generational outcrop of street-smart, media-literate agents of the newer hip-hop culture — at least among fans. He was as divisive as he was prolific. He populated comments sections and hashtags with equal vitriol and veneration. And it was the intercourse circling his monolithic sound that proved so fatal to his staying power. The ten summers were his hundred days.
Cold Summer amounts to a slight return. Doubling down on his chops and trademarks, Mustard’s project operates as a challenge to the dick-riders and to the haters, to the great imitators. In the same token, it offers an airing of grievances and an olive branch: burying the hatchet with business-partner-in-crime YG on opener “Been a Long Time” and “Party,” the two sound as complementary as ever, ready to flex, brothers in arms. But this is not just a “rap” album: Cold Summer further explores the producer’s experiments with a genre of melodic counterpoint, one too in the name of amity: among others, Ty Dolla Sign hops on three tracks, offering his leaping, distinct Atlantan drawl as a friendly foil to Mustard’s more laidback, static L.A. Z-funk. Jeremih, with his lullaby-like coo, contrives a similar en-garde to Mustard’s intrinsically conservative, tonal note relationships. The effect is often purple, sublime.
Unlike other nominal deejays, Mustard’s releases function less as object curation and more as showcase of subject — that is, Mustard and his own talent. It is never mistakable who moves and who shakes here; guests are simply along for the ride. But it is a thoroughly enjoyable one for the listener, too: at times unexpectedly turbulent — a wild-eyed RJ, an artist who I fully admit I wasn’t even aware, appears inexplicably halfway through “Know My Name” — but even then, Cold Summer speeds through it like a Maybach or Escalade: apparently vulgar, but as long as you’re in it, you don’t have to look at it.
In a year defined by compulsive, preemptive narrative-making, the cuckolding of a dangerous narcissistic impulse, and an exhausting (but not exhaustive) discourse of struggle, Cold Summer is a welcome invitation to a lyrical simplicity, to pseudonymity, and to fellowship, all with an impression of narcotic pleasure. Extra mustard.