(Cover by DONDA)

Kanye West has arguably assembled the most versatile, well-rounded, and stylish hip-hop collective on the planet in G.O.O.D. Music. Nearing the release date of their highly anticipated Cruel Summer compilation LP (due September 7th), the crew of Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Common, Pusha T, Big Sean, John Legend, 2 Chainz, and Q-Tip grace the cover of Complex Magazine’s August/September issue. Fresh off their #1 hit “Mercy,” their first-ever live television performance at the BET Awards, and shaking up the radios with their “New Gold Flow” anthem, Complex’s editor-in-chief and chief content officer Noah Callahan-Bever speaks with the key players in a roundtable discussion on their careers under the guidance of hip-hop’s #1 artist.

“Kanye West is presently re-envisioning your world. That’s right, if the 35-year-old multi-disciplinary artist has his way, DONDA will rule everything around us. Seven-screen cinema, womenswear, menswear, design of all kind, even education—he has a plan for it all. But it starts with music. G.O.O.D. Music, to be specific. West has cultivated a wildly diverse range of talents—including John Legend, Common, Kid Cudi, Pusha T, Big Sean, Q-Tip, Mr. Hudson, Teyana Taylor, Cyhi, D’Banj, Hit-Boy and (unofficially) 2 Chainz—and will be releasing the ensemble’s first group album, Cruel Summer, this month. Complex assembled the massive—minus Kanye, who maintained his “no press” policy—for the first time to discuss this project, the crew’s creative chemistry, and West’s new world order.”

Read some excerpts, plus behind-the-scenes video and photos after the jump…..

Many of you have done albums with other labels. What’s the difference when you put out a G.O.O.D. Music album?

Common: ’Ye’s perspective is “We’re going to make the purest music, and make it reach. There ain’t no limitations to where you can reach.” So, like he said, it’s about quality.

Sean: Ain’t nobody perfect, you know what I’m saying? But we’re probably the closest motherfuckers to it. [All laugh.]

I don’t know how other people live, but I know right here we represent honesty and realness. —Kid Cudi

Pusha, you worked closely with Pharrell on those first two Clipse records. How has it been putting together your solo album with Kanye?
Pusha: ’Ye has always got a million things going on, so once I got a great body of work done, I flew out to London and I played it for him in the middle of his clothing sweatshop. [Laughs.] We played it for four days straight. He’s like, “Man, I love this. I don’t like that. I’m going to redo this beat….” It’s the best thing in the world, because he’s going to tear your shit all the way down, and then build it back up. It doesn’t get any better than that.

You’re all very talented, very different artists who make very different music.
Q-Tip: And the thing about ’Ye is he’s able to see the common thread through everybody. It’s good that niggas see that—niggas like us forming like this. Especially in rap music, you hear a lot of motherfuckers talk about getting their own shit, in an individual sense. But everybody needs somebody, and what we represent is community.

What does it mean to have Kanye West involved in the production of your album?
Cudi: He knows what he’s talking about. It’s crazy how insanely smart he is—it’s frustrating at times. When I’m playing him stuff, he usually likes it. [Laughs.] But I remember there was a time when I played him something, and he was like, “Turn it off. That was terrible.”

We were in Hawaii, working on 808s & Heartbreak. That was when I first got on board, and I was doing hooks, and I was just trying to find my place. One day, I got to the studio early, and I was like, “I’m going to make a beat.” Then he came in, and I was all excited to play it…. He made this face. I was like, “Oh my God. I want to make sure he never feels like that about anything that I ever make again.”

Common: He was the first producer that I had that was like, “Man, change that verse.” or “Nah, that line is weak. Hell nah.” [All laugh.]

Cudi: But that’s what it’s about, man. And I didn’t feel bad. I was like, “OK, back to the drawing board. I bet that nigga won’t say that again.” I don’t think he’s shot down any song I’ve played for him since.

Kanye is well-known for his ruthless pursuit of quality. He doesn’t accept less than 100 percent from himself, and he certainly doesn’t from those around him. Do you feel pressure?
Tip: I don’t feel like that because, like you said, he understands what the talent is—it’s on par with his. One thing that we all have in common, Kanye included, is that we all want to be great. We all have that drive. Kanye channels it—he’s the nucleus. But at the same time, it’s collaborative. He’s open to whatever it is. If there’s pressure, it’s just to do outstanding shit. And that’s more of a drive than a pressure.

Cudi: Luckily, everybody has their own vision. No one is lost. A lot of artists get lost. They drop an album, and then they go fucking blank. But everybody here sees their career 10 years from now. I don’t think anybody is seeing their career year to year, like a motherfucker working check to check. Everyone has their own vision, so there’s no pressure.

John Legend: There have been plenty of artists signed to artists’ labels that haven’t had nearly the kind of success as the head of the label. Even with G.O.O.D. Music we have artists that have done very well, and we’ve had artists that haven’t. Being attached to Kanye is only going to get you so far. You’ve still got to have the records, the talent, and the artistry to carry it on your own.

Common: If you’re forming a business, you go get people that can do their jobs well, and you don’t have to micromanage them. Like Cudi was saying, we all have a vision of our creativity for years to come. This is going to sound crazy, but it’s something to think about—Big Sean might have been 2 years old when my first album came out.

Sean: Yeah. My homie put me on, though.

Tip: He wasn’t even born when my first album came out. [Laughs.] Damn.

Speaking of which, 2 Chainz, you’re charging a hundred a verse?
2 Chainz: [Laughs.]

How much to answer questions?
2 Chainz: A thousand a line.

Can you tell me what the nature of your relationship with G.O.O.D. is?
2 Chainz: I’m not officially signed, paperwork-wise, to G.O.O.D. Music. But I have a great rapport with ’Ye. He called me before Watch the Throne came out. I’m an only child. I’ve got trust issues. So I don’t have a best friend, a brother, sister—nothing. Stuff was happening in my life that I couldn’t tell nobody. I didn’t have anybody in my life that I could tell, like, “’Ye just called me.”

I’ve talked to ’Ye 1,000 times about trying to make this situation work for the both of us, so it won’t feel like anyone is getting used or anything. I’m in a position in life where I like talking about things like that. I came from a situation with DTP, being under Luda, where I got a phobia. Sometimes when an artist signs another artist, they’re so worried about themselves. And with ’Ye, he helps everybody.

Has Kanye changed your process?
2 Chainz: When I do a song, I consider that song history. Around here, they go revisit the song, touch it up, change it, flip it, move it around. [All laugh.] Dude sees all these fucking colors and builds around your vocal tone and moves it around. “Mercy” is some cool-ass genius shit, where he separated the sounds and voices. From the fucking chant, to the hook, to “swerve,” to Sean, to P, and even him switching it up with me coming back in. That’s just what radio needs.

Tip: You know what’s the cool thing about Kanye? Once niggas get to that No. 1 spot, they play it safe. They’ll put out joints that just fit it right, and they’ll get the right motherfucker to sing it. ’Ye don’t give a fuck. He’s trying to change that whole shit. It’s brave, and more niggas need to follow that example.

Cudi: Sometimes in hip-hop people forget about the bed that the lyrics lay in. You can enjoy the raps, and you can enjoy the music at the same time—to the point you don’t mind hearing it for another 30 to 35 seconds. It’s like back in the day, with motherfuckers like Mozart. There wasn’t no fucking words on that shit. It was just sounds and beautiful-ass melodies. That’s what was entertaining to people. I think it’s cool to bring back the instrumentation. When you do shit like that, when kids hear a record that has a long-ass instrumental break—and it’s mad creative, with strings—that triggers kids’ minds.

John Legend: He’s always pushing himself. That’s always been part of his core. That’s what makes him try new things with each album. He’s already been where he was, and he’s ready to move. He’s consistent in the fact that he’s willing to change. He’s willing to push himself and go beyond what he did in the past.

2 Chainz: I’m confident in the music I’m putting out. Me and ’Ye had—it wasn’t an argument, but a conversation. He said, “You shouldn’t put this out,” but my confidence told him, “This shit is going to work.” I premeditated all these things—the timing and everything—and it worked. I thought that was the coolest thing, because Kanye hit me back and let me know that was the move.

Sean: That basically happened with all my singles. ’Ye was like, “I don’t know.” And then they ended up working, and he was like “Good job.” [All laugh.]

Common: I’ve had the opposite experience. They’ve been saying, “Yo ’Ye, I’m going to put this out,” and then, he’s like, “No,” and that shit works. I’ve been like, “Man, I don’t like that shit,” and it turns out to be somebody else’s song, and that shit be a hit. [Laughs.] I passed on a lot of beats he’s done and…

Cudi: —[Makes bomb noise.]

Any in particular?
Pusha: “Niggas in Paris.”

Tip: You passed on that?

Pusha: Yeah.

Sean: Get the fuck out of here.

2 Chainz: He ain’t lying. I thought Pusha had that beat. I heard that three or four times, and it wasn’t for him.

Read the full cover story over at Complex.

Photos by NABIL

Behind-the-scenes video/interview.

Issue hits newsstands officially on August 7.

Kanye West & Pusha T Bring “New God Flow” to Atlantic City (Video)
Kanye West Performs “New God Flow” Acapella at the BET Awards 2012
Pusha T Announces G.O.O.D. Music’s ‘Cruel Summer’ Release Date
Kanye West, Big Sean, Pusha T & 2 Chainz – “Mercy” (Video)
The G.O.O.D Music Family Stands Together (Photo)
Kanye West Debuts ‘Cruel Summer’ Short Film at Cannes Film Festival
In Studio: The Making of the G.O.O.D. Music Album With Common, Big Sean & More…