Vince Staples offers us the haunting truths behind his sunny days in California with "Summertime '06"
I first saw Vince Staples through his baby picture, the artwork to his breakout mixtape, Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1, was floating down my Tumblr feed in 2011. However, it wasn’t until I was listening to Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris, that I was blown away listening to Vince completely slaughter the outro of “Hive,” and from there on anything else I heard him on. In 2014 after releasing his second installment of Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2, Vince dropped his EP, Hell Can Wait, in 2014. The seven tracks carried a consistent theme of darkness parallel with his own reality, which ultimately prepares us for his debut project. Vince's sound has consistently stayed with him, even through a mix of different producers ranging from Hagler on his last EP to No I.D. who produced a majority of his new album.
Vince holds admirable character by being himself and staying true to his message whether he’s rapping or not. The Long Beach native creates his cocktail sound reminiscent of Earl Sweatshirt's darkness, the political agency of J. Cole, with Jay Rock’s honesty about life on California streets, minus any glamorization. These pieces together bring us to Vince Staples, who on June 30th officially releases his debut album off of Def Jam Records, Summertime ‘06.
The album is jarring and not just because it’s produced by No I.D. The project masters the sinister sounds of what could be a horror story but instead is Vince's life. It's the suspense and the pauses between piano keys, that keeps us waiting, nervous for the kill - or in this case, Vince's raps.
The album is a double disc, just hitting past 57 minutes of 15 tracks, all quick not wasting any time. Except for a few records, they all seamlessly bleed into one another, making Summertime ‘06 an album you will effortlessly listen to the whole way through. The project contains the equation for success. An equation somewhat familiar to Kendrick Lamar’s g.o.o.d. Kid m.A.A.d city, in that Vince combines outstanding production, a theme, key guest verses, and banging lyricism both in terms of content and swiftness, all while sharing his stories. For a debut, Vince absolutely did his thing. While I’m not 100 percent the project will wake everyone up who hasn't heard him, I know he is damn well on his way.
Staples introduces us to what for him was the epitome of the summer of 2006; the relaxing, wondering sounds of the coast, abruptly followed by gunshots. “Lift Me Up,” is exactly what hip-hop needs right now. In this one track alone, Vince picks apart so many conflicts, “Fight between my conscious, and the skin that’s on my body. Man, I need to fight the power, but I need that new Ferrari.” On top of No I.D., DJ Dahi was a perfect choice for production, with his array of tracks such as “Money Trees,” the record conveys the constant realities and problems that aren’t going away anytime soon. His skills lies in his ability to spit rap politics, as simple as the truths themselves, “All these white folks chanting when I asked ‘em where my niggas at? Goin’ crazy, got me goin’ crazy, I can’t get wit’ that. Wonder if they know, I know they won’t go where we kick it at.”
“Norf Norf” carries the swing of an old school Long Beach sound, supported by a guest spot production of Clams Casino. The chorus is very Vince, the shout out to and repetition of “Northside Long Beach,” rings similar to previous tracks like, “Hands Up,” with Vince shouting the most accurate emphasis of syllables, “LAPD they ain’t bout’ shit,” over and over again. Not just anyone could pull off this style, but it works for Vince, and maintains a centered presence in the midst of his wild collection of raps. Progressing into “Birds & Bees,” the record offers a haunting calmness. Vince describes what feels like a dream like sequence, or an episode of the Twilight Zone, but instead real life, “They found another dead body in the alley, they found another dead body in the alleyway.”
Tracks like “Loca” don’t necessarily lose me, but I don’t feel their outright significance. The record is clearly catchy, and the lyrics roll off your tongue, “You ain’t nothin’ but a vibrant thing, ass too thick for your 5’10 frame,” but it sounds like it was aiming to be a single for the album without the full work of one. Similarly with “Lemme Know,” I wasn’t completely won over, however the collaboration between Vince, Jhené Aiko, and Dahi made it something special. The sound is miles apart from their last project, The Vapors, with Jhené’s tone instead perfectly matching Summertime ‘06.
After hearing Vince spit on “Trappin’” by Kilo Kush, I was immediately intrigued. The two artists intertwining sounds prepares a flawless mood for the entire project. Alongside Joey Fatts, “Dopeman,” is everything eerie, cold, and menacing yet Kilo’s voice keeps us ironically undisturbed throughout the records brutal accounts of the drug world.
The transition straight into “Jump Off The Roof” is solid. The high pitched chorus is perfectly juxtaposed off the previous ending, however besides this, the song doesn’t leave me quite full. Vince is quintessentially spitting about the relationships which occupy his world - drug addiction, love, life, and God, all omnipotent, but I he could have gone in even harder.
“Senorita” was the ultimate entrance for the world to know about Summertime ‘06. With a hook from Future, Vince raps his model style. Monotone and straight, he paints us a picture of his neighborhood. The creepy slight of piano and the powerful bassline is done by Christian Rich, who has produced other, more electronic tracks with Vince such as, “High.” The video captures the perfect rendition of the album as he shares with us later in the project, “We live for they amusement like they view us from behind the glass.” On top of this, I applaud the extent that he speaks about his own community - the products of American racism which essentially are wars that inherently place Black men against one another. “That’s somebody’s son but a war to be won. We crabs in a bucket, he called me a crab, So I shot at him in front of the Douglas.”
The first disc culminates into “Summertime,” where Vince continues to portray his diversity of skills. Like we hear from “Limos,” on Hell Can Wait, Vince does his own version of singing and rapping, creating what feels like a one on one conversation between him and the listener. It is this fight between trying to survive as a young man of color, while being valued as a human being that Vince is opening up to us about, “My teachers told me we was slaves, my mama told me we was kings. I don’t know who to listen to, I guess we somewhere in between. My feelings told me love is real, but feelings known to get you killed.”
Those sounds calling back to beach days and gun fire quickly resume on “Ramona Park Legend, Pt. 2,” as Earl Sweatshirt helps out with the disturbing plainness of Vince’s lyrics which soon dissipate into the background. But then “3230” quickly crescendos in with a braising intro as Vince gives a quick glimpse into “another day in sunny California.” The track follows the fastness of Vince’s thoughts and constant worries, mirroring what could be seen as a different, updated version of Ice Cube’s, “It Was A Good Day.” On Vince’s second hit with Kilo and production again by Clams Casino, “Surf” is an eloquent mess of oxymorons. The production could double as the background for an jungle like escape scene out of an action movie, but really, an escape from life.
The transition into “Get Paid” is somewhat separate, but none the less the song is fire. Like so much of Vince’s music, his production is so on point, the beats so well done that it could be that much easier for him to rely on but he never does. Even with catchier tracks like this one, Vince is still delivering us the fucked up realities of his childhood, “Sellin’ cocaine with my daddy out the Days Inn, nothing but a G thang.”
I love the beat on “Street Punks,” the bassline knocks beyond words. Yet Vince I felt there was a bit too much slowness surrounding the hook. The overall sound matches his nonchalant style and lyrics of the record, which albeit simple are furthest from it in content. The deep bass on “Hang N’ Bang” does its work, maybe even better than the previous track, with A$ton Mathews adding momentum to its speed.
Working his way to the end of the project, “C.N.B.” and “Like It Is,” help bring home Vince’s themes of the gentrification, victimization, and appropriation of Black America and the weight he holds on his shoulders to share this with the world. With lyrics from “Don’t shake my hand unless you’re passin’ payment, keep your salutations need my forty acres” to “the police kill us so we make up our own laws,” Vince brings back the roots of why hip-hop exists in the first place. Summertime ‘06 ends real quick, starting on a high note like “Get Paid” to be cut off by static much to the likes of how quickly lives are stopped cold blooded on Vince’s streets, with the stress of everyday life essentially just a cliffhanger.