Music Reviews
Summertime '06

Vince Staples Summertime '06

(Def Jam) Rating - 9/10

Vince Staples doesn’t want your sympathy. He’s the latest in an increasing long line of modern rappers whose bleak view of human nature trumps any good intentions he may have about his surroundings. The 21 year old paints a vivid portrait of misrerabilist prejudice, lacking any sense of humor whatsoever and spouting rhymes with cool nonchalance. To better understand Staples’s mind-frame, it’s necessary to thoroughly examine the circumstances that lead him to where he currently stands - the Long Beach resident still feels very much connected to his upbringing in Ramona Park, and as with any young man whose beginning to transition into a new phase in his life, he finds it necessary to gather plenty of anecdotal stories to better acquaint us with his past.

Staples is also at a point in his career in which the notion of self holds more value over anything else. The need to develop an outsider resilience is what encompasses his troubled adolescence, and in Summertime '06 he dramatizes those disenfranchised days in an episodic rather than thematic way. Though this approach of finding yourself through the creation of a full-length album isn’t novel, it’s also a necessary and even important step for Staples; his observational style isn’t any much different than Kendrick Lamar’s urban opus good kid m.A.A.d. City, and his whip-smart lyrical penmanship holds a mastery far beyond his age despite being a bit of a braggart with his own cleverness.

The amoral constitution of Staples’s persona in Summertime '06 is wholly fascinating, maundering on about everyday life with a smorgasbord of references right on the tip of his tongue. The potentiality of any unlawful activity is always looming behind his shoulder, which informs the reality he faces: “See, this weight is on my shoulders, pray Jehovah lift me up”, he cries out in Lift Me Up as a forbidding beat lures him to question his moral integrity and sanity. Staples openly describes being part of a gang as both his protector and destroyer, one that he couldn’t get away from since it was the only life he knew. But Staples never comes across as rebellious to his harsh surroundings, and openly accepts being part of a nuclear family that was surrounded by gang culture, as he expresses in Birds & Bees: “Rounds up in that chamber, I’m a gangsta like my daddy/ My mama caused another problem when she had me.”

Being brought upon that atmosphere in such an organic way is what keeps Staples from really speaking from the frontlines, having not been directly affected by the violence that encumbered his neighborhood. Which is why Staples has more of a talent to express himself as an open-minded moralist instead of describing things in vivid detail. In Norf Norf he finds himself at odds with how to proceed with his future, as his gang 2NGC offers him a proposition he better not refuse: "How I’m Crippin’ where I’m living, come and follow me/Pistol poppin’, Poppy street." Or in 3230, in which he describes how previous generations inculcate that gang mentality to their kids with eloquence: "Dollar and a dream, at night we maskin’ up/ the deadly game of tag, the older generations passed to us."

Vince is simply telling things as he sees them with an added dose of perspective, and surely gives a lot of thought to a topic that constantly boils in his head throughout the album: women. But even in those instances, Staples can’t contain himself from even analyzing his main vice: "What’s your addiction, baby? Love can make a bitch go crazy/Kiss, hug, fuck and then get faded, fall out and it’s all out war." In Lemme Know, he doesn’t know if he should fulfill his selfish desires by perpetuating his hookups with his current fling: "Can I hit it in the morning? Can I hit it at night?/And if I told you that I love you would you know it was a lie." Staples is never discreet, and stumbles when he tries to be vulgar ("Want to spend all night in your nine lives? Get to purrin’ when that liquor get to burnin’"), though when he shifts things to the perspective of his latina girlfriend in Loca it adds some welcome humor. The women in Staples’s life are jealous and insecure, which is something he acknowledges because he’s plagued by them as well.

Staples has so much to say in Summertime '06 that it’d be impossible to fully dissect in one listen, and his ingenious phrasing makes for a constantly amusing variety of vignettes. A record is only as good as the music that accompanies, though, and collaborative producer No I.D. delivers in spades and then some. Considering the hour-long full length it never drags and emphasizes minimal arrangements that gel together perfectly with Staples’s parched vocal delivery. Musically, the album is full of these lucid, transcendental moments, shifting from glowing, nostalgic reverie and dramatic, gospel-tinged passages to old-school break beats with a spare eeriness that justifies Staples’s menacing, stoical demeanor.

Staples can come across as contentious because he doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of the black experience, and doesn’t have any intention to civilize those that surround him, either. But listen closely and you hear a true moralist whose also intent on calling out those who wrong with an ethical framework. Part of what makes Summertime '06 effective is how it moves in quick succession with hardly a dull moment, narrating things as they are without artifice or fear of cleansing his less attractive parts. Staples shouldn’t have to be a preachy spokesperson for hot-button issues the same way Lamar intellectualizes his art, a mammoth responsibility for someone whose just about entering adulthood. The album does abruptly end with Staples mid-verse, after all, which proves he’s not done yet. As Dr. Dre once said, “So chill, ’til the next episode”.