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Vince Staples – Summertime ’06 (Extended Review)
There is a lot to say about this album, and to entice you to read further I can say it’s the realest competition that Kendrick has gotten this year opposing To Pimp A Butterfly in the album of the year race. Before going into the project, some light can be shed from what Vince posted along with the album art, and it serves as a powerful and sobering preface for the album itself:
Love will tear us apart. Nov 30th, 2005 was the beginning of the loss. The following summer multiplied it. Beaten paths, crowded with the hopeless. Same song every day, listening to the words of a dead man destroyed by his own mind and body. Why? Because at the end of the day we’re all dead anyway. At least where I come from. Love tore us all apart. Love for self, love for separation, love for the little we all had, love for each other, where we came from. Jabari, Chris, Shard, Tom, Richy, Tyson, Tony, Shelly, Phil, Marcel, Brandon, Steve, Jaron, Tay. Too many to name, too much to forget. Some lost to prison, some lost to Forest Lawn, some turned snitch. Some still here but it will never be the same. Bandanas, Stealing Levis and Nike Sb’s. Derringers and Sidekicks. Its crazy how little you notice and how greatly those things impact. Summer of 2006, the beginning of the end of everything I though I knew. Youth was stolen from my city that Summer and Im left alone to tell the story. This might not make sense but that’s because none of it does, we’re stuck. Love tore us all apart. Summertime ’06, June 30th.
Onto the review for Vince Staples’ debut album Summertime ’06.
I should start this by saying that I’m a big fan of Vince. His body of work has continuously impressed me, caught my attention, and become some of favorite Rap music. I’ve reviewed a couple of his projects in the past and if I can say anything it’s that he’s been one of the most consistently solid emcees in today’s rap game. And I don’t to stand too proudly on my soap box, but I really think he hasn’t been getting enough credit for it. His career properly started with Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1 which exhibited a Vince Staples showing his potential on short-and-sweet tracks like “Progressive”, “Trigga Witta Heart”, “Versace Rap”, and “Hostile”. Following that in 2012 landed Winter In Prague, which, in retrospect, is the only real misstep for Vince in his career. Moving on from that we had Stolen Youth in 2013. This was a mixtape entirely produced by Mac Miller under his pseudonym Larry Fisherman, and this was a collaboration that gave the project a well flesh-out sound. This was also a growth period for Vince where he really started rapping like he meant it while simultaneously showing his reach by assembling an impressive cast of features to fill out the release. Vince’s lyricism also came into focus on this mixtape, being bookended by the bars “live from Delusion, die on the street or reside in the ruins” and “swinging like T Wood tryna earn my stripes, yeah that uppercut will fuck him up so say goodnight”. It was an impressive outing; admittedly less personal than Shyne Coldchain but very impressive nonetheless. Then came 2014 where Vince started gaining some mainstream traction by staying on his grind and continuing to work out any kinks from his sound. That year we got the sequel to Shyne Coldchain and later his major label debut in Hell Can Wait, which was released via Def Jam. I mentioned this in the year end wrap-up post but the EP that Vince put together in Hell Can Wait bubbled up to the surface and solidified as my personal favorite project of 2014. Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 was great and “Truck Rattle” may be one of the literal best songs I’ve ever heard but there was something very universal about Hell Can Wait. It may be the beats, the album art, or the stark, macabre, yet relatable lyricism — probably a combination of the three — but everyone I showed the EP to loved it and wanted to know more. Luckily there was more to show them, being that to this point Vince has only released one subpar project with the rest of his career being just as impressive as this. So, with plenty of build-up, both hyped-wise and in thematic terms with Hell Can Wait‘s story arch, we have Vince Staples’ debut full-length album, Summertime ’06.
I had a really strong feeling that this album would be great, but I could never have predicted that Vince would drop an album that is this special. From the first time I gave the album a spin and the woozy knocking of “Ramona Park Legend Pt. 1″ filled my headphones and it was punctuated by the full-stop of a gun shot at the end of the record it was clear we were in for something more than just good. Stylistically, this album is a black sheep of sorts in today’s Hip hop landscape. Vince started this trend by releasing Hell Can Wait and finding his perfect combination of influences and talents and added an element of intoxication on this album. This pairs very well with his versatile loose-cannon rap style which he has been sharpening to this point. To start with his rapping, though, being that it still prevails past the great beats and solid atmosphere of this album as its shining feature, we really need to talk about Vince’s lyricism.
As the name of the album itself suggests, Vince is rapping from the perspective of himself during the summer of 2006. If you haven’t been keeping up with Vince in his interviews, let me tell you why that means so much and packs every single haymaker bar with even more emotional weight. Vince’s previous project Hell Can Wait was about the previous summer, before 9th grade, and continues up until his friend was murdered. The time is significant; this was a very different attitude than what we have heard from Vince thus far. As Vince has recalled himself, the rapping on the EP was from the perspective of a scrawny kid who was going into high school with a backpack that was too big and a mindset that was too high-risk. He was a young kid who was hanging out with the wrong group of dudes and was growing up in the wrong neighborhood. The perspective of a teenager is a good one for art, being that it’s such a tragically and necessarily flawed time of life. Vince used it well and the point-of-view rapping was executed incredibly with stories of drug-dealing fathers, police corruption, being entrenched in the gang lifestyle, and young love that wasn’t quite ready to blossom properly. It was also the first time that we heard a Vince Staples project with a sort of narrative thread, which noticeably improved his already stellar artistry. This is something that continued onto Summertime ’06, which we now see serves as a grand, fleshed-out coming-of-age story that Hell Can Wait was merely a prologue to. This, my music-appreciating friend, is where the gross majority of Summertime ’06‘s successes lie, its message. This album’s narrative starts almost right where the EP left off, beginning with a moment that changed Vince’s life.
A lot of people are pointing this out, but it’s important: Vince is playing the villain that you cannot help but root for on this album, and he does it really fucking well. This is a Vince who doesn’t live to impress his circle of friends or prove that he’s mature by acting older than he is anymore; this is a young man who is scraping as ferociously as he can towards survival. Vince’s nuance as an emcee goes deeper than that, however. This is an album that lyrically reflects the stresses, coping mechanisms, and escapes of a teenager who was forced into maturity past his years. Now, let’s address some of the specifics. There are three tracks I’d like to focus on here: “Norf Norf”, “Señorita”, and “3230”.
“Norf Norf”: Set to a heavy, murky instrumental constructed by the beat-virtuoso that is Clams Casino, Vince paints an image of the grisly gang lifestyle he is surrounded by that is so beautiful you’d think the young emcee has an art degree. Vince is prideful of his soil, which sets him apart from the artists like Kendrick Lamar who justifiably point out what the hood hasn’t done for them far before what it has done. I would compare Vince here to a YG or a DMX, those being rappers who have made careers embellishing and romanticizing the gang-banging lifestyle (see “Bompton” and “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” respectively), but Vince isn’t so heedless. He tells it like it is exclusively — as I’ve put it before, Vince has a certain eloquent bluntness to his raps — and this stoicism gives this portrait of the LBC on “Norf Norf” a lot of depth. Vince’s lyricism obviously shines here, but what punctuates it is a bar that summarizes what this song is about, the unending and uncaring need to persevere in a hostile and problematic environment: “folks need Porsches, hoes need abortions, I just need y’all out of my business.”
“Señorita”: Fitting into the cross section of its survivalist tone and younger, some would say juvenile perspective rapped from on this album, Vince does a whole lot of chest-puffing and muscle flexing on Summertime ’06. What separates Vince from the herd of other rappers who abide by the “I wish someone would try me” mentality is that he is a very believable antagonist. To add to this he’s also scarily confrontational, which plays out well in the first verse of “Señorita”: “fuck ya dead homies, run ya bread homie / got some lead for me, I’m on Artesia, parked in my Bimmer bumping my own shit”. To explain it in different terms: if you’re so brazen to want to run up on Vince, he’s courteous enough to tell you his exact location, which in this case is parked on Artesian Boulevard in his expensive car listening to his own music (which is an image that is too robust to even go into). With a beat whose bass knocks will send shivers down your spine and a sampled Future hook in tow, this served as a single that really gave an appropriate taste of this album’s tone and character. Vince has already proven himself to be on that real shit in his past releases — you’ll never catch Vince pump-faking — but this track takes his unshrinking menacing presence to a new level. “Señorita” will serve as Vince’s “Parental Advisory” or “Thuggin'”; or, in other words, the reminder to the opposition that Vince is not to be tested.
“3230”: Though this song also touches on the album’s motifs of intimidation tactics and being part of a very real human food chain, this record focuses more on the idea of being baseless (somewhat literally). Vince has gone into his home life in the past on tracks like “Screen Door” where he detailed dope-fiends knocking on his house’s screen door looking for his father, who was a supplier. Through his discography and even on other tracks on this album these hard-to-swallow images have been delivered from a detached place, maintaining the unbothered persona that is so important to the point-of-view Vince is rapping from. To juxtapose that while making Vince a bit more human, on “3230” we hear a bit more of how an eviction notice makes him feel. He doesn’t flat out tell us that it makes him sad like a less formidable emcee would, but the inflection he uses while spitting his bars is incredibly telling. He raps hard and he certainly sounds hungry but it has a layer of sorrow that conveys that there is more going on and this thuggish young Vince may be feeling more than he leads us to believe. This level of nuance is what’s brought consistently throughout Summertime ’06, which contributes to how much it deserves this commendatory review.
What adds to this and pushes the album to being Vince’s inarguable best work and one of the best albums of 2015 is its consistency. I talked about three tracks that managed to strike an excellent balance with great instrumentals and insanely sobering yet confusingly hype-inducing rapping while providing a vast amount of incite to Vince’s character and attitude in this album. But, with those three tracks thoroughly explained, I should let you know that almost every single track on this album is done to that level. There are plenty of things to talk about that are happening in tracks like “Lemme Know”, “Jump off the Roof”, and “Street Punks”, but I thought I’d leave some things for the listener to discover.
To summarize my thoughts into a concise TL;DR given that this review ended up on the longer side, I’d have to say that I’m excited for this album to be released on vinyl later this year so I can have it to listen to for the rest of my days. I am maintaining all objectivity when I say that Vince Staples released one of if not arguably the best album of this year so far. It’s honest, macabre, intense, stark, poignant, hard-knocking, game-shaking, and worth all of the immense hype that built in anticipation of its release. Vince Staples’ career has been stellar thus far, but Summertime ’06 is something quantifiably different: it’s a magnum opus.
“Lift Me Up” / “Norf Norf” / “Lemme Know” / “Jump off the Roof” / “Señorita” / “3230” / “Street Punks”