Vince Staples Doesn’t Hold Back on Debut Album ‘Summertime 06′
Vince Staples has never fit a mold. The streetwise rapper from Long Beach and 2015 XXL Freshman has a long lineage of rappers whose model he could follow as he begins to assert himself on the hip-hop landscape, dating back to Nate Dogg, Snoop and Dre and their funkified, bouncy party jams, or more recently with the Compton-bred MCs YG and Kendrick Lamar, anchors of opposite sides of the current Cali hip-hop spectrum. But on his Def Jam debut, the double album Summertime '06, Staples largely rejects the sonic landscape of his West Coast predecessors, instead relying heavily on Def Jam's in-house Yoda No I.D. to craft a stark, brooding LP that is completely his own.
A double album is daunting for most rappers, with only a handful throughout hip-hop history truly able to pull it off, but for a rapper's debut it's almost unheard-of. But Summertime '06 is assembled with that issue in mind, varying styles and moods in a way that makes its 20 tracks feel more cohesive and compelling than most could squeeze into a single disc. His first single, the Future-sampling "Señorita," is probably the most attention-grabbing song on the whole LP as Future's looped vocals stick out from the rest of the project. The rest of the LP takes a more invested listen to really pull apart; the beats and vocals are sewed together so tightly that they can't be differentiated. It's hard to imagine, for instance, anyone taking an instrumental and remixing it to put their own spin on one of his songs. Each cut is tailored specifically to Vince's style, with each guest spot augmenting and adding touches of flair without taking away from his singular vision. He largely dismisses the idea of a big, sweeping chorus, instead crafting hooks from particularly poignant sections of his raps, using refrains as talking points of his overall narrative rather than breaks from his relentless bars. The result is an album that grows more impressive with more listens.
What Summertime '06 brings to the surface is the image of a young kid surrounded by the violence of the streets trying to balance the harsh, violent realities of his surroundings with the crushing knowledge that, without a miracle, there doesn't seem to be a way out. But rather than sink under the strain, Staples' vision finds the silver lining, presenting a raw, unrelenting view of the world from ground level and the lessons and instincts it takes to survive. "Lift Me Up" lays out that idea: "See this weight is on my shoulders, pray Jehovah lift me up/And my pain is never over, pills and potions fix me up/I just want to live it up, can a muthafucka breathe?/Life ain't always what it seems, so please just lift me up." "Norf Norf" finds Staples laying out the nuances of Long Beach, with its drone-like Clams Casino beat giving him a platform to mix generalizations with specific incidents to show what he deals with on a day to day level. It's among the closest he gets to something that could work on radio, but that's another mold that Staples has no time for. What's the point of getting a radio record when the bottles, models and Bugatti's don't come around these parts? Instead, as he points out on "Birds & Bees," he's much more likely to come across another dead body in the alley. Leave the club to people who have fewer problems weighing on their mind.
"Like It Is," the penultimate track on the album, is arguably its best: "I gotta be, I gotta be, I gotta be the one/To make it up to Heaven, despite the things I've done/I gotta be, I gotta be, I gotta be the one/To make my momma proud, feel like her only son," he raps on the hook. But as the beat drops out to just a simple piano line towards the song's conclusion, Staples leaves the storytelling behind and gets as real as he does on the entire LP. "No matter what we grow into we never gonna escape our past/So in this cage they made for me, exactly where you find me at/Whether it's my time to leave or not, I never turn my back." Summertime '06 isn't intended to cater to anyone who doesn't want to take the time to peel back its layers and follow along and feel its ugly truths. It is, to its core, exactly what it intends to be, regardless of what anyone else may think or say or try to impose upon it. It is, simply, one of the best rap debuts of the year. And Vince Staples didn't have to follow any mold to make it that way. —Dan Rys