Vince Staples is one of Hip-Hop’s up and coming golden boys and one of the only XXL freshman to really be onto something huge in recent years. Many people know him as being one of the guests on Earl Sweatshirt’s debut album Doris, and he caught even more attention last year with the release of a mixtape ‘Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2‘ and a fantastic EP entitled ‘Hell Can Wait’. On the EP Staples spoke of themes that are very common in Hip-Hop; the area he grew up in, the way he had to resort to a lifestyle of selling drugs to survive, the struggle to survive and the braggodocia that is paired with many of these themes in Hip-Hop.
In comparison to ‘Hell Can Wait’, ‘Summertime 06’ is darker in every sense of the word, even though Vince touches on many of the same subjects. Over the course of this 60-minute double-album Vince raps over the top of sonic landscapes that paint a very sinister picture of Long Beach. The opening tracks to both discs, ‘Ramona Park Legend, Pt 1’ and ‘Romana Park Legends Pt 2’ open with some eerie distanced synths and the sound of seagulls lingering in the background- it paints the picture of an overly quiet dock. Both the tracks end with the sound of single gunshot, a single gunshot that sounds like an execution. The second part of the two opening tracks features Earl Sweatshirt talking about the person who fires the gun to kill someone is typically glorified in gang-culture.
Within both sides of ‘Summerite 06’ Vince goes into deep detail about how he wants to be raised from ‘hell on earth’ that is Long Beach, and he details the many trials and tribulations he must go through to get there. He’s never optimistic with the way he deals with these subjects often acting as Hip-Hop’s complete contrast to Chance The Rapper. He states how your past never leaves you on the track ‘Like It Is’ and the very first thing we hear him say on the album is ‘Hey! I’m just a nigga! Until I fill my pockets/and then I’m MR Nigga!’. It’s like no matter what he feels he does he’ll never escape the feeling of oppression and resentment towards the people who make him feel like that, whether they mean to or not.
The very concept of making this into a double album carries this same burden of pessimism that Vince feels in his progression. Both of the discs contain very similar themes and it sounds as if Vince spends the entire first disc trying to get out of this hell — involving complications with girls and constant run-ins with the law — before ending up back in the exact same place anyway and having to do it all over again. On the second disc it sounds like Vince tries to take a different approach to get out of the hell, he takes a much more money-orientated and hardened approach with tracks like ‘C.N.B’ (standing for Coldest Nigga Breathing), ‘Get Paid’ and ‘Hang N Bang’ standing in stark contrast with a lot of the songs that had him focusing on how he feels about a particular girl whilst trying to escape, like ‘Lemme Know’ and the first disc’s closer ‘Summertime’. It’s sad reality that he feels he has to sacrifice love in order to escape oppression and asks the question, what sort of freedom is that? We never find out if his hardened approach ever works because the last song on the album ’06’ ends extremely abruptly, mid-sentence.
The darkness of this album is often created by the production on here. Vince sometimes — and not always successfully — takes a backseat on a lot of these tracks and lets the instrumentation fill the room. Kanye West’s mentor No ID handled a bulk of the production on here and Clam’s Casino handled another chunk. As a result the sounds on here are brooding and menacing while simultaneously jumping on many of the Hip-Hop trends of today. There’s the ambient sounds of ‘Summertime’ and the Trap-influenced sounds coming from tracks like ‘Norf Norf’ and ‘Senorita’, the latter of the which turns Trap music on its head with Vince taking a line from a Future verse and using it as his hook. It sounds so different from a typical Future song and doesn’t stick out in the tracklisting as odd, it still carries that sme brooding darkness.
Staples delivery on this album, as many have pointed out, can be very monotonous. He’s someone who doesn’t want to soften what he’s saying and the laid-back tone to his vocals go down a treat. The moments where he talks about love are moments where he still won’t have any optimism in his vocal infliction, and it makes this record stand that much more as a testament to his struggle. The moments where he does decide to turn-up the delivery on the more pop-orientated tracks make them that much more punchy such as the final line on the hook for ‘Norf Norf’ where he belts ‘NORFSIDE LONGBEACH’. There are unfortunately times when it feels like he should have turned himself up to bring a bit more charisma on parts of this album when the gloom doesn’t go down as well like on the verses for ‘Lemme Know’ with Jhene Aiko which has her over-shining him somewhat.
‘Summertime 06’ stands as a fine testament to how far Vince Staples has come as an artist so far. This album is ambitious without ever sounding overblown, overly-long or bloated. Vince Staples has captured his distaste, depression and determination to find something worth living for. ‘Summetime 06’ isn’t a joyous ride, but a brutally honest one.
Best Tracks: Lift Me Up, Norf Norf, Jump Off The Roof, Senorita, Get Paid, Street Punks