Artist: Vince Staples
Album: Summertime ’06
Release date: June 30, 2015
Producer: No I.D.
Released by: Def Jam Recordings, ARTium Recordings, Blacksmith Records
The first hip hop album I ever listened to was Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Blackstar, and it changed my world. That album began a lifelong love affair with hip hop, and I’ve intermittently been a fan of a variety of artists (MF DOOM, RjD2, El-P), but few have resonated as deeply as Vince Staples, and his debut album Summertime ’06. The first thing that distinguishes Staples from any other rapper I can think of is the way he seems to rap downhill, so that by the time he finishes one line, he is already into the next one. He achieves this effect by ignoring what seems like the most basic of emcee conventions, the pause between lines.
Nowhere is this more evident than on “Señorita,” the album’s chief banger, in which he describes the harsh realities of gangland life as if reading them off a stock ticker. “That’s somebody’s son but a war to be won baby either go hunt or be hunted, we crabs in a bucket he called me a crab so I shot him in front of the Douglas, we cannot be fucked with we thuggin’ in public.” This line from “Señorita” is delivered so easily that its sentiments, which could be seen as commonplace in the rap game, are given an extra sense of reality, as if Staples is simply describing his day. This combination of harsh subject matter and effortless flow give each song a sense of importance, and lends additional punch to the album’s descriptions of hopelessness.
Early in the album Staples claims allegiance to the Gangster Crips (a large southern-California-based set of one of the largest gangs in America), and throughout Summertime ’06 he confronts the harsh realities of gang life with a shrug. On “Jump off the Roof” the gang life and drug addiction lead to a twisted declaration of love, directly confronting the intractability of love in gangland: “I hate when you lie, I hate the truth too, can’t wait till you die, I hate that we through.” On “3230” he describes the way he was “Soldier since the stroller” and the way the death of his brother was just “The price of bangin’ since my granny Alameda(’s) days.” This fatalistic leaning that pervades the album would threaten to make it depressing, but the beats are inventive and addictive.
The album was produced (for the most part) by No I.D., a beatmaker so obscure he or she doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, though that will likely be remedied soon. No I.D.’s beats are filled with unexpected instrumentation and complexity enough to keep my attention even behind a slow, soulful sing-song as in “Might be Wrong,” which contains the funniest moment of the album. As he describes that when confronted with a moral quandary his sentiment is “Die to the world, I took the money” before in a softer way, as if in parentheses, he adds “wouldn’t you?” This gag illustrates perfectly the album’s ability to paint a picture blacker than the night, while keeping me riveted to its incomparable flow and inventive beats. Vince Staples Summertime ’06 has reminded me, once again, why I love hip hop.