ARTIST: VINCE STAPLES
ALBUM: SUMMERTIME 06
LABEL (YEAR): DEF JAM RECORDINGS (2015)
FOR FANS OF: JOEY BADDASS, ACTION BRONSON, CHANCE THE RAPPER
Words by Evan Musgrave
Where most gangsta rappers provide a vivid, cinematic tour of their unfortunate reality, Vince Staples’ debut album is at once a deepening and a departure from tradition – this is an uncomfortable listen which resists the temptation to provide relieving moments of crime-related glamour. It’s elegant, but only in the sense of expertly capturing the cruelty of the world around him. Summertime 06 is a masterful work which hits its stride in the first verse of the opening track – the anti-racial profiling ‘Lift Me Up’ - and simply never looks back.
In the new wave of southern Californian rap music depicting hood life, this album sits in the scintillating terrain between game-changing texts like Kendrick’s Good Kid M.A.A.D. City and Schoolboy Q’s Oxymoron, yet the sound is entirely his own. Earlier collaborations with fellow LA heads Odd Future endows Staples with the confidence to experiment with song structures and develop a general tendency towards abstraction in songwriting. The sound is jangly and unconventional - radically sparse at times - and the lyrical approach is laced with disjunctive stop-starts over the album’s twenty vignette pieces. At the same time the majority of the album is most definitely headbop-able. Like the two aforementioned albums, it stands as a middle finger to mainstream standards while remaining cognisant of appealing to a large audience.
Unlike Kendrick or other modern LA heavyweights like YG, there’s no nostalgically-tinged neo-G Funk synth lines here; indeed, there’s very little in the way of summery sounds anywhere on the album, which seems to be the general point that Staples is at pains to make – gang life strips one of innocence; there’s no such thing as a summer when you’re dwelling in hell.
As this is a major label release, it’s inevitable some cuts which are friendlier to radio appear in the mix. While this produces some of the album’s more conventional approaches to songwriting (e.g. ‘Loca’) it also showcases the supreme ambition of this rapper and his uncanny knack for crafting hard-edged but strangely catchy tracks (e.g. ‘Lemme Know’, ‘Señorita’, ‘Jump Off The Roof’). The album’s high points are arguably when this unpredictable ruggedness is fully embraced; at times it even takes on a gothic timbre, while managing to avoid being melodramatic, as is the case with ‘C.N.B’. Such brooding, free-flowing landscapes allow Staples to philosophise from the rubble of his surroundings, dropping aphorisms like “the more tan the man, the more alone and hopeless” every odd line.
While he ruminates on society, he never forgets to provide the listener with a window to his own identity. This is where less talented socially-conscious rappers have tripped up: providing a didactic case for change with scant attention paid to presenting an engaging personality. His soul-searching final statements on ‘Like It Is’ that he’s “gotta be the one/ to do it like nobody has ever done” does come off as even a tad unnecessary however - proclaiming his defiant individuality is rather redundant at this stage: he has already proved this with each and every track on the album.
Key tracks: ‘Lift Me Up’, ‘Norf Norf’, ‘Señorita’, ‘C.N.B’