2015 has been a phenomenal year for Vince Staples’ fellow Odd Future starlets Tyler the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt, with both rappers releasing full-length albums to widespread critical acclaim, but neither have quite reached the emotional maturity and raw power of Summertime ’06.
Staples has always had a reputation for being the most villainous of the Odd Future members, as a 16-year old he stunned listeners with his twisted humour and sexually-explicit verses on tracks such as Earl Sweatshirt’s 2010 promo ‘ePar’. Now armed with a Def Jam record deal and a team of superstar producers, his shadowy hood nihilism is as prominent as ever – reflected in the eerily uneasy atmosphere that remains a constant threat throughout this ruthless debut. Opening track ‘Ramona Park Legend Pt.1’ is swelling in tension right from the off, wailing guitars and gloomy bass tones drag you right into the heart of Long Beach’s underworld before catching you off-guard with a single gunshot. It seems in this environment the only option is to fight back.
Snoop Dogg was the first to tell stories of Long Beach, Compton when he first arrived on the scene back in 1993. But in an interview with MTV.com, Vince explained just how much worse his neighbourhood has gotten since those early G-Funk days:
“It got worse because we’ve got the Internet now,” he said. “You had to run into somebody to have a problem before, but now you can get into a problem with people over the Internet. My little brother’s in jail for 15 years over something petty. “There are people who will never listen to my music because of where I grew up, and what kind of alliances they think I might have. And I think that’s a very sad thing, because at the end of the day, we all grew up together.”
By the time we reach the end of Side One we are confronted with ‘Senorita’, an educated examination of teenage gang-bang mentality and the subsequent interpretation by those on the outside. Gun-toting lyrics such as “Still bangin’ 2 Naughty 2 Nasty, Still ‘Fuck The Police’, they won’t catch me.” remind us that Staples remains volatile despite his maturity, and is still willing to “Mask up at midnight and start clappin’ / Kids crying, still snipe him, no lackin.”
The accompanying video for ‘Senorita’ furthers his image as the anti-hero of hip-hop. Razor sharp lyrics blare out across black and white scenes as we’re taken through a post-apocalyptic Long Beach: imagine if The Walking Dead had Crips instead of Zombies. As everything seems to be coming to an end around Staples, the camera zooms out to show a smiling white family watching the scenes from the safety of their home. This level of cultural awareness and creative response further emphasizes just how wise beyond his years Vince Staples is.
The appropriation of black culture and ignorance of the media are obviously issues that’ve really gotten under his skin, as he venomously spits, “Why they hate us? Why they want to rape us for our culture? / They greet us, feed us, bleed us, then they leave us for the vultures.’on side two’s ‘C.N.B.’ Towards the end of the album Staples delves into a Kendrick-esque spoken word interlude during penultimate track ‘Like it Is’ , staring straight into the empty abyss of his future – “But they look at us, and all they see is a nigga. It don’t really matter, anyway. We all gon’ die one day, man.”
Rather than glorify the benefits of a hustler regime; Summertime ’06 is crippled by anxiety in a similar fashion to Biggies Ready to Die. It offers no real way out of the lifestyle other than to die trying.
Finally, just as brutally as the album begins, it ends. Just like the first gunshot of ‘Ramona Park Legend Pt.1’, Staples is cut off mid-sentence, mid-word, by a sudden surge of feedback. Perhaps a final metaphor for just how easy it can be for everything to end. This abrupt conclusion is sure to leave fans gagging for more of the most dangerous new kid on the block.
Summertime ’06 is out now on Def Jam Recordings. The full track-listing for the album is as follows…