Staples’ Debut Album Among 2015’s Best
On June 22, a week before the release date for his debut album, Summertime 06, Long Beach rapper Vince Staples tweeted “All I ask is that you listen with an open mind,” along with a link. The link was to NPR’s First Listen streaming service, where Staples had surprised fans with his 20 track double album a week early. The album officially released on iTunes today, but in the past week since it’s leak, Summertime 06 has been generating a lot of buzz.
In an explantation of the album’s title, Staples took to a lengthy Instagram post: “Summer of 2006, the beginning of the end of everything I thought I knew. Youth was stolen from my city that Summer and I’m left alone to tell the story. This might not make sense but that’s because none of it does, we’re stuck.” It is Good Kid M.A.A.D. City‘s story of hood adolescence mixed with the dark, depressed lyrics of Earl Sweatshirt and the result is mesmerizing. The album begins with Ramona Park Legend Pt. 1, a track with birds chirping over a minimal, bass beat, only to be cut out by a single gunshot. This begins our introduction to life in Long Beach, California. The action starts on the second track, Lift Me Up, one of the album’s best. The chorus of
“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 wanna live it up, can a mutherfucker breathe?
Life ain’t always what it seems, so please just lift me up,”
introduces us to the confused and occasionally depressed thinking of Staples.
Lift Me Up‘s heavy, bass filled production is present throughout the album, but it’s used in a way different from most rappers today. Instead of sounding like the bass filled music of artists like Chief Keef and Rich Homie Quan, the production team of No I.D., Clams Casino, DJ Dahi and Christian Rich created a new sound, think A$AP Rocky meets The Neptunes. This sound is present on songs like Get Paid, Loca and the Jhene Aiko assisted Lemme Know. The latter is another highlight of the album, and one of the most experimental tracks, as Staples and Aiko’s voices are layered in the verses to create both a male and female sound to the lyrics. A “love song” in the loosest sense of the word, Lemme Know is also one of the first glimpses at the rappers complicated relationship with women. The first, and only time he really let’s it all out for a girl is on Summertime, the final track of the first album. The Clams Casino produced song has Vince singing his verses in a low, mumbled voice and is the only time we see him show these emotions:
“I hope you understand, they never taught me how to be a man,”
“My feelings told me love is real
but feelings known to get you killed.”
The key to Summertime 06 is Staples’ ability to tell the tales of gang life and the dangers and crimes that come with it, without glorifying it or making it sound fun. The album can be an exhausting experience through the pain that growing up in the hood brings. Lyrics like “A week ago they killed my bro, thats been the price of banging,” (3230) or “Broken home, all I had was my homeboys,” (Surf) show that his childhood was no joke and “When the smoke clears, why was the war fought,” (Surf) proves that he is aware of the destructiveness of the gang culture. But it’s not only his adolescence that he touches on. On Might Be Wrong, a voicemail message from Haneef Talib vents “Hands up don’t shoot. Shot. Stand your ground. Blacks don’t own no ground to stand on.” Vince is aware that these are far from just Long Beach problems, but nationwide problems.
The albums first single, Señorita featuring Future, while good, is one of the “least Vince Staples” sounding songs on the album but the video brings forth an idea that he has hinted at in the past. It finds us in a post apocalyptic Long Beach, where people are being gunned down by the minute. In the end the residents find that a glass wall is trapping them inside, and they are stuck forever. On the outside of the glass is a happy, white family, smiling and pointing. This is reminiscent of something he said in an interview with Pitchfork in 2014: “Rappers are making this shit a petting zoo. They’re like, “It’s cool, you can walk up, we’re not threatening, we’re just musicians, it’s all an act.” But it’s actually a very real thing. It’s not a game.” In the the last verse of the album’s final full length song, Like It Is, Vince cuts out the beat to speak on this idea further.
“We live for they amusement like they view us from behind the glass
No matter what we grow into, we never gonna escape our past
So in this cage they made for me, exactly where you’ll find me at
Whether it’s my time to leave or not, I’ll never turn my back.”
Summertime 06 is a rare album that tells a story from front to back and gives a glimpse into the lives of Staples and many others growing up in the city. It’s easily one of 2015’s top albums yet and one of the best rap debuts in years.
Top Songs: Lift Me Up, Lemme Know, Jump Off The Roof, Summertime, 3230, Like It Is