Thursday, July 2, 2015

Vince Staples - Summertime '06 Review

By the end of 2015 we may be calling it the year Hip-Hop reached its pinnacle. Not for its greatness, which it’s not lacking, but its sheer diversity. You wanna sulk in the shadows, listen to Earl’s latest. Wanna show off your unbridled joy, Cherry Bomb is for you. Wallow in an opus of black sociopolitical culture, To Pimp A Butterfly fills that void. And now, with his debut album, Vince Staples weaves a tale documenting LA life as a black millennial. At the core lies a prototypical Gangsta rap album; gun violence, oppression, bad bitches, and drugs litter the landscape. On the exterior though, Summertime ’06 is defiantly personal, as realness, faults and all, seep out the seams. Learning from those closest to him, Staples, at just 21, has seen much of the Compton street life, being subjected to murders, prison sentences, and gang life, himself once being a Crip. Purely by coincidence, the life Kendrick Lamar aimed at revealing on Butterfly is the exact one Staples lived in the summer of ’06. And where Lamar provided answers, Staples supply’s the context. Fitted with production that’ll make the city streets quake, tremble, and regurgitate the sewage bubbling underneath, Summertime ’06 comes loaded like a Smith & Wesson gearing for a hot night under Long Beach’s setting sun. 

The intro, with a meandering beat glossed over by chirping seagulls, sets this stage. It’s eerie and ominous, as the coming storm looming ahead sounds off by the launch of a gunshot. Being that there’s (unfortunately) no narrative concept behind Summertime ’06, despite its presumptuous title, one can take it in a far more plausible direction, with each track filling the soundtrack to life on the streets through the sound systems passing it by. Every song here, as Feefo from DeadEndHipHop would say, bumps in the whip, and not just for its sonic approach, but one that witnesses the events surrounding it while rolling by four deep. Tag lines become synonymous with headlines unfolding, “they found another dead body in the alleyway” (‘Birds & Bees’), “Man down, Downey Ave and get shaded” (‘Norf Norf’), and “selling cocaine with my daddy out the Days Inn” (‘Get Paid’) all revel in realism. Streetwalkers bring out Staples' lewd remarks on ‘Loca,’ while drug dealers posted up on corners cue ‘Dopeman,’ and posers acting hard kick on ‘Street Punks.’ Everything is internal, contained within its own breath, never leaking, apart from this album, beyond the city limits. 

Apart from the content which drives the album, the one other thing making it wholly Long Beach is the language. Highly characterized, deeply-rooted slang bubbles on the surface of each song. Staples’ verbiage gets gnarled through a blender of inebriated tones, phrases, and drawl that nearly puts Big Boi, Big K.R.I.T. and the entire south to shame. It needs to be heard, but tracks like ‘3230’ offer up the clearest sounds of lingo to those not from the area. The opening lines, “Hittin' corners, thuggin' with the blower, barrel louder than a motor, keep the engine runnin' when a nigga run up on ya, another day in sunny California” flows like a crash course over hard, West Coast beats. The twang benefits Staples’ high-pitched voice as he effortlessly mashes words together to turn modest bars into adorned collages worthy of smattering. On songs like ‘Jump Off The Roof’ his lines bleed into one another, the words infinitely hyphenated, much like a fervor dream gone off the rails. Staples' lyrics and flow offer copious amounts of variety compared to gangster rap’s typically one-dimensional patterns. Some, like ‘Señorita,’ flip things to absurdist Migos levels, pulling off the triplet flow with precision while others, like ‘Hang N’ Bang,’ struggle to execute the already stale repetitious rhyming cycles by reiterating “that’s true” a litany of times.

The pitfalls of Staples’ lyrical tenacity are too shallow to account for though, moments often arise that allure the ear to its diversity. ‘Like It Is’' sudden spoken word segments are enticing, much like ‘Surf’s’ hollow, gap-filled verses. What can’t be forgiven are the choruses, easily Summertime ’06’s biggest detractor. Far too often Staples relies on redundant hooks that carry a singular phrase without much appeal, with a handful of tracks losing some of their replay-ability due to this overuse. The best ones, like ‘Surf,’ leave the choruses for others, in this case Kilo Kish, that presents a well-rounded track with Staples not trying to do it all. Even though it’s a Future sample, ‘Señorita’ works in much the same way, elevating the track itself through a unique blend of West Coast and the South. With tracks like the two previously mentioned scoured throughout Summertime ’06 it’s a shock Staples was able to make a coherent piece, as the alterations made throughout would honestly put any other gangsta rap record to shame. Never will you see a Southern banger smashed up against an autotune-enhanced love ballad inspired by Kanye’s ‘Lost In The World,’ but that’s exactly how Disc 1 ends. The contrasts throughout are paralyzing. 

These coherent perpendiculars mesh so well thanks to No I.D. and the production crew. Apart from a few duds, to be expected on a 20-song double album, the beats scurry by with reckless abandon as illustrious Internet-age banger concoctionist’s do their best to craft the world surrounding Vince Staples, resulting in a sound that circles the country. It isn’t hard to see influences from Dr.Dre (‘Lift Me Up’) or every Kanye West era (‘Jump Off The Roof,’ ‘Might Be Wrong’), but dashes of El-P (‘Like It Is’) and the South (‘Señorita’) flicker into the picture as well. Summertime ’06 seems to emphasize the deafening of musical pride locally as it showcases the globalization of music in the Internet age. The choice of producers can attest to that; No I.D. reps Chicago, DJ Dahi the West Coast, Clams Casino the East. Brevity forces me to speak of only a couple standouts despite their being a majority. ‘Dopeman’ is reminiscent of the opening to ‘m.A.A.d city’ with a rugged vocal prompt before a crippling bass erupts that engulfs the whole track, while Clams Casino inverts a drum loop, echoing it with itself on ’Surf,’ and ‘C.N.B.’ takes a rickety piano to the gutter with steam hissing along its wayside. 

As someone who typically looks down at Gangsta rap for its traditional approach to production, structure, and content, Summertime ’06 is a remarkable breath of fresh air, all whilst remaining true to the streets that raised it. There are blemishes here and there, for one the first disc is noticeably superior to the second with every potential filler track occupying the latter, but the overwhelming commitment to integrity and talent makes Vince Staples’ debut album one to behold. As Earl Sweatshirt haphazardly mumbles on disc two’s ghostly introduction, “I’m a mothafuckin’ legend,” the title couldn’t suit Staples’ declaration any better, not coincidently coming after emotionless gunshots. And, more importantly, after ‘Summertime’s’ somber derailment forging itself into a love song with someone who fails to believe such a thing exists. It’s Summertime ’06’s strongest song for its sheer audacity, one that fears not what those around him think and, just for a moment, allows Staples to express passionately his true feelings for his hopeful love and lost friends he endured in the summer time of 2006. 

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