Album: Summertime ’06
Artist: Vince Staples
Released: 30th June, 2015
Gangsta rap has been around, in some form or another, for the better part of the last 30 years and while the specific musical trends of the various hip-hop eras have come and gone in the intervening years, thematically, not a whole lot has changed. The artists involved have consistently maintained a certain pride in the harsh violence of the environment that raised them while still acknowledging that same environment’s desperate hopelessness. In this regard, it can feel like everything that Vince Staples says on his 2015 debut studio album, Summertime ’06, has been said before and better. Yet, there is an underlying current of listless resignation passing through much of the album that sets it apart from the confident defiance of its more storied predecessors in the genre. This despondence is accompanied, very fittingly, by some of veteran producer No I.D’s most intriguing production work – a sullen, suppressed resentment runs through the album’s sound and ties the whole project together very convincingly. The final product is far from perfect but it is a worthy attempt nonetheless.
A big portion of the the little that sets this album apart from its contemporaries comes from Staples’ ability to acknowledge, in very blunt terms, the discomfort and difficulty of the life he’s lived while still refraining from glorifying it. It’s a tougher balance to strike than you might think – albums celebrating the street life are a dime a dozen but there isn’t really an audience for an album wallowing entirely in self-pity and misery. The album carries a message of defeated acceptance but also forced optimism – one of the album’s catchier songs, ‘Jump Off The Roof’ is a sombre look at his vices and addictions but accompanied by frenzy-fueled production. The contrast is an interesting one and the track is one of several that reframes familiar themes in slightly new ways. The trouble however, is that Vince Staples just doesn’t quite have the gravitas to keep the whole album going by himself. At over an hour in length, the album, especially its second half, feels too long and isn’t helped by its overall lack of variety. In fact, Summertime ‘06 is an album that would have benefited tremendously from additional guest appearances. Simply put, the things Staples can do, he does well; several tracks on the album have some great lines and for certain types of songs, his flow and naturally laid back vibe, work very well. Unfortunately, he is also a little bit of a one trick pony and after the first handful of tracks, his style feels stale and repetitive.
It falls, then, to the production to save the day. That the production regularly outshines the star is less an indictment of Staples’ skills and more a commendation of the bang up job No I.D has done with this album. While other producers have certainly contributed to the album’s sound and left their own marks on the various tracks, No I.D deserves tremendous credit for keeping the various producers (DJ Dahi, Clams Casino) focused on the album’s overall tone and sound. Despite the songs sharing a grim, menacing motif, each track’s sound is unique and intriguing in its own right – so much so that fairly regularly, Staples is often competing with the production for the listener’s attention, and frequently losing. Summertime ‘06 doesn’t have particularly loud or garish production either; it is just so rich and well-assembled that Staples’ own voice naturally fades into the background.
The most baffling thing about the album however, is its hooks. It boggles the mind that an artist as obviously talented as Vince can write vivid, nuanced verses while simultaneously being unable to write hooks that don’t sound like they written by fourth grade children. The hooks on the album are undoubtedly its weakest links; when the hooks can’t hold a song together, the odds that the songs can hold album together become that much slimmer. With two mixtapes and an EP out, Vince Staples cannot use inexperience as an excuse; on both Hell Can Wait and Shyne Coldchain, Vinny’s hooks were questionable at best. If there was a time that Vince Staples was considered a hot prospect for the future, that time is surely drawing to a close now – there can only be so long before he goes from exciting up and comer to that dreaded list of artists that failed to live up to their potential.
Lift Me Up
Jump Off The Roof