The same kid that once said, “Rap ain’t never did shit for a nigga with no options, you want some positivity go listen to some Common” is dropping his Def Jam debut album next week. It’s astounding how far Vince Staples has come. I first found him during the early days of Odd Future, when their music was a double dose of mischievous immaturity, full of presumptuous vulgarity and rebellious carelessness. The first time I heard his mixtape, Shyne Coldchain Vol 1, chills galloped down my spine. It was his voice that stood out, a colorless, soft tone completely vacant of emotion. He spoke of godless gangbangers that witness death too soon, too often, and was engaged in this cycle of endless, inescapable dread. To them it wasn’t dread but the circle of life. To live and die in Long Beach. There was a terrifying honesty about his lyricism, he spoke a frank truth that wasn’t sugarcoated by optimism, and his views on race, religion, and justice were stirred into his first and third person perspective of what was unfolding around him. There wasn’t any remorse, regret, or hope. He said “hades was my birthplace” and I believed him.
Vince Staples was the kid you were warned about, the quiet, most dangerous elephant in the room. He seemed like a normal kid, looked like a normal kid, but he had been to hell and back without receiving a visible scar or blemish. He reveals the untold in his music, illustrating a lifestyle that unravels the glorification of gangster personas with the unseen reality. There’s no low-riders and duffel bags full of cash, just PlayStation and dead friends, broken homes and skipped classes, lost love and dying morality. Did I mention he raps extremely well? His attention to detail is literary, poetic, lacking only the eloquence, a word that doesn’t exist where he comes from. His first mixtape showcased his talent for creating cinematic narratives that felt like reminiscent tales and events yet to unfold. All the beats original, only one song included a hook, the project lacked a proper mix, it wasn’t a demo for the labels, but a treasure for underground rap fans looking for something unfiltered, pure, with some edge. He had plenty of edge.
Vince beat the odds, rap actually did do something for someone with no options, and I believe he has turned that into his purpose. His double disc Def Jam debut would be an ode to the summer of ’06, I’ve read interviews where he confessed his goal was to enlighten listeners on what was occurring in his neighborhood during one of his wildest years. We listen to ScHoolboy Q and YG, they can make being gangster sound enthralling, exciting, hitting licks, popping glocks, stealing girls, the fast life. That’s not what Vince wants to represent. Most of his music throughout the years has centered around stolen youth, he had a childhood, one without innocence. In 2006 he was only 13, a teenager, wearing Polo like Young Dro, like most of us that spent our days and nights shoulder leaning, but in past songs he has hinted at the gruesome circumstances he was living in. Like on “Feelin’ the Love” from Hell Can Wait, where he references the year in the second verse: “2006 I said I had to get my money right, shit I refuse to hear my stomach growing another night, might put a burner right up in your mouth and free your mind.” His home wasn’t Compton, but it was a mad city and he wasn’t a good kid. Vince was here to be horrifyingly honest.
Summertime '06 starts with the serene sound of seagulls and the laughter of children while the ominous drum stutters in the background, the song ends with a gunshot. It goes into one of the most important songs I’ve heard this year. “Lift Me Up” is everything we could want from a rapper that’s conscious of the subjects that America wants swept under graves while looking at himself in the mirror. He admits to struggling with skin color and his conscious, wanting a new Ferrari but knowing he needs to fight the power. Knowing that he stands in front of white crowds, rapping the n-word and aware they would never set foot anywhere near his home. He’s internally conflicted, wrestling these demons over a lochness bassline that vibrates power and terror. This is a great representation of the kind of rapper that Vince is. This is the song you need to hear.
Summertime '06 is an album full of statements, this is the album that finally showcase Vince Staples as an artist. He’s been growing gradually, each mixtape and EP showcasing a rapper growing artistically. From a mixtape with barely any hooks to conceptual records, this album is a testament to how far he has come. Vince's early appeal relied heavily on charisma, all his technical shortcomings masked by his captivating storytelling and wordplay. He doesn’t carry this album with strictly powerful rhymes, it’s curated to feel major, big, intricate production, bridges, harmonies, and Vince even sings an entire song without rapping an entire line. It’s a leap forward, a true jump toward becoming the kind of rapper that can stand out in an over clustered industry. I don’t think Vince and Kendrick are comparable, instead we should simply feel blessed to have them both in the same era. Their perspectives coming from neighborhoods plagued by similar issues and their desire to discuss larger, world issues work in a weird but awesome juxtaposition.
Love will tear us apart. Nov 30th, 2005 was the beginning of the loss. The following summer multiplied it. Beaten paths, crowded with the hopeless. Same song every day, listening to the words of a dead man destroyed by his own mind and body. Why? Because at the end of the day we’re all dead anyway. At least where I come from. Love tore us all apart. Love for self, love for separation, love for the little we all had, love for each other, where we came from. Jabari, Chris, Shard, Tom, Richy, Tyson, Tony, Shelly, Phil, Marcel, Brandon, Steve, Jaron, Tay. Too many to name, too much to forget. Some lost to prison, some lost to Forest Lawn, some turned snitch. Some still here but it will never be the same. Bandanas, Stealing Levis and Nike Sb’s. Derringers and Sidekicks. Its crazy how little you notice and how greatly those things impact. Summer of 2006, the beginning of the end of everything I though I knew. Youth was stolen from my city that Summer and Im left alone to tell the story. This might not make sense but that's because none of it does, we're stuck. Love tore us all apart. Summertime ’06, June 30th. - Vince Staples' Instagram
While staring at Vince Staples the fully polished artist, it leaves me yearning for the simplicity of his formative projects. He’s still an excellent lyricist, cracking jaws with his truth, but it’s the surrounding elements that can be too much. The production feels overwhelming, I want to zoom in on the words, but there’s sounds blossoming from every direction. It works on records like “Jump Off The Roof,” “Norf Norf” and “Street Punks,” but on others like “3230” the trap elements are fighting with Vince’s flow. Classic records like “Nate” and “Earth Science” are strong because they are records that are carried by his lyricism. He’s the kind of rapper to start a song off with “Fuck your dead homies.” As soon as I hear those words, stripped down and raw, I’m captivated, I’m pulled into the moment. The change in sound likely to appeal to a larger, vaster audience. We’ve seen the results of "Senorita" live, that’s the kind of sound that allows you to spit furiously without boring your audience into a coma, and I appreciate it. It also reminds me how much I appreciated what Vince was creating when the resources weren’t accessible, a phenomenon newcomers to Staples' music simply won't experience.
Vince sounds more alive on this album, that coldhearted monotone has found a bit of hope. There still isn’t any sugarcoating, he isn’t kidding, you’ll hear him touch upon J. Cole’s commentary from "Firing Squad" without naming names and Kendrick’s "Blacker The Berry" without the intense aggression. He’s much younger, years behind, but he shares their concern for black music, black people, and the world in general. Nathan and I once had a conversation about if rappers should feel compelled to speak on the issues that are engulfing the world. I only want artists that feel compelled to speak because they have a message that can hopefully influence more people to speak. Vince Staples is here to deliver. Songs like “Might Be Wrong” and “Like It Is” are definitely a testament to the times we are living in. Vince is rare, he straddles that line between being a gangster rapper and unapologetically socially aware, in many ways the purest definition of gangster rap. This is music we need, Summertime '06 is the official arrival of a voice that demands to be heard - so listen. We have to be the ones to lift Vince Staples up, and in the process we'll all be lifted.
[By Yoh, aka Yoh Paperclips, aka @Yoh31]