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Summertime ‘06 by Vince Staples

This is important, I thought after listening to Vince Staples’ debut album, Summertime ‘06. Though,  from just one listen I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly about this album, this artist, that exuded importance. It was the album’s production that my ears noticed first; assisted by DJ Dahi and Clams Casino, Summertime ‘06 was chiefly produced by Dion “No I.D.” Wilson and is driven by crude distortions, amplified street sounds, and steady bass lines that  counter Staples’ offbeat rhyming. The album will make you stand up and move. Though, when given a second and more concentrated listen, it was clear that the importance was in what Staples’ was communicating, and not necessarily the album’s production.

Growing up in Long Beach, California, Staples’ was introduced early to a lifestyle that is the inspiration of this album. Staples’ father was in prison for most of his childhood, while living with his aunt he joined the 2N Crips gang, and during the summer of 2006, Staples’ best friend was shot and killed. Staples speaks about the summer of 2006 with grief and contempt, but Summertime ‘06 is not about hopelessness. His album offers much-needed insight and awareness, and as he explained to Paper Magazine, “These are just institutions we have because we don’t have a Boys & Girls Club. Because of our location, these are the things we have. I’ve never really gotten out of gang life because gang life is not criminal life.” Through his rapping, Staples dissects this time in his life with enough retrospective distance that it offers listeners a glimpse of who the newcomer is, though Staples says in his mission statement for the album, “I want people who listen to this album to define it in their own way.”

The album has an urgency that is complimented by Staples’ rapping. On his track “Dopeman”, featuring Joey Fatts and Kilo Kish, his lyrics hit hard:

Alright, tryin’ to make a dollar bill/ Don’t hide, pay me mine and getcha mama killed/ Whatchu need, whatchu got makin’ plays/ ‘Til I’m laid in the grave, gettin’ paid.

His syncopation and vocal dynamics only add to the effect of his lyrics, like in “Norf Norf” when he gives a shout out to his hometown, North Side Long Beach! The proud west coast artist slows down at the end of the first disc during one of his most effective tracks, Summertime. “My teachers told me we was slaves/ My mama told me we was kings/ I don’t know who to listen to/ I guess we somewhere in between,” Staples croons. Once an opener for other west coasters such as Schoolboy Q, his debut album has ultimately separated Staples from the rest. Summertime ‘06 is a vital album that shows rap can still be personal, political, and dynamically entertaining.

Written by Isabel.