Most people first heard Vince Staples in 2013, when he appeared on the single “Hive” from Earl Sweatshirt’s soon-to-be-released album Doris. Vince’s lazy, almost slurred delivery fit the atmospheric production just as well as Earl’s, and “Hive” remains a high point on Doris. At this point, with a few small mixtapes under his belt and a frequent feature on Odd Future releases, savvy listeners were eager to hear what Vince had to say. In 2014, Vince released Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2, a mixtape with production from Chicago legend No I.D., to positive reviews. To me, though, it was with Vince’s 2014 EP Hell Can Wait, a 24-minute flash of west coast brilliance that cemented him as a rising star to watch.
Soon, Vince would announce his full length debut, to be titled Summertime ’06. A 20-track double album, clocking in at just under an hour, executive produced by No I.D. (who was only on one track from Hell Can Wait). Understandably, I was stoked. Hell Can Wait remains my favorite EP from 2014, and was one of my favorite releases of the year as a whole. The bass on “Blue Suede” still gives me chills.
On May 4th, Vince released his first single from Summertime, “Senorita”. I had high hopes, and felt a bit let down. “Senorita” is a fine song, but it felt essentially different from Hell Can Wait. The production was much more skeletal and ethereal, and while Vince only got better as a rapper, it lacked that certain oomph that drew me to Hell Can Wait. On June 22nd, though, my dreams came true. “Norf Norf”, a Clams Casino-produced cut from disk 1 of Summertime, reminded me why I love Vince. Sure, the beat is still a lot more atmospheric than what you’ll find on Hell Can Wait, but Vince’s delivery felt more confident, the hook was damn catchy, and Clams’ dreary drone matched Vince’s dark lyricism to a T.
Finally, June 30th. Summertime ’06 dropped, and I listened to it, front-to-back. And I have several times since then. And I like it. That being said, I don’t love it. I love Hell Can Wait. Don’t worry – I’m not going to give Summertime a bad review because it’s not as good as another release by the same artist. By all accounts, Summertime is an above-average major label debut (unlike some other debuts we’ve seen this year, cough Action Bronson cough), and is worth a listen.
If anything, Summertime cements Vince’s style. His lyrics are undeniably west coast gangster rap – but there’s an edge of darkness, of nihilism, on almost every track. It’s not a fully hopeless album, more like an album about trying to hold onto hope in a hopeless world. It’s bleak, but it’s beautiful, like watching a midsummer sunset from a run-down warehouse in the projects. If To Pimp a Butterfly is the story of blackness in the US, then Summertime ’06 is the story of one black man in the US. If My Krazy Life is gangster rap through-and-through, then Summertime is gangster rap in a funhouse mirror.
All of this is evident before Vince even opens his mouth. Listen to the nostalgic surf guitar and off-kilter drum machine backed by seagulls and the ocean on the albums intro track, “Ramona Park Legend Pt. 1”, punctuated by a gunshot, before the opening chords of “Lift Me Up”, kick in. Then, a heavy synth line, almost like what you’d hear in a haunted house, picks up. Vince’s first line: “I’m just a nigga / until I fill my pockets / then I’m mista nigga”. The production almost feels like a twisted parody of the ever-popular DJ Mustard style, masterminded by No I.D. himself.
Basically, Summertime ’06 has a very unique sound. The plus side of this is that it’s an incredibly interesting listen, but unfortunately, we also see Vince and his production team stepping away from the sound that drew me to him in the first place on Hell Can Wait. Summertime is a sprawling, 20-track monster, but because it’s only an hour long (To Pimp A Butterfly is 16 tracks and is 80 minutes), Vince ends up leaving thoughts unfinished and questions unanswered. There’s a lot crammed into this album, but not much of it comes to any resolution. On top of that, Vince again and again showcases what feel like half-assed hooks. On some tracks (“Lift Me Up”, “Norf Norf”) a simple hook works, but when almost every hook is Vince repeating the name of the song or something similar, it feels like a missed opportunity. Hell Can Wait packs a lot into seven tracks and 23 minutes – it’s a colorful explosion and over before you can quite figure out what’s happening. Summertime, on the other hand, can start to be sonically repetitive – I honestly can’t tell if it should be twenty minutes shorter or twenty minutes longer.
In the end, I enjoy Summertime 06. It’s not the full-length Hell Can Wait that I wanted, but I doubt that sound would even work on a full album. Summertime is a unified experience, remarkably consistent, with killer production and Vince’s trademark lyricism. It’s worth your time and your money, and I’m excited to see what Vince does next.
Come for the beats, stay for the lyrics.8
Lyrics score 8
Production score 9
Composition score 8