by Mike Vinti
Introducing the Radical Review; a semi-regular feature focusing on one artist or album in depth, getting to grips with the work in question and its politics.
Given the recent tragedies in the US, it seems appropriate to kick things off with California rapper Vince Staples’ debut album Summertime ‘06.
For those unfamiliar with his work, Vine Staples is no stranger to the dark and conflicted oeuvre that Summertime ’06 pedals. Emerging on the scene 4 years ago as a loose affiliate of Odd Future, Vince has always dealt with the harsh reality of life in his hood of Long Beach California (LBC to you Nate Dogg fans out there). His most known track ‘Nate’ deals with his childhood, watching his father hustle, selling drugs and going to prison in order to provide for their family, and much of his other work dwells on the same themes.
It comes as no surprise then that Summertime ’06 opens with the lyric “I’m just a nigga till I fill my pockets, then I’m Mr.Nigga, they follow me when I’m shoppin’” on its second track Lift Me Up.
Album opener Ramona Park Legend is instrumental, clocking in at 30 seconds — it’s a disorienting start to Staples’ debut, featuring bird calls and the sound of water (presumably invoking the eponymous park), over-laid with throbs of distorted bass and snare hits, building rapidly to a single, piercing gunshot.
I aint never ran from nothing but the police
It’s Lift Me Up though that serves as the real introduction the album, setting the tone clearly as gangster-rap with a heavy social and political conscience. The track is overflowing with standout lyrics, firmly grounded in life in the LBC, yet aware of the bigger picture when Vince states ‘I never vote for presidents, the presidents that change the hood is dead and green.’
Emerging seamlessly from the wailing analogue synth at the tail end of ‘Lift Me Up’, ‘Norf Norf’ is another shining example of Staples’ grim yet powerful lyricism. Both the beat and Vince’s flow lean towards Trap on this cut, bouncing through tales of ‘cocaine the colour of a creole’ and ‘cutt[ing] class cause it aint about cash.’ The hook of ‘I aint never ran from nothing but the police’ introduces Vince’s trademark fusion of understatement and braggadocio, yet the conflict most common throughout the album is between the glamour of gangster-rap and the reality of his life. This is most apparent when he spits “Hit the corner make a dollar fifty, split the dollars with my mamma children, kids need portions, hoes need abortions, I just need people out of my business”.
‘Birds and Bees’ sees Gorillaz collaborator Daley take to the hook with ghostly effect. The beat is rickety and groans with various samples and synth patches, whilst Staples matter-of-factly states “my mamma cause another problem when she had me”, in between refrains of “they found another body in the alley”.
Meanwhile ‘Loca’ is a brooding, relatively stripped back affair serving as close to a party track as Summertime ’06 has to offer with its breathy, call and response chorus. ‘Lemme Know’ follows in a similar vein, extending the call and response to full on shared verses between Staples and Jhene Aiko, who flips the borderline predatory tone of the track on its head with her solo spot toward the end.
Summertime ’06 is by far Vince’s most cohesive project and while his vocal content isn’t vastly different to previous works, the flow between tracks and the similarities in production between them almost create the feeling of a concept album (insert inevitable Kendrick Lamar comparison here). In keeping with ‘Loca’ and ‘Lemme Know’, ‘Dopeman’ sees Kilo Kish taking up ‘vaguely sexy female vocals’ duty. While all three are solid tracks, the change in pace that comes with cinematic-trap banger ‘Jump off the Roof’ is a welcome one.
Senorita is the lead single from the album and is, surprisingly, best listened to in tandem with its music video. Boasting G.O.O.D Music’s Future on the hook it’s a cold, arrogant, and simultaneously emotional track, once again running through stories from Staples’ troubled summer, opening with the winner of ‘Hardest Lyric of the Year’ ‘Fuck your head homies, run your bread homie, got some lead for me? I’m on Artesia [Blvd.]’.
‘Summertime’ is rare vulnerable moment in Summertime ’06 and marks the halfway point of this ambitious double album and sadly, also its peak. ‘Surf’ is a solid example of what Vince set out to achieve on this album with standout lyrics such as ‘every nigga dead to the world until his life end’ but feels too short, ending abruptly after another Kilo Kish hook. ‘Might Be Wrong’ is a moving, part-sung, part-spoken word tribute to the victims of police shootings in America and a damming incitement of white America’s complacency. ‘Get Paid’ and ‘Street Punks’ are reminiscent of previous tracks such as ‘Norf Norf’ and come across as a little tired this late in the album but again highlight Vince’s talent with a humble brag; “I don’t know if you heard of me but you hear them shots on the block”.
using the albums two dominant themes — Vinces’ hustle
and the injustice of life in Black America
It’s down to album closers ‘C.N.B’ and ‘Like it Is’ then to tie everything together, and boy, do they. ‘C.N.B.’ is a sombre, Kanye-esque affair fusing the albums two dominant themes — Vinces’ hustle and the injustice of life in Black America — effortlessly. It’s a soul crushing, and album defining, moment when Staples asks “In black America can you survive?” only to answer “They made a nuisance once the noose was tied, we gentrified, we victimised, we fighting for survival, no hopes and dreams, just leave us be, we leaning on the bible.”
‘Like It Is’ serves as the, admittedly limited, catharsis to ‘C.N.B.’s bleak review. One of the longer tracks on the album it has all the makings of a single, whilst sticking firmly to the themes and general tone of the whole work. Staples introduces a more hopeful atmosphere with the refrain of ‘tell it like it is, tell me how it could be’ and his talk of ‘getting into heaven despite the things I’ve done’.
Yet the album’s undertone of despair and its dark, violent themes creep in to his lyrics as the song progresses. It concludes soberly ‘In this cage they made for me exactly where you find me at, don’t care if its my time I’ll never turn my back’, suggesting that for all his hope of how it could be, all the Staples of Summertime ’06 has is the LBC.