Vince Staples Summertime ‘06

[Def Jam; 2015]

Styles: rap
Others: Earl Sweatshirt, Pusha T, Neptunes, Warren G, Kendrick Lamar

No-ID, famous for having mentored a young Kanye West, recently argued that releasing Summertime ‘06 as a double album would, thanks to a higher number of streams, earn more royalties for Vince Staples while delivering a higher-quality product to fans, implying that longer commercial releases are the future of hip-hop. This flies in the face of the paradigm established by promising young artists like OG Maco, Fetty Wap, and younger Vince Staples (of Shyne Goldchain and Hell Can Wait fame), which relies on the momentum of singles and short, free releases. After spending a lot of the past couple weeks trying and failing to love Summertime ‘06 but also eventually learning to like it, I couldn’t disagree more. Staples’s studio debut represents the culmination of an exciting artistic maturation, and by almost all accounts, the rapping is excellent. The dynamic range and narrative flow, on the other hand, suffer from No-ID’s overweening zeal and Staples’s laid-back acceptance of arbitrary parameters.

The central (and only) complaint here is that Summertime ‘06 is too long to feel like it’s “about” anything or like Staples’s intention is clearly established, but I acknowledge the very real possibility that things worked out that way as the result of Staples’s intention. After a lot of re-listening, it becomes clear that the album’s lack of “being about something” is a kind of tongue-in-cheek aesthetic maneuvering, and that it’s “really about” the sums, wholes, and totalities existing independently of a formal economy, undetectable to the careless listener. Is my privilege being played by the ugly, expansive sprawl that No-ID and Staples create? Am I the butt of a joke Staples is making about his Long Beach adolescence, something that I can’t understand but others might? I thought so at first, but probably not. No-ID recently called Vince Staples the “gangsta in skinny jeans,” alluding in a superficial manner to the practical difference between Staples and his environment, his friends, his family. Staples is not making himself obscure to me. He’s making himself obscure to the world while simultaneously creating a microcosm of identification.

In pure defense of this debut, it is, much like Kendrick Lamar’s now-legendary good kid, m.A.A.d city, an oversized home built from the bricks of imperfectly recalled memories. Although none of us have experienced Staples’s youth, he tells us about it in such a way that houses us in violence, makes us feel comfortable among bursts of rage and tension, and calls some of our basic assumptions into question. Staples assumes a bravado that deeply contrasts with his own soft-spoken personality on verses throughout the album (but especially those on triumphant disc 1 opener “Lift Me Up” and first single “Señorita”) and does so with great affective power. My favorite track is “Like It Is,” a penultimate ballad that begins with a poetic opposition between “Like it is” and “Like it could be,” challenging the listener to consider the notion of possibility in the abstract and implicitly wondering if Staples’ recollections — substantive, particular, and hardly accessible — were productive in the first place. The album may sprawl too widely, but its second disc makes a strong argument for the continuity and self-awareness of the whole package.

In conclusion, a thought experiment: if you can imagine something like a rap version of Black Flag’s Family Man (instrumental and spoken-word tracks on separate sides), you can probably also imagine how disappointing it would be. Nonetheless, critics are bent on establishing a separable-parts model of rap that implicitly aspires to such a conclusion. Talking about the four, five, or nine “elements of hip-hop” is no longer fashionable, not because the art form has fundamentally changed, but because we have learned more about what it is. Why, then, is evaluating distinct criteria like “production” and “lyricism” still so much more common in rap criticism than in any other kind of music writing? Summertime ‘06 is privately nostalgic for songs like Sean Paul’s “Temperature” and Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’” and Beyoncé’s “Check on It” and Cassie’s “Me and U” and Yung Joc’s “It’s Going Down.” Rap songs from 2006 continue to affect us because they sound thrilled with themselves; there’s a sublime and overwhelming Gestalt to these tracks that transcends catchy hooks and smart lyrics, combining these with the affective realm of voice inflection and onomatopoeia to create an irreducible sum. I thought about this when Vince Staples told the Grantland NBA After Dark podcast that music in the era of digital piracy was about “creating moments.” Summertime ‘06 is a lifeworld compressed as densely as possible, but it’s not his moment. If No-ID and Staples could get their faces out of their Spotify analytics and get back to the work of moment-building, the result would be thrilling.

Links: Vince Staples - Def Jam

Most Read