Brevity ain’t the soul of wit on Summertime ‘06, it’s the soul of horror.
It took Kendrick Lamar four minutes, two George Clinton cameos and a full choir to expound his thesis on black economics in America. It takes Vince Staples two lines: “I’m just a nigga until I fill my pockets/ Then I’m Mr. Nigga.” Brevity ain’t the soul of wit on Summertime ‘06, it’s the soul of horror. Anytime Staples can use one word instead of three, he’ll take the short route, painting every vivid, terrifying picture he spits with callousness.
Staples is the Virgil to your Dante on Summertime ‘06, recounting his own time as a gangbanger in Southern California, winding through shootouts, hedonistic parties and alleys filled with dead bodies. Summertime’s brilliant predecessor, the Hell Can Wait EP, was vibrant in the same way that a house fire can stimulate all the senses—Summertime is the ashen aftermath. Shrouded in the black cloak of death, Staples’ producers (No I.D., DJ Dahi and Clams Casino) craft stark backgrounds for his tales, relying on rattling and shifty percussion to decay under Staples’ footsteps. If the music here is the color of asphalt, Staples is working with an even darker palette.
The body count of Summertime is immeasurable. The now well-recounted story of Staples’ father passing down the family business of gangbanging seeps into every word and note. “Everybody snitchin’/ Gotta live with paranoia,” Staples spits with a shrug on “3230.” While Kendrick prophesies from the mountain and Earl Sweatshirt views the world through an empty Xanax bottle, Staples’ vision is as clear as it is unflinching. When he raps “I ain’t never ran from nothing but the police,” the LAPD are stand-ins for death itself. If you aren’t the boys in blue or the Grim Reaper incarnate, Staples doesn’t have time for you. Even then, Staples stares Death right in the eye. “No reason to worry about it. Hopefully, my turn don’t come no time soon, but everybody get a turn,” Staples said in a recent interview with LA Weekly, highlighting his casual, bordering on cold, perspective that informs all of Summertime.
Joining Kendrick and Earl, Staples has followed the 2015 rap trend of refusing single appeal. Outside of the trap flavored “Norf Norf” or the Future-biting “Señorita,” there’s nothing on Summertime that could play nice with Kid Cudi or Chris Brown—soft shit like that would probably catch fire in the presence of Staples’ rhymes. Even as a lead single, “Señorita” is uncompromising, with Staples crowing “fuck your dead homies.” The rest of Summertime is even more steely and uncomfortable. “Jump Off the Roof,” propelled by a screaming vocal sample and clanking cowbells, has Staples wanting to leap off the nearest suburban house just to prove he’s still alive. The woozy “Surf” is built off staccato strings straight from the Jaws theme with Staples muttering doubts and fears into a young starlet’s ear. “16 I heard you want to be a star girl/ What he’d charge for the dream that you bought girl?/ What’s the price of life in this dark world?” It sounds like Staples will let the question float in the air, only to instantly answer with “couple hundred where I come from,” refusing to let easy answers or ignorance survive in his wake.
Staples has never apologized for his blood-spattered past, but Summertime does reveal a beating heart beneath the ice cold exterior Staples has perfected. There’s the hilarious opening of “Norf Norf,” where Staples successfully swerves away from a girl by saying “Bitch, you thirsty/ Please grab Spite.” Beyond that, a few characters emerge from the smoke of Summertime to haunt Staples’ conscious. The first two are his mother and father, “My momma was a Christian/ Crip walking on blue waters,” says Staples, before further revealing, “Rounds up in that chamber, I’m a gangsta like my daddy/ My momma caused another problem when she had me.” Staples’ girlfriend also shows up, unloading a profanity filled, Spanish rant straight at his head at the end of “Loca.” More importantly then the flesh and blood characters that dot Summertime, the city of Los Angeles breathes and screams along with Staples. The hooks here all stutter and jitter with unease, the Auto-Tune open of “C.N.B.” soon dissolves into a drunken, bluesy sway with Staple slurring, “I feel I am the coldest nigga walkin’” and the following “Like It Is,” despite fluttering vocals shimmering in the backdrop, is grounded by the mechanical traits of the percussion, staking in power as Staples is “waiting for the rapture.”
Summertime’s title only reflects the melting synth samples and the time period Staples bases his story upon. There’s no sunshine, no hints of days at the beach, these are all late night revelations and horrors unveiled in the hours that remain humid and scorching despite the sun’s absence. The near title track “Summertime” is a mesmerizing example of the album’s setting swallowing up Staples. Clams Casino provides the dirge-like beat, based around a mournful guitar sample that shadows Staples’ bleary-eyed pleas of “this could be forever baby.” “Summertime” hits the dead center of the album, after the violence of “Norf Norf” and “Birds & Bees” and unravels some of Staples’ façade. “They never taught me how to be a man/ Only how to be a shooter”—there’s no hint of remorse in him, but a longing imbues the beat and Staples’ very being as he briefly sees another world beyond the blood-soaked streets he patrols.
But, Staples accepts his role as a coldhearted gangbanger, “A prophet just like Moses, if Moses look like Shaka Zulu/ My .44 loaded I’m aimin’ at Nirvana,” he spits. Staples, who just turned 22, has a meditative view on destiny and fate that outclasses most of his peers. Summertime ‘06 is the acceptance of past sins without rosy-eyed predictions for the future. Kendrick muses on the metaphorical, making grand analogies on how white supremacy destroys black lives. Staples narrates the direct results of rampant segregation, police brutality and thin economic options that plague a nation that often claims to be post-racial. Kendrick gives you the fictional film, Staples gives you a GoPro filmed documentary with every piece of dirt and blood thrust into the camera eye. To quote Staples “I don’t have a problem knowing how fucked up everything is. I never wanna be in the dark about anything.” And, be certain, he won’t let you hide either.