4.5 / 5
In the summer of 2006 I had been married for nine months, was living in the St. Catharines equivalent to the hood, and was contemplating a move to Toronto.
In the summer of 2006 Vince Staples was 13, living in Long Beach, and being introduced to a series of heady firsts: first love, first time with drugs, first exposure to gangbanging. Summertime ’06 is the story of that summer, replete with mentions of moving drugs, falling in love, having to deal with the death of friends, and feelings of being out of control and suicidal. As a document of growing up black in Greater Los Angeles, it rivals good kid m.A.A.d. city, although it lacks that album’s dense lyricism and grander sense of purpose.
It’s an honest surprise coming from Vince Staples, who first came into my consciousness via “Epar” on Earl Sweatshirt’s self-titled debut EP. His mixtapes have always been solid although fairly uneventful; his real strength only began to glimmer on the features he had on Doris, Earl Sweatshirt’s first full-length. For a guy who at the age of 18 had yet to think of himself as ever being a rapper, Vince Staples is possessed of a good flow and a coherent sense of himself in service to the album as a whole.
He’s aided by the production of course, in this case a three-way meeting of the minds between No I.D., DJ Dahi, and the inimitable Clams Casino. They eschew fashionable trap beats in favour of filtered, flayed, fucked-up sampling and synth work. Clams Casino is especially in fine form: “Norf Norf”, “Summertime”, and “Surf” are perfect examples of his drugged-out, crawling style of beat, and Staples sounds suitably pensive and moody on top of them. No I.D. – Kanye West’s mentor and one-time in-house producer – creates a lot of the rest of the album, and tracks like “Lemme Know”, “Jump Off The Roof”, and “3230” are among the best beats he’s ever produced. “Jump Off The Roof” should be singled out all on its own; Staples rides the beat effortlessly and makes losing your mind and contemplating suicide seem like the best idea ever conceived.
I’m a sucker for coming-of-age stories, and on Summertime ’06 both the storyteller and the medium come together in a way that comes along very rarely. Staples brings street-level imagery but does it in such a way that it never feels forced or cliche. It’s foremost an admission of having lived what he says, and a look back on his whirlwind gangsta adolescence with the immediate nostalgia of being twenty-something and the wide-eyed shock of a survivor. The production team teases out these images and feelings with the deft touch of mastery, adding gravitas to what could easily have been overblown and annoyingly over-the-top. Easily one of the best albums of the year, and one of the best hip hop albums of the decade.