What Vince Staples has done on his debut album, Summertime ’06 probably won’t be celebrated for some time. A double album with 20 songs that clocks in at a lean 60 minutes, with almost no filler or wasted words. Almost no tracks that overstay their welcome and almost no songs you walk away from wishing were longer. Cohesive, “statement making” rap albums in 2015 are now the standard, not the exception, but rarely can they be consumed in small doses or on a song-by-song basis, and Vince even manages to subvert this expectation. With his previous mixtapes, the Hell Can Wait EP in particular, Vince cultivated his sound, a combination of West Coast gangster rap, Long Beach flows, and a bleak sonic style he helped refine under the tutelage of collaborator and friend Earl Sweatshirt. These parts come together to make Vince’s presence on Summertime ’06 both bold and understated. Vince’s immediate and patented flow is present on some of the album’s bounciest songs like “Señorita” and “3230” and it gives the lyrics a sense of urgency that is necessary to the album’s themes.
Biting instrumentals and droney effects that mesh with twangy guitars create a cohesive and wonderful backdrop, and thankfully the music of the album has a lot more in common with Long Beach and modern gangster rap than the bouncy and sometimes goofy synths of west coast rap (though the album definitely bounces and is very rhythmic). Lyrically and thematically, it’s what you’d expect from an album named Summertime ’06, a title that implies hot summer days filled with crime and nostalgia, a sense of needing to escape, whether under the shade of a palm tree or to another city. Vince speaks on the black experience in America, violence, drug dealing, and the various vicious cycles that pimp young people and destroy communities and families. The difference here is the tightrope that Staples walks between condescension and so called “ignorant” rap. This is most apparent on one of the album’s many highlights, like C.N.B. (Coldest Nigga Breathin’) which is sure to become the song most used as people’s “walk-up song” and the closer, “Tell It Like It Is” where Vince paints a vivid picture of his situation, without being preachy or overly romanticizing it, and a stunning third verse is the cherry on top for the album. Other than the minor missteps of “Might Be Wrong” and “Jump Off the Roof”, the album is tight and focused. The comparison’s to good kid, m.a.a.d city are apt, and though the album doesn’t have the same “instant classic” designation as Kendrick’s debut, it certainly makes a strong first statement, and cements itself as one of the most assured and giving debuts of 2015, or of any year for that matter.