My first impression of Long Beach native Vince Staples was that he was a dude with a notably nasally voice who happened to be a member of Odd Future. During my time in high school, the hip-hop collective from Los Angeles was blowing up fast. Along with many of my friends, I listened to everything they had released.
However, it turns out Staples was just an affiliate, meeting up with Syd tha Kyd through a high school friend and eventually making music with the collective called Earl Sweatshirt.
It was on The Jet Age of Tomorrow’s song, “Lunchbox,” where I first heard Staples. His verse was brash, bold, and pretty blunt. The lyricism was very edgy as well, reminding me of the days when I had tendencies to be a miscreant.
Thankfully, those days are long over, and Staples has been progressing musically as well.
From his Shyne Coldchain mixtapes to 2014’s “Hell Can Wait” EP, Staples raps with a very laidback demeanor, reminiscent of his progenitor, Snoop Dogg, who would flow on tracks without breaking a sweat. On Earl Sweatshirt’s album “Doris,” Staples took hold of Sweatshirt’s spotlight with a sinister verse on “Hive,” making it known that he is a force to be reckoned with in hip-hop. His debut album, “Summertime ’06,” proves that Staples is here to stay.
The album is framed around stories from a time period in his early teens when Staples was up to no good. He communicates a deep message as an excellent storyteller from an area in Long Beach where there is very little sunshine.
North Long Beach is portrayed in the album as a troubled place with little to celebrate. After a couple of listens, I realized that Summertime ’06 had a similar style to Kendrick Lamar’s magnificent album, “good Kid, m.A.A.d city.” Lamar’s exploration of his upbringing in Compton has close parallels to Staples’ life in Long Beach. With his lyrics Staples sees North Long Beach as a place where vices kept those around him as slaves to rampant violence, drug addiction, and poverty.
The first single of the album, “Señorita,” epitomizes Staples’ impressive way of painting a picture in the listener’s mind. Produced by Christian Rich, the eerie piano loop meshes perfectly with an equally dark booming bass line that allows Staples to flow effortlessly with a rebellious energy on this track. Accompanied by a sample of Atlanta rapper Future’s hook, Staples unleashes an explicit assault on listeners.
He raises a question in his second verse:“What means the world to you? Is it a fast life, money, and clothes?” These are clichés in much of hip-hop music, but for Staples, just surviving day by day “means the world,” as he states in the final lines of his verse: “Mask up at midnight and start clapping’, kids crying, still snipe him, no lacking.”
This past June in Long Beach, more people died in acts of violence than any month since April 2013 according to the Press Telegram. A June 2014 Department of Justice study titled “Seasonal Patterns in Criminal Victimization Trends” found that serious violence was significantly higher during the summer than during the winter––winter rates of serious violence were approximately six percent lower on average than summer rates of serious violence. Staples lost a 15-year-old friend named Jabari during the summer, which really ties in the last lines of his verse with actual statistics.
Though it harkens back to a summer almost ten years ago, “Summertime ’06” hit the stands during a season when ongoing, often racially tinged violence gripped this country, as well as locally in Long Beach. The album gives listeners the message that much needs to be changed in the ways we all live.
Many of the stories on “Summertime ’06” are not new, but Staples gives them new faces and vivid details.At the young age of 22, Staples has a way to describe both his inner demons and the conflicts he faces from his environment. He and his friends knew it was possible that they would never get out of the vicious cycle of crime and violence, which he raps about in “Birds & Bees.” Lyrics like “Stacking paper like my granny, it’s money over everything if you ask me,” glorify the lifestyle his family partook in with him next in line to continue that unfortunate tradition.
“Summertime ’06” has incredible production from Kanye West’s mentor, No I.D., handling the majority of the work. The producer’s synergy with Staples’ lyrics about drug addiction, gang life, police brutality is simply spectacular. No I.D.’s gloomy beats throughout the album seem to flow seamlessly, making me and perhaps other listeners forget about skipping a song due to Staples’ captivating lyrics and presence.
With a unique perspective from a rising hip-hop star, Staples finishes the album with a cliffhanger when his verse is cut short and white noise blocks out whatever else he had to say. I believe Staples is telling us that there will be more to follow this album’s 20 tracks.
Staples has all it takes to be a superstar. His hard-hitting style hasn’t been seen since Ice Cube and the 90’s heyday of gangsta rap. There aren’t many other rappers in the mainstream level who choose to talk about how harsh life can be in a big city from such a young perspective. The solo debut is impressive, and as his career continues to progress, we will hopefully get more complex and sophisticated stories. Simply put, Staples’ straightforward raps are a testament to his wisdom beyond his years and street savvies.