While crafting his debut album, Vince Staples revisited one of the most pivotal periods in his life. The Long Beach, California rapper did so because it is the time that inspired the things he's discussed throughout his music. For him, it was a line of demarcation for his evolution.
With Summertime '06, Vince Staples delves into the crucial season of his life, one where he discovered what his life was about and what it was shaping up to be. It was a wild, a coming-of-age time depicted on Hell Can Wait, his acclaimed 2014 Def Jam Recordings EP. "That's the prequel to what we're speaking about on this album," he says, "the point where we kind of had to grow up and fend for ourselves."
On Hell Can Wait and his revered mixtapes, Vince Staples rapped with a masterful blend of observation and first-person passion. With Summertime '06, he takes listeners to the very streets in which he was raised in a way that's rarely been done on an entire album. In fact, this change in presentation is as gripping as it is revolutionary.
"I've never heard anything that literally in the moment of when it's happening," he says. "I tried to capture that. Even with Biggie, it was, 'It was all a dream.' It wasn't happening at that very moment. I wanted to capture the energy and the emotion of actually being in that environment, something that nobody really knows about because not a lot of people rapping really had to go through that."
Case in point is lead single "Senorita." The ultra-dark, piano-accented and thunderous beat serves as a stellar soundbed for one of the California artist's explorations into what really matters to people. There's a rebellious energy in the song that's equaled by his furious rapping, a quality that marks a new stage in Vince Staples' artistry. "If the music doesn't grow with you, you're done," he says. "That's the next step."
Throughout Summertime '06, Vince Staples showcases what he's learned about life and about making music. As the album progresses, we enter the mind of a young teenager whose life consisted of robbing people and getting into fights. He and his friends knew that they were wrong and that they were putting everything on the line for questionable objectives. They also knew that their lives had the distinct possibility of repeating this desperate cycle until the end of their lives.
It's a situation tens of thousands of kids find themselves in, at least in part because of the actions of their parents. On the murky "Birds + Beez," Vince Staples addresses this reality. "I'm speaking about how my parents' actions and ways lead to what happens to me," he explains. "It's the same thing with my grandmother prioritizing money over everything growing up. That led to, 'OK. So we need to get money from somewhere.' They come from a completely different time period and don't think about what their words mean to us. It's an example of what their downfalls could lead to for me and my generation because it's a generational thing. We're really the first generation that was a product of it. My grandparents were at the tail end of the Black Panthers turning into these 'gangs.' My parents were at the beginning of Crips and Bloods."
This mindset plays perfectly into the mesmerizing "Get Paid," a dissertation on how money is a means of control. "If everybody had money, nobody would be dying," Vince Staples says. "The song is about a first-person perspective of that. When you're young and you don't have nothing and you watch TV and you see a rapper or an athlete from your area that has something you've never seen before, it builds up an anger. That anger gets translated when you find a way to make a means for yourself. That's the easiest way to do it."
With "Street Punks," Vince Staples examines how people don't come to grips with life-and-death situations until they are confronted with them themselves, while the mind-blowing "Jump Off The Roof" explores the danger of putting too much stock in something you have no control over. "It's about faith," Vince Staples says. "It's about letting yourself go and relieving yourself of that stress by things that don't matter at the end of the day because nothing matters at the end of the day - and that's the scary part about life. Nothing at all matters. You pick what matters."
But people often find themselves ill-equipped to deal with life's harsh realities. Part of that is familial circumstance or the lack of a support system, a reality addressed on the album's title track. "It's about figuring things out at a very young because nobody's going to help you," he says. "That's something everybody can relate to. They might not relate to an action itself, but you can relate to the energy and emotion because it's the energy of confusion, pain, aggression, anger. Everybody deals with that when you're 13, 14, 15 years old, whether it's, 'Mom, you never let me do anything' or, 'Mom, you don't care about me.' It's still that frustration stemming from a lack of guidance, lack of better judgment."
Born and raised in Long Beach, California, Vince Staples has emerged as one of rap's preeminent rising artists. He's released two installments of his Shyne Coldchain mixtape series and paired in 2013 with Mac Miller (under the alias Larry Fisherman) for the revered Stolen Youth mixtape. Successful tours and collaborations with Earl Sweatshirt and ScHoolboy Q also dot his resume, as does 2014's Hell Can Wait EP, his sterling debut Def Jam project.
Now, with Summertime '06, Vince Staples has crafted a full-length album on rap's most important label. For Vince Staples, it's about much more than just being a well-paid, high-profile artist.
"I don't care about money because I've always been broke," he says. "I don't care about attention because I've got a gap between my teeth and a speech problem. I don't care about fame because it's corny. I don't care about being a rapper because those dudes embarrass themselves. What I care about is that when you die, were you full of crap. That's what matters where I come from."
It's a lesson Vince Staples learned during the Summertime '06.