- Vince Staples
By Shayan Shafii, For The Daily
Published July 1, 2015
2015 has seen many rappers unsettled in making sense of death — death of friends, family, collaborators — and finding ways to commemorate the dead. A$AP Rocky’s latest album featured the late A$AP Yams on the cover, whose voice commandeered the project until the final sentence. Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead! reimagined what death sounds like and speculatively ran through all of the internal conflicts that come with it. Most tellingly, Kendrick unearthed an old Tupac interview to close his album, where ‘Pac likens rappers to storytellers on behalf of their “dead homies”. On Summertime ’06, Vince Staples treats his major-label debut as an opportunity to play the survivor role in telling the stories of those who couldn’t make it. The reasons for absence vary between drug abuse, gang violence, racism and the cyclical nature of poverty. While Vince has enjoyed a carefully calculated trajectory, the album details his forced adulthood in Long Beach. It’s about when friends take different paths, start dying and your city steals your youth.
The objectives of Vince and his 2006 friends are made pretty clear — make money by any means necessary — but forces like police and institutional racism make the task … difficult. The chorus of "Norf Norf" sees Vince yell, “I ain’t never ran from nothing but the police." On "Lift Me Up," a literal call for upward mobility, he snaps “I never vote for presidents / the presidents that change the hood is dead and green." This view of money as a vehicle for change, be it on an individual level or for his community, permeates throughout the album. It is the object of desire, the beacon of hope in a living hell.
The extent to which they went to obtain it is more than harrowing. In a matter-of-fact tone, Vince snarls “I shot your child, so what / you know we wylin’ after dark / the sun come down and guns come out / you know Ramona park." He uses words like “another” when describing dead bodies. While Vince’s Odd Future collaborators caught fame through absurdist shock value, Vince has found a way to shock in a more insightful way. Like ‘Pac, he tells stories, but isn’t interested with the realm of fictional narratives. To do so would necessitate deviation from his storytelling, and dishonor his role as a survivor.
"Jump Off the Roof "captures a moment of clarity in Vince that allows Summertime ’06 to exist. Unable to receive the ascension into a better life that he asked for on "Lift Me Up," Vince raps about addiction to drugs and sex. Vince needed to wake up, and that he did is the difference between life and death, the difference between telling the story and having your story told. What distinguishes "Jump Off the Roof" from every other “I almost died” rap song is a sharp sense of awareness mixed with a borderline messiah complex that hasn’t been seen since 50 Cent’s "Many Men." He raps like he’s the “chosen one”, destined to shed light on his community and carry the torch in any way possible.
Vince reconciles with the responsibility he seemingly vested in himself on album-closer, "Like It Is." Like Kendrick, he too has wistful survivor’s guilt; why did he get to survive to tell the stories? On the chorus, his self-perception as savior-storyteller shines through with “I gotta be the one / to make it up to heaven, despite the things I’ve done." Between verses there are brief spoken-word interludes, and he ends one of them with “It don’t really matter anyway … we all gon die one day, man.” The line is the saddest rationalization on the album – rationalization of an unfulfilling, oppressed, limited and cyclical lifestyle. He has to use the great equalizer, death, to come to terms with inequality. But the story doesn’t end with a bleak excuse.
Throughout the song, the voice of André 3000 is looped and repurposed in saying, “I tell it like it is, how it could be." That mission statement is essentially the guiding light of the entire album: to objectively explain what happened to him and his friends in the summer of 2006, detail the systemic issues that continue to plague his home, and give hope that it could be better moving forward. Vince doesn’t have the answers, and that’s not what he’s trying to convey with his music anyway. He made Summertime ’06 in the hope that somewhere down the road, no one has to make a Summertime ’15.