#9. Vince Staples: Summertime '06
Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak was met with mixed reviews at the time of its release, but the doors it opened allowed for artists like Drake and Future to become massive stars in its wake. Its auto-tuned croons of self-aggrandizement and self-pity created ripples that eventually led to a wave of likeminded music. In 2013, West’s Yeezus was met with similarly polarized reviews, and this time it’s Vince Staples riding the wave into stardom.
The connections between Yeezus and Summertime ’06 are much less direct but can be heard throughout, such as in the minimalist, half step warbles of “Norf Norf.” Frequent production from hip-hop veteran No I.D. keeps both discs of Summertime consistently moody and stripped-down. More than half of the songs’ bass lines are in the Phrygian mode, a melodic “scale” of sorts with a signature, ominous sound that is widely unused in modern western music outside of some tonally darker subgenres of metal and hip-hop. The album is almost oversaturated with the monochromatic blackness of its instrumentals, but the lyrics reveal that this is clearly an intentional choice.
Summertime ’06 is not a “feel good” album. It addresses the hard reality of growing up surrounded by racial injustice, gang violence, and drug abuse. And if two full discs of bleak beats and brutally honest lyrics feel stifling, that’s because Staples wants them to. He’s been living in this world since his youth. The album is named after the summer of his thirteenth year when his eyes were first opened to the grim urban underbelly that would envelop him in the years to come. In an Instagram post revealing the album’s cover, Staples referred to the summer of 2006 as “the beginning of the end of everything I thought I knew.” He went on to list the names of fourteen friends he’s lost since then. The album feels suffocating at times because that’s how Staples has felt much of his life, and he’s only recently been given respite from it.
Summertime ’06 suffers a bit from the curse of the overzealous double album, leaning towards monotony by the time the second disc ends. One can hardly blame Staples though. He has so much to say, and this is only his first studio release. It’s one of the most powerful studio debuts by a rapper in recent memory, and hip-hop fans are already holding their breath for the follow up.