Summertime ‘eternity

A Review/Analysis of the Album, Summertime ’06 by Vince Staples

I have always had a conflicted relationship with Hip Hop, being so popular a genre and me being of a darker shade of skin colour, I had to listen to Hip Hop and RnB; but I was raised in a Christian home and whether I liked it or not, all those many visits to church every Sunday my Mother insisted on, unless I was sick to the point of death – had a positive effect on me. Hip hop and RnB was ubiquitous amongst those that looked like me but it was also unchristian. It was misogynistic in a grotesque way, it also wanted to kill almost everyone including its fans and encouraged them unashamedly to do the same to others. I was conflicted about Hip-Hop, so when I became a Christian, there came a time I decided to delete every song on my mp3 player (remember those) except a few that did not contain swearing or mentions of sexy time and that obviously included some Christian ones but not many of those because I found Christian music ridiculously corny. Later I deleted the remaining music I had since I figured that the songs were stolen.

Thank God for Spotify !!!

It wasn’t until The Roots 10th Studio Album – undun – that I comfortably returned to being able to listen to Rap, this time with re-calibrated ears. The album opened my eyes (or ears) to the possibility of being able to judge Art for what it is, as the perspective of the artist which may or may not be right. The album itself was presented from the viewpoint of a fictional character caught up in shady business, complete with video interviews recorded with his fictional friends and family – Aunt, Schoolteacher, Neighbour, Friend. It never presented it as plainly wrong but never glamorised drug dealing either. The story was simply presented as what it is.

I have since admitted into my collection non-christians, including Vince Staples and his latest album, Summertime ’06.

It takes guts to release a double album as pretty much your introduction (he had previously released an ep and a few mixtapes). The two discs are introduced with tracks Ramona Park Legend 1 & 2 respectively, the first being just an instrumental, by in the second we have Staples proclaiming himself to be a Legend, similar to Drake’s in the opening track of  “If you’re Reading This It’s Too Late”, except in the case of Staples we are not getting a certainty of it, rather a fatalistic, death wish, viewpoint of someone who feels like they’re about to self destruct. Almost as if in the second half of the disc the artist, after the introspection of the first half has finally decided to fall head long into the darker side of the reality of being surrounding by evil on all sides. Disc 1 contains most of the songs that have had music video treatments, singles, also the song performed on Jimmy Fallon with Jhene Aiko. All of these have rightly showcased the talent of Staples and are great songs, in another one on this half – Loca – he has an angry spanish girlfriend screaming at the end in hilarious spanglish.

Disc 2’s dark turn seem to begin on the track, “might be wrong”, with the preceding tracks post “Ramona Park Legend pt 2” seemingly continuing on the introspective and conversational flow of Staples. What seems to kick off the issue then is the voicemail we listen to on the turning point track.

Speaking on the unjust way the justice system is justifying crimes against our kind. Justice is supposed to be blind, but continue to cross color lines. Hands up, don’t shoot. Shot. Stand your ground. Blacks don’t own no ground to stand on so we stand on our words. Black and hooded is the official probable cause for cops to keep weapons on. I can’t breathe through the chokeholds and gun smoke. These realities appear to inform black boys and men of the dangers outside their doors. Slain in society by sworn protectors. Protected by their peers, grand juries full of friends. No charges brought against them. They kill and arrest us, transgress and oppress us. Damn, cuz

Here we finally get to heart of what the whole album is about, the sense of helplessness and hopelessness of a frustrated young man growing up in an environment that seems unfair and hostile to not only his ability to find his own place in the world and belong to it but also seem intent on putting an end to his very existence.

Comparisons to Kendrick Lamar will sure abound, since both are writing about the hot button topic of the apparent inequalities between races that should co-exist in America, much of which has been on the news almost everyday since…well I don’t even remember. The difference between the two though is that in Staples we find no lasting sense of hope or resolution. If Kendrick can sing, “we gon’ be alright” (Pharrell’s hook on “Alright) then Staples will sing “On three let’s jump off the roof”. Although we do get hints and mentions of God throughout the Album, you come away with a sense that belief in this case in the pacifying sense we find in Ta-Nehisi Coates, thus having a form of but denying its power to enact any significant change in circumstance.

When I was in seventh grade my grandfather told me don’t get caught lovin’ the streets cause they never gonna love you back. But I feel like it’s all we got so it’s all we really do love. At the end of the day I feel like the problem is the people that control it don’t really come from here, so they can’t do nothing but look down on us. We look at them, we see somebody that could help but they look at us and all they see is a n***a. It don’t really matter anyway, we all gon’ die one day man. One day

Still from 'Señorita' music video
Still from ‘Señorita’ music video

The quote above is from the penultimate track from Vince Staples’ double album – Summertime ’06. “Like it is”, defines what the album is about, a narration of the life of the artist from his own perspective, which is a defiantly non-moralising one, no judgement or hint on Right or Wrong. Just a straight to the head tales of poverty, wrong roads, spanish girlfriends, religious mothers. It is in this track we get a line that inspired the shocking ending to the music video for the track, ‘Señorita’:

We live for they amusement like they view us from behind the glass. No matter what we grow into, we never gonna escape our past.

In a revealing interview for NPR, Staples insists on his intention to simply tell it like it is, without any cause for judgement on whether his or any other person’s actions can be justified:

...it’s back to what you say about right or wrong. It’s right; it’s wrong, the reality. The fact that we even dabble in right or wrong is wrong in the first place. But is it wrong, cause it brings order. Is order right? Are we supposed to have order? And why does no one focus on the reality of the situation? If you look at the news, all these people dying and how things are happening, it’s never based on the reality of the situation. It’s based on what people think are right and wrong. All that is based on opinion. When things are based on opinion, the popular opinion wins. That’s what it’s called the popular opinion. So in that sense, we’re always going to be f*****. Cause all you need to do — Hitler got people to think he was right.

The evident Nihilism in Staples’ mind-state however, should not stop anyone (me, since I can only speak for myself) from enjoying this album, in the same way I can enjoy “Breaking Bad” or the book of Ecclesiastes. This might not seem like a faithful comparison but I increasingly find the Bible at a times being more realistic, more truthful in its reports of the dire state of our world, contrary to what any smiling preacher might want to make you believe. Except that when it opens your eyes to this reality, it also holds out an unwavering hope, even a certain one in stark contrast to any grim reality you might be facing. Those two words – certain and hope – look like an oxymoronic combination, yet true because of the revealing of Christ whose full and final reign we will finally see and get glimpses of in the here and now. This you cannot get from Staples or anyone else.

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