“It just might be our moment right now”: Vince Staples on the West Coast and his masterful debut album

“It’s not normal for people to care about the things I care about, to have the opinions I have,” Vince Staples tells me over the phone, “but I try to stay true… I try to get the full range of who I am across no matter what.”

The remark was specifically about his appearance on The Nightly Show — wherein host Larry Wilmore and the rest of the panel seemed shocked that Staples knew his shit, either because of his age or his profession — but it might as well apply to his entire body of work. No one expects a 21-year-old rapper with a Crip affiliation to be sober, to be in a long-term relationship, to model his album cover after Unknown Pleasures, or — in the case of The Nightly Show panel — to care about Republican presidential platforms and gay marriage.

Vince Staples embraces these contradictions and dualities across his debut album, Summertime ‘06, an hour-long, double-disc concept record that seamlessly recounts the trials and tribulations of his coming-of-age. The summer in question, when Staples turned 13, was a pivotal one. “It was a confusing, frustrating time for us all: we were still young but trying to be adults at a very young age,” he explains. “There are always going to be highs and lows in life, but you have to bear with it and be appreciative.”

Summertime ‘06 is claustrophobic and uneasy, and certainly not “fun” in the way that its nostalgic title would suggest. The production, handled primarily by No I.D. with contributions by Clams Casino, DJ Dahi and Christian Rich, is post-Yeezus in a very specific way: stomach-churning basslines ride unorthodox rhythms, but the beats bounce with a fidgety energy. “It’s usually a very from-scratch project,” he says of his production process. “They come in and we work — we’re all hard workers and stay true to the vision. It’s more about working as a team than anything.”

Staples raps like he’s trying to escape his quicksand beats, his rich verses overflowing with detail and reference, and his hooks repeated like distress calls. He’s resigned to the realities of Southern California streets (“That’s somebody’s son but a war to be won / Baby either go hunt or be hunted”), and even when he’s looking for love, one eye is on the look-out, a loaded gun resting on his King magazine. But his resignation doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to better himself and those around him. “Hope you understand, they never taught me how to be a man,” he raps on ‘Summertime’, “Only how to be a shooter, I only need the time to prove it.”

“It just might be our moment right now.”Vince Staples

Summertime ‘06 comes amidst a run of excellent West Coast rap full-lengths, and sits nicely — if off to the side — next to Kendrick Lamar’s narrative masterpiece Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City and political concept record To Pimp A Butterfly, YG’s summertime gangsta rap revival My Krazy Life, and the impressive mixtapes of fellow Long Beach-Compton time-sharer Boogie. Atlanta may be driving the sound and style of rap, but these statement-making albums are coming from Los Angeles. “I feel like everywhere has their moment, whether it’s New York or the South or Atlanta or Texas,” Staples says. “It just might be our moment right now.”

Interestingly, Summertime ‘06 was crafted under the watchful eye of Def Jam. The legendary label has had its share of stunners recently — My Krazy Life and Yeezus, for example — but it has also had some difficulties, struggling to deliver albums by Lil Durk, Gunplay and Jeremih. Summertime ‘06 belongs in the former category, even if it’s almost shocking for a major label to release a debut double-album with no real singles. “A label has to understand who you are as an artist — it has to be a real relationship,” Staples says. “There are things that [Def Jam executives] don’t necessarily believe in, but they trust us, and it’s the same the other way around. It’s just a good situation.”

That creative give-and-take seems to drive the whole project, from the album itself to its Joy Division-referencing art to the ‘Señorita’ video. The latter is a black-and-white clip that is a pitch-perfect visualization of how the media portrays and exploits people for white entertainment. When I suggest that the video is about people of color, Staples corrects me. “To be honest, it’s more about people of poverty,” he explains. “If you look at Buckwild and Jersey Shore, those people are going through the same thing, and they’re white. Their lifestyles became entertainment for people who will never understand it. People can understand it, but you have to bring humanity to the situation; that’s what we tried to do with this album.”

Summertime ‘06 is the culmination of a key period for Staples, starting with his scene-stealing feature on Earl Sweatshirt’s ‘epaR’ back in 2010 through his increasingly-impressive Shyne Coldchain mixtapes to last year’s table-setting Hell Can Wait. Set to be released just days before his 22nd birthday, Staples is excited Summertime ’06, as he should be. “I’m just excited to see how people feel about where I come from, from a realistic standpoint,” he says. “I don’t even know how to feel about it. It’s never happened before. I’m just excited to see how it turns out.”



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