Many people are fortunate enough to be able to reminisce about their hometowns or past selves without the weight of shame or regret. In Vince Staples' stunning two-disc debut, Summertime ‘06, he shows that nostalgia is more complicated than that. Using the eponymous summer as a jumping-off point, he explores everything that has since happened to his community of North Beach, California with an air of anger and sadness.
In an Instagram post released with the album’s artwork, he wrote “youth was stolen from my city that Summer and I’m left alone to tell the story.” That’s a huge burden to carry, but Staples more than rises to the task with an album that, despite it’s length, never feels padded or overreaching. Working from the memory of the anonymous thousands lost to drug dealing and violence, he brings together the micro and the macro to explore themes such as loss and regret through an intensely personal lens
After a solid EP, Hell Can Wait, and a litany of guest verses under his belt, Staples' has sanded off the rough edges of his earlier work. Consequently, in this album his lyrics are more focused, his hooks are catchier, and his rhymes are tossed off with the flow and internal structure of a Stephen Sondheim musical. Legendary producer No I.D. (of Kanye West mentorship fame) wisely keeps the beats and instrumentals unpolished enough to evoke a feeling of tormented nostalgia. The discordant wailing deep in the mix of “Jump off the Roof,” for instance, lends a note of jarring realism to the track on the album that comes closest to a love ballad. This realism permeates every track with remarkable precision and insight, but never feels oppressive. Instead, it brings the small victories of life into sharper relief, giving cause to persevere through hardship and let hope shine through. Staples would be the first to admit that the past wasn’t perfect, but the passage of time allows for love to eclipse the more painful memories—at least sometimes.