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New American Songbook

Vince Staples And His Elegant, Dark World

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Public Domain (Def Jam Recordings)
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Dark and desperate, Summertime ‘06 is the new double-disc release from Compton rapper Vince Staples.

It’s a study in American dystopia. The tone of the record is steeped in classic gangsta rap tropes—street crime, drugs and bravado—but Staples manages to use these well worn ideas as a way to support an elegant narrative that avoids the typical cartoonish depiction of the gangsta rap artist.

The album begins with the lapping of waves on a beach and a gunshot. Everything that follows is a tangent to this pairing: the leisure of vacation, the violence of survival; the freedom of the ocean horizon, the exercise of power. The view isn’t always at 10,000 feet, though. The song ‘Jump Off the Roof’ is a lament, reflecting the impossibility of genuine human connection. The refrain ‘on three, let’s jump off the roof’ is horrifying and exhilarating.

The album’s music, built by producer No I.D., is richly monochromatic, using a limited array of sounds to compliment Staples’ high register. Because of the extreme consistency between songs, Summertime ‘06 isn’t an album where any one track stands out. What remains after listening are images, feelings, and the sense that it might all be for naught after all, yet still the horizon calls.