Summer is the most heralded season in Hip Hop. Rap fans have more time to bask in the sunshine, spend more money on vacations, parties, and bullshit. To Vince Staples, every day above ground is a good day. His buzz right now is trenchant, and it exists because of his exquisite two-disc debut album Summertime ‘06. The record is filled with vivid details of both the glorious moments and the grim details of his California paradise lost. In 2006, a thirteen-year-old Vince saw many of his friend’s lose their young lives to the streets during a white-hot summer in the Ramona Park neighborhood of Long Beach, California.
Summertime ‘06 is a microcosm of the deeply wounded state of Black America. Consider the sprawling ghetto red hot atmosphere across the country, as we receive more eye-popping news of arson-struck black churches, the Colorado-based NAACP chapter bombing, stagnant progress on the high unemployment rate, and massacres as well as unnecessarily violent apprehensions of innocent black citizens by police. Although, if you are only now realizing the extent of the pungent mess wafting up from our society’s bellows then things are worse than we thought. Staples’ mastery of storytelling makes this a truth elixir for millennials, with Vince looking over his shoulder to the year that changed his life forever. Although he adds to the legacy of fellow Long Beach natives Snoop Dogg, Warren G, Nate Dogg, The Eastsidaz, and the LBC Crew, Vince seems to channel a young Ice Cube’s incendiary street poetry from twenty-five years ago, and has now become “Long Beach’s Most Wanted.”
Vince Staples Talks Being A “Voice Of The Youth”
DX: I’m sure that your life has changed in many ways since you started putting out music. What are some of the biggest life changes and sacrifices that you have had to face and/or do since your name recognition has increased the past few years?
Vince Staples: Just time and privacy. Those are the things you lose- time and privacy. It’s like your life belongs to your craft and the people who support it. So you know it’s a gift and a curse, but you miss the simple things. And I’m not even really ashamed to say this. I’m just a regular, but since last year I’m on a big run. But you know, there’s just times where there are certain places I can’t go. You know what I mean? Business has been kinda leading me to this whole situation.
DX: Releasing a double disc for a debut album is quite a feat from a young artist. What compelled you to release your album like this?
Vince Staples: Just having the music, man. We live in a time where more artists are taking advantage of the listeners. It’s like “here we’ll get you pumped up with a mixtape.” Throw some shit out real quick just to get you to know the feel and the money. Let’s get some bread out of your pockets. And it’s not like ten songs or too many things like that. So I felt like if we have these and making sick beats, you’re making these other songs. You could give them a deluxe edition, but that’s exactly the same, but with two songs you could throw away that are on it. But you’re charging two to four extra dollars? It’s like why not give them the full experience of all the songs that you’ve made? Basically, it’s giving the people all the music that we’ve created at this point in time. For the simple fact that you never know how certain songs are gonna affect someone. We just want to give people as many opportunities to be affected by the music as possible.
DX: Summertime ’06 is a bit more distant and eclectic in its sound compared to your previous mixtapes like Stolen Youth, Shyne Coldchain volumes 1 and 2, and the Hell Can Wait EP. From the album cover to the music itself, it seems like an “art rap” album more than just a “gangsta rap” album. Who came up with most of these concepts for the album?
Vince Staples: I come up with everything. And, literally, I have a team of people with me that flush it out. They all help me execute the vision that I want to pull off and put out there. From the cover, direction, the font, and pictures. Just helping get my vision out there. But also my question to that would be what is “art rap?” What is “gangsta rap?” It’s all music at the end of the day. It’s all music, man. There’s no separation of it. It’s all art, it’s all created no matter what it is. It’s all rap. So I don’t really think of it like that.
DX: What do the waves on the album cover mean?
Vince Staples: There were different tracks that affected me in a certain way when I was younger. Just thinking about the summertime, beaches and things like that. Bringing those worlds together for showing how I view my world. The waves are obviously a representation of where I come from, and my view being that strong for certain emotions [and] seeing what was awful, but with music. It’s just merging those different worlds to show what my mind state was at that time. I wrote a thing on Instagram about it.
DX: Which songs do you like the most that you predict can take you over the top?
Vince: I don’t believe in “over the top.” That’s not my goal. My goal is affecting people. I think of that a lot nowadays. It’s like you think of the Ramones forty years ago and if I pulled out a Ramones t-shirt, you’d know who they were. You know what I mean? Influence is important, and that’s what I care about. [ I care about] the positive energy. I care about that connection to music. If one hundred people connect to my music and that hundred people buy my album, I’ll be happy if they really love and appreciate it. That’s all I care about. I’d rather be the voice of the youth.
Politics As Usual
DX: You stated in a previous HipHopDX interview that you don’t want to vote nor take part in political activities. You were even recently on Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show discussing politics. Plus, the video for “Senorita” seems very political and speaks to a lot about your views on the urban community. Do you find that speaking personally about your life and politics of the community when you wrote this album was inevitable?
Vince: If that’s all part of life, I gotta tell it. Nothing’s off limits when it comes to the music. It’s the relation to the life we know. You can go through anything in life. I wouldn’t say that it was off limits. But you’re right, 100 percent of that has to be talked about.
DX: So for the fact that you don’t party much, what do you plan on doing to celebrate your birthday July 2nd and album release?
Vince: I don’t know, man. I never really celebrated my birthday when I was younger. I just appreciate another year being alive. That’s a hard thing to pull off.
DX: Much of this album details the dark side of your experience in Long Beach. What are some of the happier memories growing up in SoCal before summertime 2006 when you lost your best friend to gang violence?
Vince Staples: It’s funny to because none of that is dark to me. It’s just a reality. It just wasn’t the right time. “Lemme Know” isn’t dark. “Like It Is,” “Surf,” “C.N.B,” and “Get Paid” are not dark to me. But it’s more about time than anything. It’s a rough environment, but we didn’t see it as a dark experience. The way I look at it is that we have the hand we’re dealt and we make the best of it. That point in time was a down point and a realization for me. It was like an understanding of what I deemed to be important at the time. And it was a power in the nature that we were living by.
A Begrudging Star
DX: You didn’t always want to be a rapper, but you’ve mentioned that local neighborhood producers Chuck Wun and Dijon Samo, Earl Sweatshirt and Mac Miller pushed you to pursue this profession. What would you be doing now if you weren’t rapping at all?
Vince Staples: Nothing, to be fully honest with you. It’s not cool at all, but that’s true.
DX: Complex recently considered one of the all-time best artists to follow on Twitter. Do you take pride in that, or do you feel that adds hype into an area that you don’t take seriously at all?
Vince Staples: It’s all in good fun, man. You know how people say certain things that are funny but mean it in a good way. But that was hilarious, so I feel ‘em.
DX: You worked heavily with Odd Future in the past on your come-up in the game, and they recently publicized their breakup via Twitter. Do you miss the camaraderie of Odd Future, or do you think that breakup was inevitable?
Vince Staples: Bruh, to be perfectly honest, I don’t even know what that is. I was never part of that camaraderie, never part of that situation. I didn’t even know they argued on Twitter to be honest. That’s the first time I’m hearing this. Everybody is grown, bruh. It’s unfortunate to see people make shifts from what everybody loves. But at the end of the day, I know those kids. You don’t know if they were playing or not.
DX: You’re signed to No I.D.’s Def Jam/ARTium imprint plus with him on Common’s song “Kingdom.” What is the best way you would describe the work process with No I.D. in the studio and as an executive partially overseeing your career?
Vince Staples: It’s easy and a good situation. And everyone there at Artium is for the craft. It’s cool because I got more big plans. It’s just the perfect situation for me to come in on.
Stapling Together His Family, Music Career, and Life Goals
DX: Are you still close with your parents, who you speak frequently about in your records?
Vince Staples: I literally have no problems with my father or my mother. I’ve never once said I did. It’s “hate messages” I guess in which some people may look at my music. I’ve said it before that I appreciate everything that my parents have ever done in whatever was available in their situation. Me and my dad are cool. It’s just that everybody got their lives to live.
DX: You’ve stated in previous interviews that you understand that you can’t rap forever, nor do you want to have all the glamour and glitz. What is your ultimate life goal(s), and how do you think rap will help you get there?
Vince Staples: Just help people and show them what they gotta do. As far as focus, it fucked me up in a sense of what I was going through in life, doing things to people that wasn’t cool. So I’d people not have to do that. It’s cool to be a positive voice for other people. But there’s a lot that I can end up doing. Nothing is off the table of what you could be down the line.
DX: What would you say is the main takeaway that you want your fans and other people to have from Summertime ‘06?
Vince Staples: It’s a bigger insight on who and why I am the way I am. It has an introduction to your friend, your circumstance in life. It’s shows the direction and the very unique situation that we’re dealing with. And we’re proud of it, and making the best music as possible for the people.