Listening to Summertime '06 does not, to put it lightly, make for an optimistic, feel-good sort of experience. Many rap albums have vividly depicted the difficult environments in which artists' have grown up in, but unlike Kendrick Lamar in parts of To Pimp a Butterfly, Vince Staples isn't approaching issues like systemic racism, poverty and gang violence as someone with an uplifting message to share or any kind of way forward. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he says "I can't tell you the solution, but I can promise you it's there. My music is saying, 'This is here.' It's no solution, it's not 'positive.' It is what it is."
The majority of this album was produced by No I.D. (a Def Jam Recordings executive and a long-time producer), who provides a batch of minimalist and unnerving beats to back up Staples' bleak and cutting rhymes. The resulting sound feels like an even more aggressive and pared-down version of the industrial tracks from Yeezus. Auto-tuned vocals are occasionally employed (as on the excellent and devastating Summertime), but the majority of the tracks on this album are relatively gimmick free.
This leaves Staples' lyrics at the forefront, and he has a penchant for lines that are cutting and concise. In 3230, he refers to the criminal activity surrounding him as a "deadly game of tag, the older generations passed to us," implying that retributive cycles of shootouts among warring gangs is assumed to be a given. Even though Staples is now in his twenties and has established himself as a musician, he isn't too excited about his newfound fame and adulation, either. In Lift Me Up, he reflects on how his increasingly mainstream and white audience would never actually want to visit his neighborhood and experience what he has, making their cheers at concerts ring hollow.
The closest thing that this album has to a traditional "club banger" is Señorita, but by opening up the song by declaring "Fuck ya dead homies," Staples opts for nihilism instead of radio friendliness. I don't see myself throwing this album into any kind of regular rotation, but Staples is clearly very talented and listening to this made for a striking experience.