When Long Beach, California, rapper Vince Staples released his 2015 album “Summertime ’06,” it was met with a mass of critical acclaim. At the time, Pitchfork.com described his lyricism as “conversational, but these are the conversations you have when all optimism has been burned away.”Similarly, Consequence of Sound highlighted the vision it must have taken a new rapper like Staples to produce such a record. But perhaps the most widely broadcasted opinion, and thus the most disputed, came over a year after its release.
On Sept. 5, an upset Christian woman went online to post a “Summertime ‘06” review of her own, focusing on one of the album’s singles, “Norf Norf.” In the video, the self-described mom of four voices her opposition to the amount of time that the song — and others like it — receives on the radio. She claims that the track’s lyrics have the ability to corrupt children, and therefore argues that they should not be aired publicly.
In her own words: “I could not believe what I was hearing. This is on our local radio station ... I couldn’t even believe the words I was listening to.” Over the course of the 11-minute rant, she reads the lyrics to her likely evangelical viewers. She probably never expected the video to go as viral as it did. In just the last two weeks, the rant has been the subject of a myriad of tweets and was even focused on in two Twitter Moments, the site’s daily zeitgeists. Needless to say, the review itself has started receiving reviews of its own.
And many of these reactions are warranted. A lot of people find the woman’s stance hypocritical, and for valid reasons. Her condemnation of the song’s harsh lyrics is almost ruined by her ability to repeat such words in front of her daughter, who is present the entire video, the very same person she claims she is trying to shelter.
But perhaps the more notable argument against her rant is the one that centers on the reality of life in Long Beach, which “Norf Norf” hopes to depict. After hearing of the rant, Staples himself took to Twitter to defend the woman’s stance, while also showing its inaccuracies.
He tweeted, “What I was saying was that the woman in that video is clearly confused on the context of the song which causes her to be frightened.” He goes on to argue that, while no one should be judged for that kind of innocent opinion, “This misunderstanding of our community leads to miscommunication which we should convert into a progressive dialogue.” In this way, Staples vindicates the mother’s viewpoint while also casting himself a liaison between cultures, and therefore someone worthy of the airtime he is afforded.
Art, in the long run, is just a medium for truth-tellers to tell their truths. Staples is a producer of art, and the reality of “Norfside, Long Beach” is the biggest truth he knows to tell. Sure, he is certainly responsible for the work’s production and how clearly this truth is translated. But he is not, however, responsible for its reception, as that is something entirely out of his control.
It is the responsibility of us consumers to evaluate a piece of art and elaborate — mentally — on its worth to us, to gauge how well we resonate with its truth. Clearly, this mother never attempted to gauge the song in this way, otherwise she would have had more constructive things to say about it. In her defense, though, hip-hop and rap come with their respective stigmas, and some of the issues Staples hopes to present can be hard for people unaware of those travesties to address. But is this a fault on the side of Staples, or his audience? That is the question we should ask ourselves whenever delving into any work of this nature. In this way, and only this way, can we be sure to meet hip-hop with the openness it deserves.