Vince Staples is the antithesis of the modern mainstream rapper. He is stoic, withdrawn and decidedly not very seeing. While stars like Drake, Lil Baby and Tyler, The Creator are on view – never far from a red carpet or promotional gimmick – Staples prefers to keep a low profile, letting their music speak for itself. “I blend into the background, and I think that’s a big misconception about artists, that they can’t,” he tells Zoom from his home in Long Beach, Calif. “You can build your own world. I don’t need to have security, I don’t have to live in a gated community, I don’t need to go to parties. I simply create and live in the world that I have tried to create for myself. I appreciate being able to have this kind of reality.
Today, the reality is that Staples is tired and their webcam is turned off. But his airy star quality is still palpable. Since the early 2010s, when his single “Norf Norf” marked his blunt, claustrophobic style (and went gold without tracing), he has garnered attention for being a witty artist who is indifferent to the playing of the celebrity. His Twitter account is hilarious (a recent tweet: “I didn’t know anything about salmon until the iPhone came out. We were a family of red snappers”) and, such is his comedic timing in interviews, his fans often claim it. get up. Turns out he’s been listening, and his new album this week has news of an upcoming Netflix show (details of which have yet to be revealed).
His humor is a counterweight to his music, which often details his childhood spent on the north side of Long Beach amid gangs, poverty and street warfare. He Also Divides, a nonconformist who ruffles the feathers of hip-hop elders with his steadfast observations of the music industry and the evolution of the genre. In 2015, a video of Time The magazine titled “Rapper Vince Staples Explains Why The 90s Are Overrated” has aroused the ire of some corners of hip-hop. In it, the rapper said that the only reason the ’90s are called the golden age of hip-hop is because of the late Biggie and Tupac. Famous rapper-turned-podcaster NORE called Staples’ comments “silly statements from someone we barely know.”
But Staples rises above it all, as he is one of the most endearing storytellers of his generation. The 28-year-old has led the life of someone twice his age, both personally and professionally. Before his rap career took off, he spent his teenage years in gangs and his music explores the reality of this way of life. However, he never glamorizes him: he erases the thrill of the streets, instead highlighting the inner and outer conflict, paranoia, and sleepless nights that dominate an individual who lives a dangerous existence.
We are far from the flashy image of hood culture that gangsta rap has painted since the days of NWA; it’s darker, more nihilistic. Staples says The Guardian in 2015 he “started gangbanging because I wanted to kill people. I wanted to hurt people. There is no reason: it is a thirst for blood. Today, he says his experiences gave him perspective and that rap was a crucial escape. “Coming from where I’m from and what I did before music, and what a lot of my family and friends are subjected to,” he says, with typical candor, “I can only be grateful [for music]. ”
The world of Staples was chaotic from the start. He was born in Compton, the youngest of five siblings, and his father was in prison while his mother raised the family. Her older sister was shot before the family moved to Long Beach when Staples was still a child. Surrounded by the daily pressures of downtown California, he quickly got into trouble as a member of the infamous Crips gang – something he said was due to his father’s absence. “He’s the reason I don’t drugs and drink and I never will,” he told the radio show. The breakfast club in 2017. “He’s the reason I think all this gang bullshit is playing out.”
This downward spiral was stopped when Staples found soul mates in Los Angeles’ Odd Future collective, a team of alternative rap misfits like Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt, Syd and Tyler, The Creator. Its path has been redirected. After a slew of mixtapes and collaborations with Earl, hip-hop heavyweight Common and the late Mac Miller, Staples released their debut album Daylight saving time ’06 in 2015, a double album offering a glimpse into the gang life he once led. In it, he tells stories about police racial profiling (“Lift Me Up”), drug trafficking (“Dopeman”) and the angst of waking up every day with the possibility of it being the last.
His sound, meanwhile, used the G-funk offshoot of West Coast hip-hop (and immortalized by ’90s legends Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg), but Staples wasn’t one to stay in one. way: his music is not I don’t stick to hard-core hip-hop and his second album, 2017’s Big fish theory, was inspired more by Detroit house and techno than any emerging rap trend, with tracks produced by dance leaders like James Blake and the late Sophie. Instead of courting renowned rap collaborations, he teamed up with alt-pop artists like Gorillaz and Santigold. He takes advantage of the eccentricity of his sound with his sometimes jaded, sometimes lively, always incisive vocal tone, although he is generally eager to know how he decides which sounds to rap on. “If I love him, I love him; I just go with what makes me feel good, ”he says.
Another version of the curve, that of 2018 FM !, was a vibrant framing of a radio station anchored by recurring skits of Big Boy, a veteran of the LA rap radio scene for as long as Staples has been alive. But now he’s back with a fourth album that seems to be starting a new chapter. It’s eponymous and “tells a lot of my story,” Staples says, in a way that’s “more descriptive than anything that came before it.” A brief 22-minute affair, the album takes us back to Long Beach, clearly addressing the daily pressures Staples faces not only in life, but also in the psychological negotiation of his position as a young man who, despite his surroundings, has been successful. . Around every corner, he remembers his distrust of people, sparked by his gang past, and being forced to keep a cool head in case this past catches up with him. Interludes courtesy of her mother, who details her anger issues, while “Lakewood Mall” sees a friend tell a story of narrowly avoiding a house party that ended in homicide. .
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The moderate production of Kenny Beats’ album – bringing him a bit closer to G-funk and his obsession with sampling old soulful records than willfully experimenting with his previous releases – places an exclamation mark on his. quarrels. On songs like “Sundown Town,” Staples remembers making money selling drugs: “We were in the neighborhood, the rent was late, there was no Section 8, with the. 38, and the eighth, moved the 68th ”. Meanwhile, his paranoia and recluse bleeds over “Law Of Averages”, when he says, “Count my groups, all alone at home, don’t call my phone, everyone I’ve known has asked me. a loan. “
The steadfast way he analyzes his experiences may seem disturbing to some, but they are his. He raps in a conversational tone, as if these events had happened very recently. But he doesn’t apologize for them, because they are an integral part of his existence. “I’m just watching life,” Staples said with an audible shrug. “Each song is exactly how I feel that day. I try to make sure my music matches my current state. I don’t dwell on the past.
Vince’s laid-back nature runs counter to the current climate of mainstream hip-hop, where many performers go to substantial extremes to prove they are people to be feared. Take the uplifting tale of controversial NYC rapper Soundcloud Tekashi 6ix6ine, for example – a young man whose all the gimmick and allure hinged on his affiliation with an actual gang, the Nine Trey Gangster Bloods, with whom he actually had very little to do. see. . Or YMW Melly, the Florida-based artist tilted for stardom after releasing the single “Murder On My Mind” in 2018, before being arrested and charged with the actual murder of his best friend.
Staples blames the environment around 6ix9ine, Melly, and others for their desire to project a hardcore image. “It’s a business where we monetize the struggles, pain, death and murder of people,” he says. “If you are a child of a situation and you think the only way to get out of the situation where there is immense poverty or bad home life or low self esteem is to do that thing that everyone’s selling, you’re gonna try to sell this thing. We have seen people commercialize and distribute death and destruction within our communities for decades; they do these things because it attracts attention. What do we really expect when we give people millions of dollars to say they’re tough? They’ll say they’re tough. It is common sense.
You could argue that there is increased visibility of these rappers due to social media – which increases the sensationalism around marketing their tenacity, real or imagined, to a wider audience – but Staples thinks that. there is too much emphasis on ‘bad boy’ role models everywhere right now. “Those people who do the wrong thing are always high [by the media], but nobody who did the right things was mentioned, ”Staples says, using Will Smith’s musician son as an example. “Jaden Smith gives food to the homeless and has a water company – I have never heard anyone mention his name in an interview.
The inner workings of rap and how it rewards destructive behavior is part of a larger societal issue, but Staples hopes the genre will continue to serve as an opportunity for black people to express themselves and, in cases like the his, to save himself from a darker fate. “As long as rap continues to be a way to help people lift their families out of poverty, have their stories heard and their emotions filtered through their creativity,” he says, “that’s all. that I want. That’s all that matters to me. I don’t care what the next sound will be, only if the next child is able to change their life.
Staples is proving to be incredibly insightful, both to himself and to the world around him. Seeing things as they are kept him on the ground, while breaking the rules of the music industry kept him focused on what was important. A mansion isn’t it, as it shouts in the new album “The Shining”. He is the last person to read reviews of his outings or worry about success. “I don’t look at things in a commercial or critical way,” he concludes. “If I am able to take care of my family, then I am grateful. “
‘Vince Staples’ is out now on Blacksmith Recordings / Motown Records / EMI Records