Artist Spotlight: Vince Staples

Artist Spotlight courtesy of Man with Lute

Vince Staples first song is his feature on Earl Sweatshirt’s unfortunate “epaR”. He was introduced to Odd Future on a trip to LA with his friend and cousin. Rapping wasn’t his main ambition, but he ended up getting into it. His verse showcases his unique voice, both literally and figuratively. The childishly high-pitched, but wise voice of Vince Staples provides a contrast to the preternaturally deep voice of Earl. Vince references serial killers, and moves the action of the song along with his trademark speed. It’s about as good as a song with that title can be. So, not very good. For the rest of 2010 he was on a few other Odd Future tracks.

In 2011 he released his first EP, Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1. The songs are more fragments, with only 3 songs longer than 3 minutes, and most falling under the 1-2 minute range. There are verses, but virtually no hooks/bridges/choruses. The beats are closer to Odd Future and Tyler, the Creator than the style Staples generally uses now. I don’t think any of these songs are real standouts.

A year later, in 2012 Staples released the sonically similar Winter In Prague. A similar EP, but entirely produced by Michael Uzowuru. I don’t really have opinions on it. It’s similar to the works surrounding it.

Then in 2013 Vince had one of his largest collaborations. Another EP, produced entirely by Mac Miller under his “Larry Fisherman” pseudonym. Staples now had features from Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul. They were still emerging artists, but their label-mate and friend Kendrick Lamar was a breakout hit in the previous year with good kid m.A.A.d. city. I still don’t see any stand out tracks, like his previous tapes, but I can hear progress.

At this point in Vince’s career, things step into high-gear. He releases two EPs in 2014. Hell Can Wait and Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2.. Vince’s sound is quite a stretch away from his first three mixes now. This, I believe, is largely from the help of incredible production from No I.D. legendary hip-hop producer. In my opinion, these EPs are his largest jump of ability. The songs are fully formed, especially on the later Hell Can Wait. Stand out songs of this group include: Progressive 3, Nate, Screen Door, and Hands Up. At this point I believe Vince had fully come into his own.

His next release is his debut album Summertime ‘06. A 60 minute double sided album this work stands out from Vince’s typically shorter projects. With that said, the album is only 60 minutes, while having 20 songs (avg. song length = 3 min.). For the first two weeks after this album came out I thought it was better than Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. It was more immediate. The production, mainly from No I.D., was stronger. It jumped out at me and grabbed me. While, I eventually rescinded my opinion, Summertime ’06 still stands strong. Vince manages to be one of the most (if not the most) nihilistic rappers in a time when rap has had many pessimistic artists (RTJ, Kanye West’s Yeezus, TPAB (“The Blacker the Berry”), and Earl Sweatshirt).

Vince’s thematic design for this work was about summer of 2006 in his home of Long Beach. Vince was thirteen. The story Staples paints is not one of joy. It’s full of dark moments and dark humor. Lyrics point out straightforward hardships like in “Lift Me Up” and “Might Be Wrong.” Less apparent are the lyrics of “Summertime.” The chorus subtly changes from “this could be forever baby” to “this could be forever maybe.” All of the oppression and hardship in Vince’s life is boiled down to this one word. He isn’t even able to assure this promise of love. The second verse begins with this line: “my teacher told me we was slaves/my momma told me we was kings/I don’t know who to listen to/I guess we somewhere in between.” When I first heard this lyric I felt like my eyes had been opened. I had never even thought of this, and it just opened a new world of white privilege to me. His voice on this song is more sedated than his others. His cadence is far more depressive and illuminates a sense of survival, not triumph I see i this work. With his nihilism Staples can see no way to escape, only a way to survive. “We love our neighborhood, so all my brothers bang the hood.”

Seemingly out of nowhere, this year, Vince released his EP Primma Donna. Only one song, “Pimp Hand”, my least favorite, was produced by No I.D. Two were produced by James Blake, “War Ready” and “Big Time” which were coincidentally my favorite songs. The rest were produced by John Hill and DJ Dahi. “War Ready” takes an OutKast sample, and uses it to great purpose, distorting the vocals and singling out the lyric “put my glock away I got a stronger weapon/that never runs out of ammunition so I’m ready for war, okay” Vince immediately pulls out this weapon. His lyrics are as sharp as ever. The next standout is the lyrical monster first verse off of “Loco”

I load the 44
Then paint the Van Gogh
She rang the front door
She came commando
She came and rambled
I came and rolled over
No time for conversations cold shoulders
Outta my mind
She outta red wine
She woozy b***h bourgeois straight from Dubai
She love the hip hop and love my slick talk
Give head then begged the boy to crip walk
I write the James Joyce
Don’t need the Rolls Royce
I need a straight jacket finna go bat sh*t
Sick of these rapper stealing my swagger
Tryna run with the penmanship practiced
Gangsta gone Gatsby
Fades with no lotion
Get this sh*t cracking
Crack his jaw open
Crack in my system
Daddy loved smoking
Like he loved smoking n****s no joking

It hit me like a ton of bricks and left me stunned.

I am here to unite us all. Peace and equality. You will all thank me later. One nation under Sprite.

— Vince Staples (@vincestaples) August 9, 2015