Interviews

Vince Staples Is a Mass of Seeming Contradictions

Steve Knopper
Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Hip-hop star Vince Staples’ new single, "BagBak", has sharp electronic production, clearly influenced by dance music and contemporary DJs.

Hip-hop star Vince Staples’ new single, “BagBak,” has sharp electronic production, clearly influenced by dance music and contemporary DJs, which he hasn’t shown much of in breakthrough albums such as 2015’s “Summertime ‘06” and last year’s “Prima Donna” EP. But Staples says the sound is of a piece with his earlier work, including “Blue Suede” and “Like It Is.”

“I don’t really think it sounds that different,” he said. “I don’t see it being that separate from what I’ve already done. It just falls in line.”

In a 15-minute talk by phone over a terrible mobile connection, with two of his reps on the line, Staples, a 23-year-old rapper from Long Beach, Calif., became quickly frustrated and retreated into vagaries. In response to the first question, “Where are you currently?” he responded: “I’ve no idea — we’re on the bus.” Asked for details about his upcoming release, due this year, he deferred to one of the reps: “Are we getting into that, or no?” The rep responded quickly, “No, we’re not discussing the new album yet.”

Even under these less-than-optimal circumstances, Staples gives bits of insight into his history and music. He has told reporters his grandparents immigrated to Los Angeles from the West Indies, and his grandfather got swept up in the rise of street gangs. According to a Vulture profile, Staples’ maternal grandfather was an Army veteran, then a black nationalist, then a Crip, and Staples followed this troubling tradition against his parents’ will — he was a successful high school student but was expelled for what the article called “trumped-up charges.” After a time in Long Beach’s Naughty Nasty Crips, enduring the shooting of a close cousin who fell into a coma, Staples had an epiphany and shifted to hip-hop.

“I didn’t have a backup plan — I didn’t have a plan in the first place,” he said by phone. “I just got lucky, met the right people. I just needed a better situation.”

Staples’ mother, Eloise, told a reporter last year that he pulled off Ray Charles singing “Georgia On My Mind” when he was a little kid, giving his family a hint of his musical talent. (Staples didn’t remember that: “That was like a story they told. I never was, growing up or anything, trying to make music. That was never a thought I had.”) But singing ability has served him well, as he often inserts his soft, gravely voice into his laid-back hip-hop aesthetic — on “Let It Shine,” which opens “Prima Donna,” he croons gospel into what sounds like a cassette recorder, then cuts himself off with a gunshot.

“I wanted it a different way than I opened my last album,” Staples said.

Staples began in the Cutthroat Boyz and quickly drew attention from established rappers, showing up on Earl Sweatshirt’s “epaR” and other tracks. He put out a series of his own mixtapes beginning in 2011, building up to his 2015 masterpiece “Summertime ‘06.” The two-disc, 20-track album is hazy and persistent, with repetitive sounds, like an amorphous swirl of synthesizers here or a gospel chorus there, offsetting the rumbling bass lines. In a voice filled with resignation, Staples chronicles slinging dope, his family’s entwinement with Los Angeles gangs and the history of black nationalism (“why they hate us? why they want to rape us for our culture?”) and makes references to Nate Dogg, Versace and Madonna. “I feel like Mick and Richards, they feel like Muddy Waters,” he raps on “Ramona Park Legend pt. 1.” “So tell me what’s the difference?”

Though generally more upbeat musically, “Prima Donna” hits on many of the same issues of violence and drugs and adds new layers of literature and politics. “Edgar Allan Poe tried to warn ‘em of demise, and all he seen was crows,” he declares on “War Ready.” Staples has rapped a couple of times about not voting, explaining to reporters he prefers to fund after-school programs. “I don’t speak about those things, it’s not my cup of tea,” he said in the interview. “I’m not opinionated about the Trump administration at all — I’ve never really said anything at all about him, ever. … I stay off that whole debacle.”

Has he discussed the new immigration orders and travel restrictions with his grandmother, an immigrant who has lived on the West Coast for much of her life? “No, but I don’t think she would really care,” Staples said. “Because they’ve been dealing with crazy things the entire time they’ve been here. Pretty sure they’re not going to care about this one.”

As the interview wound down, Staples was asked if he can say anything at all about the upcoming album — will it have the same feel as “BagBak”? “We’re always making music,” he said, “and always trying to do something with our music.”

What about the tour? “It’ll be more dynamic than before,” he said.

Anything else he’d like to add? “Just stop doing drugs, you know,” he said after a pause. “Kids should go to school.”

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image