Vince Staples never ceases to surprise me. The Long Beach rapper navigates the media with precise dynamism-leading people to expect the unexpected from him. In 2018, the 26 year-old dropped “Get the Fuck Off My Dick;” a song as provocative as its title. The unforeseen track was accompanied by a GoFundMe page with the goal of raising enough cash ($2 million to be exact) to pay for his retirement from music. Staples left us with a warning-“You will never hear from me again…no songs, no interviews, no anything. If not, you can choose to let me do what the fuck I want to do, when I want to do it.”
At face value, the proclamation could have been interpreted as a trolling tactic. I mean shit, the bio for his Twitter reads, “Parody Account,” and he’s usually never shy about expressing love for all 15 of his fans. The dude is fucking hilarious (I’m still waiting for the stand-up show or movie).
Behind this comedy though is certain strokes of genius from the Californian. He’s mastered the art of promotion and marketing. Staples is undoubtedly stuck within the middle class of hip hop-seemingly too small for the mainstream (my school literally had a chance to acquire him for our spring concert, but many didn’t know who he was), and too big to be labeled as “underground.” Upon knowing this, Staples used this GoFundMe campaign as a unique PR stunt for his subsequent album, FM. Like I said before, a genius move. The project peaked at #37 on the Billboard Hot 200 and earned mounds of critical acclaim.
The album itself is a far cry from the cutting edge experimentation off of 2017’s Big Fish Theory (which actually garnered better reviews, and landed 16th on the Billboard). FM famously played out like a Long Beach radio station, swiftly echoing buoyant G-funk with eerie reminders about harsh realities (“Summertime in the LB wild/We gon’ party till the sun or the guns come out”). The album is great in its own way, never meandering outside of its concise subject matter. The whole experience re-affirmed Staples’ position as one of the most talented rappers out there.
It’s a talent that’s been burrowing under the surface for years, even before Pitchfork’s 2017 glowing feature story on him. No one knew of his capabilities then, and many are still fuzzy about them now.
So naturally, Staples has once again decided to surprise all of us with something else. This time around, it is a new show aptly titled, “The Vince Staples Show.” My initial reaction was, “finally! The comedy series I’ve been waiting for!” But no, that would be way too predictable. Rookie mistake on my part.
Instead, The Vince Staples Show seems to be a mini Youtube series, riddled with familiar messages about stopping bullies and eliminating haters. You know, typical Vince Staples banter. According to the official press release, The Vince Staples Show “is an episodic web series that ‘showcases Staples’ music and unfiltered personality in short videos set in some of the wild situations (he) finds himself in.” Well, maybe my wishes were kind of granted?
The first episode-which aired on Thursday (and titled, “So What?”)- follows the ever-confident Vince looking to find a perfect place to get a haircut ahead of an uber-important concert for Malia Obama’s 21st birthday (he’s performing of course). He lands on a place in Pasadena, where the head barber sweet talks him into getting a fade.
Vince, ever the introvert, calmly sits down in the chair with headphones in his ears-playing what sounds like a new song, which does actually end up accompanying the video (I learn this afterwards). Out of nowhere, a younger kid approaches Staples, rips his headphones out, and provokes a needless fight. The encounter turns into a brawl, where Staples shows off his superb karate moves on a group of people who simply won’t leave him alone.
The sight is simultaneously entertaining and disturbing-bringing issues of bullying and suicide to the forefront through dark comedy and excellent directing (courtesy of Calmatic-the mastermind behind the “Old Town Road” video). Staples would officially reveal its themes later on in an Instagram post. The song (which has the same name as the episode) that came with it loosely ties these universal topics together with alien-like synth programming (reminiscent of Big Fish’s aesthetic) and contemporary trap 808s. In my opinion, the track doesn’t gain momentum until its second verse, where Staples writes a string of notable lyrics about fighting the opposition instead of fighting oneself (“this is for my fans who are suicidal/Why kill yourself when you can go kill a rival?”). Though simplistic in nature, the sentiment makes sense within the context of the episode. All jokes aside, Vince really does care about his fans.
His fanbase will only grow, especially if he continues to outsource his material through other modes of entertainment as a way of spreading his positive (and darkly funny) message of equality and self-fulfillment. The lack of originality and inventiveness is hidden by Staples’ dry humor and slick songwriting. And hey, at least this endeavor surpasses the shallow corniness of Logic’s 1-800 ballad from a few years back. That’s a huge step in the right direction.
I’m curious to see how this all unfolds. Will an album come out of this? Will other themes be explored? Is Vince once again surprising us with a bigger picture purpose? Who knows. at this point, there’s no use in guessing. He’s as unpredictable as recent politics. We’ll just have to see what happens in the next episode. If nothing else, “So What?” is an intriguing piece of art dedicated to raising more questions than answers. In a nutshell, it’s Vince Staples just being Vince Staples.
clipping, is Back!
In other hip hop news, the industrial rap group clipping. is back with a new single (“Nothing is Safe”) for their upcoming album, There Existed an Addiction to Blood. The trio (consisting of Daveed Diggs, Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson) sounds more politically charged than ever, rapping bars about our social reality over a darkly-woven piano riff. Diggs sounds fed up-a clear observation after his standout role in the indie movie, Blindspotting, where he plays a character who is sick of being perceived in a narrow-minded manner. I hear that same pain in this song. Can’t wait for the album.