Stuff I Liked In 2013: Discovering Vince Staples

December 11th, 2013 by | Tags: ,

I didn’t have a name for it until I read music critic Andrew Nosnitsky talking about Vince Staples, but I got into dead-eyed rap and Vince Staples in a big way this year. When it comes to threats, rap’s usual mode is like something out of John Woo’s heroic bloodshed films. The threats are amped up past the point of believability and into the realm of myth. I love 50’s “If you was smart, you’d be shook of me/’cause I’d get tired of lookin for you, spray your mama crib, and let your ass look for me.” It’s a threat, but there’s a playfulness, an exuberance, that makes it great. It’s showing off and showing out, a threat that’s a boast simultaneously.

Vince Staples goes in the other direction. I first really noticed dude on Earl Sweatshirt’s “Hive” from Doris, though he’d made appearance on a few other projects I’ve dug. But his verse there made me sit up and take notice. Doris is full of fallen world music, and Staples absolutely nailed the mood Earl was going for. It’s more fatalistic than braggy, more flat than simple posturing. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t a pose, but it’s a pose that Staples performs very well.

It’s the fatalism that gets me. 2012 was tough, and 2013 has been tough in an entirely different way. Things I took for granted aren’t there any more, habits I used to have don’t work, and things are complicated. I can be mad and feel bad about it, or I can accept that it is what it is and still feel bad about it. “It is what it is,” like its sisters “that’s life” and “that’s just the way it is,” is inherently fatalistic. They indicate acceptance of the fact that you can’t fix or control everything because it’s bigger than you. It’s an indicator that since you can’t win, you’re gonna make do.

Staples does a lot of making do. On “102,” he says, “Never could be rich enough/’cause I grew up broke as fuck.” “Trigga Witta Heart:” “Rap ain’t never did shit for a nigga with no options/ You want some positivity go listen to some Common.” “Versace Rap:” “I asked my mama what’s the key to life, she told me she ain’t know/ She just try to take it day to day, and pray I make it home.”

He talks about his mom a lot. She plays a variety of roles in his songs, but rarely hope. She’s reality, responsibility, love, missed opportunity, better, and worse. A few examples:

“Stuck In My Ways:”

Mama trying to figure what the fuck my problem is
And why I gotta live this way
I know my path ain’t straight
But in the field, don’t nothing but grit matter
Just get it how you live, and figure the shit after
Nigga, gotta get it before I die out here
Don’t wanna see my momma cry out tears

“Beeper King Exclusive:”

Hit a couple hundred licks, stash the money at the crib
Mama going through my shit, had to pass it off to Nick


Watch the shit that you talkin’, promise it’s with me often
I got to stop with the trigger talking, I promised mama


My momma told me I’m living crazy
I’m just being what she made me
Dealing with the luck she gave me

“Thought About You:”

Just found God and I still don’t pray
’cause Satan prey on the weak, swear I can do it myself
Soul stuck in the beats, it’s like I’m crying for help
Still my expression is bleak, because my mama ain’t raised no bitch
Never take no shit from no nigga unless he want to see the black four-fifth

“Winter in Prague:”

Now, back to the story at hand:
They handed me nothing, I took it in stride
Take a shot at your head for taking shots at my pride
The only son my mama got that she can talk to…
So you don’t want no problems. That’s never been a smart move.

There’s a lot going on here, a lot to chew on, and all of it’s dark. It’s not music to feel sad to. It doesn’t have the uplifting punch of songs that are meant to get you hype when you’re blue, nor the “You’re not alone” message the blues has. There’s no glory, no joy, and no hope, just expressionless faces and dead eyes that hide dark thoughts. It’s music to feel bad to, flat and hopeless raps.

Staples hasn’t had a proper album release yet, but he’s got three mixtapes I enjoyed a lot. Shyne Coldchain is good, and Winter in Prague (a collab with Michael Uzowuru) is a lot of fun, too. But the one that stole the show for me, upsetting expectations and surprising me with how solid it is, was Stolen Youth. It was produced by Mac Miller under his Larry Fisherman alias and features a fistful of entertaining rappers. This one made me go back and re-evaluate Mac Miller, because I’d honestly written him off before 2013. But his verses are good and his beats are a great foundation for Staples to show out on. “Guns and Roses” is fantastic and totally unexpected.

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3 comments to “Stuff I Liked In 2013: Discovering Vince Staples”

  1. Really happy to see you sing Vince Staples’ praises. “Lord,” I think, was the best song of 2012 and pretty much everyone slept on it.

  2. The number one thing that Vince Staples on “Hive” reminds me of is the first time I heard Prodigy on “Shook Ones, pt. 2.”

    Just like you say with Staples, it’s this familiarity with horror to the degree that death is as casual as pouring a bowl of cereal. More than the lyrics (which in both cases are great), it’s the tone and the almost bored delivery. When Staples says “I don’t believe it,” it’s just so incredibly dismissive of other rappers that it comes across as hard as one of Pac’s “fuck you”‘s. With Staples, the mention is beyond anger or even disgust or bemusement. He says it like other rappers are just fully beneath him.

    And that makes me laugh.

  3. @Darryl Ayo: Yeah, Prodigy has that cold-blooded delivery I like a lot. It’s like how The Clipse traded on scorn, or Jay on being above everything.