A couple years ago my buddy Phil told me about this kid out of Long Beach, California. Phil knew I only wanted to listen to artists who were actually saying something. I was through listening to music about hanging in “da club”, spending money, and “banging hoes”. The world was changing and there was a need to address it. I wanted to hear from artists who had real stories to tell. I wanted to hear from artists who wanted to respond to what was actually going on.
Entered Vince Staples.
Vince Staples, now 23 has rapidly become one of the most authentic, honest and creative artists in hip/hop. In an October 2015 interview with the guardian’s Ben Beaumont-Thomas, Staples responded to whether he felt part of the hip/hop culture that was currently celebrating him: “No…I do not at all. I didn’t grow up with people breakdancing; I come from gang culture.”
Staples, a former member of the Crips said he started “gangbanging because [he] wanted to kill people..[he] wanted to hurt people. There’s no reason: it’s a bloodthirst.” It took his mother stepping in following a gang-related incident to switch his attention to music, shipping him off to Atlanta. His time in Atlanta led to his debut album Summertime ’06, which depicts his time with the Crip gang.
At no point in Summertime ’06 do you feel that Staples is glorifying gang-culture. The album is genuine. It is so genuine that at times it seems as if it’s a call for help. A year later with his release of his Prima Dona EP, Staples goes deeper and darker. In one track, “Smile”, Staples grapples with whether he should end his life: “Sometimes I feel alone/ Sometimes I can’t get away/ I feel my life is in danger every night when I lay.” He ends that same track by saying over and over again “Sometimes I feel like giving up/ Sometimes I feel like giving up/ Sometimes I feel like giving up.”
During Ben Baumont-Thomas’ interview Staples discussed how the hood life is being sold to the masses by inauthentic and dishonest rappers, “It’s the reason why people like Mission: Impossible, there’s something captivating about danger. But it’s not fun when it’s real. People die, bro.”
Last night, Staples performed to a sold out, mostly white, very young crowd in New York City. He did his entire set alone. He brought no collaborators, no other hip/hop artists, no one. It was just him, a microphone, lights and visuals. Like Summertime ’06, Prima Dona EP and his new anti-government, anti-trump single “BagBak”, Staples brought sincerity and authenticity to New York City.
Although most in the audience can never fully understand where Staples comes from it is clear they are willing to try. Staples delivered a full set to a packed, lively and young Terminal 5 crowd who hung on to every word he said. Staples told Beaumont-Thomas in 2015 that the black community needs to “broaden certain issues to make them more familiar [to white people]. Do we want understanding, or do we want sympathy?”
Just like his tracks, last night in New York City, Staples appeared to favor understanding. He stood up there alone, exposed and poured his heart out. His story isn’t and shouldn’t be glorified. Instead we should try and understand where Vince Staples came from and how hard he fought to be where he is today.