Vince Staples - Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2

Vince Staples came about as close as you can come to being a member of Odd Future without actually joining Odd Future. On the crew’s first wave of internet-breaking mixtapes, Staples is all over some of the most indelible tracks, like Mike G’s “Moracular World” and Earl Sweatshirt’s “epaR,” and his “Don’t touch it, don’t even fucking look / You are Fantasia and the body bag’s a fucking book” moment on the latter is one of those lines that just rattles around in your head for days. Since that initial wave, he’s maintained close ties with Earl, and his guest verse on Earl’s “Hive” (“Ruger with the pork face / Jewish for the court case / Here to save you niggas from the sorbet, Coldchain”) stood tall alongside everything an on-fire Earl was doing on that song. If you go back and listen to Staples’s earliest music (like the original Shyne Coldchain tape, from 2011), that early Odd Future lo-fi aesthetic comes through, too; there’s lots of snarling over muffled bloops, lots of spleen vented at absent fathers and clueless adults. But on his new tape Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2, Staples does something none of the actual Odd Future members has yet managed: He becomes a convincing adult. Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 is something I never expected to hear from anyone associated with Odd Future: A powerful argument for the ongoing vitality of conscious rap.

On “Trunk Rattle,” the most snarly track on Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2, Staples make a sneering reference to changing rap tastes, recalling “back when Common had you trying to read Qu’rans and go to college.” The intentional irony is that the beats on most of the tape come from No I.D., the Chicago producer who put together all of Common’s career-defining 1994 classic Resurrection. And Common looms large over the tape. Staples is concerned with the same things has Common was: The discordance and frustration that come with being a black man trying to get along in a world that’s built to be hostile to you. A few bars into the tape, Staples offers his boldest provocation: “You see, Obama just a house nigger to me / They locked the children up in prison and they ditching the key.” (I don’t know if Common would’ve said something like that even in his most militant moment, but his buddies in Dead Prez absolutely would’ve.) And Staples is just as likely as Common to speak in grand, sweeping gestures: “He got a book, he got a brain, you better run / Was the one that they shunned / Baptized in the tears of the slaves as a young.” He also says plain, personal stuff about how young black men get involved in violence because they have no other options and because that’s what surrounds them. That pisses Staples off, and he makes constant references to America’s vast history of racism. But he also gets a charge out of the violence that Common never got, and when he remembers packing a gun, he’s braggin and lamenting at the same time.

For all its revolutionary talk, this is not the sort of granola conscious rap that would’ve ended up on the Brown Sugar soundtrack once upon a time. Instead, this is hard, cold, sneering music without a hint of hope. Staples has none of the friendly conversational warmth that Common and his peers once glowed with. Instead, he still sounds the way he sounded on those old Odd Future tapes: Tough, blank, expressionless. His rapping voice is a deadpan monotone that never shows anything resembling emotion. It’s like life has beaten all the excitement out of him, and now all that’s left for him to do is to play around with vicious language. That was unsettling on those Odd Future tapes, when he was talking about kidnapping and raping with the rest of them. Those tapes obviously caused a ton of controversy, but I thought their implicit point was pretty obvious: These kids have no fathers and no prospects, so of course they’re indulging in the most repellant and violent fantasies imaginable. But Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 brings Staples to a place where he’s starting to learn about and understand the reasons for his own coldness, and he still sounds like that. If anything, it’s even more unsettling.

There’s a lot on the tape about vast societal wrongs, but the most powerful song is “Nate,” the one where Staples raps about his father, a criminal whose charisma Staples idolized: “As a kid, all I wanted was to kill a man / Be like my daddy’s friends, hopping out the minivan.” The song is only three and a half minutes long, but as it progresses, you can start to hear it start to dawn on Staples that his father is less worthy than he once thought. He ends with this devastating vignette: “Used to see him stand out in the alley through my window / Drinking Hen with his homies, blowing cig smoke / Lights flashing, now he running from the Winslows / Hear his screaming for my mama at the backdoor / Sometime she wouldn’t open it / Sitting on the couch, face emotionless / I don’t think they noticed that I noticed it.” This is deep self-disclosure stuff, the sort of stuff you talk about in therapy years later. And yet Staples delivers it all with his voice sounding as cold and emotionless as his mother’s face in that memory.

This is a brief tape: 10 songs, most of them less than three minutes, no rapping guests, barely any choruses. The only guests are the singers Jhené Aiko and James Fauntleroy, and even their contributions are barely noticeable. The beats, all muted handclaps and muttering keyboards sound just as pessimistic beaten-down as Staples’s voice; No I.D. is no longer handing out the incandescent soul loops he gave Common on Resurrection. But for all its brevity and expressionlessness, this is a bold and important tape, a huge step forward for Staples. Staples was already a stalwart in California’s growing young rap underground, but this tape works as a powerful argument that he’s quickly becoming something more.

Download Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 here.

Comments (8)
  1. I haven’t absorbed the whole tape yet but Progressive 3 and Locked and Loaded are super impressive songs – not strictly because of the lyrics, but in the way they are constructed and the things Staples is doing with his voice. The end of Progressive 3 is almost haunting and I love it. Then the melodic delivery of the second track. The way Staples layers the delayed vocals in the hook for Locked and Loaded is awesome and reminded me of some of the best moments on Sun Kil Moon’s “Benji” (eg Richard Ramirez or Ben’s my Friend).

    Of course the lyrics are also interesting but the writeup covered that already.

    As much as I like Staples I have to get off my chest how annoying it is to when people say he “stole the show” from Earl on Hive or something like that. The two rappers aren’t trying to do remotely the same thing musically, IMO. There’s much more to rap than just the literal “story” behind the verses. Glad to see Tom gave props to Earl on Hive as well.

  2. Vince’s verse stood out because of how unique and original it was in terms of flow and vocal styling. No disrespect to Earl, who is great, but I’d say that Vince is an even more exciting vocal talent. The “monotone” Tom mentions makes sense to me with Earl but much less so with Vince.

    On this tape Vince brings us more tried-and-true rap talking points, delivered with so much surprising phrasing and cadence that they sound brand new. There’s nothing innovative beat-wise, but the strength of the rapping is enough to make this a multiple-repeat listen. And “Nate” is just a gem.

    • Whoops, meant to reply to Mr. Goodfellow.

    • This is gonna be long… I should probably be writing this as my own blog post or something but here goes:

      Talking about Hive alone, it seems to me that what you’re referring to is Staple’s tone and literal phrasing only (as opposed to the word “phrasing” as it might be used for a jazz solo) . Where I think Earl shines so much is his rhythmic ideas and the construction of his verses.

      What’s impressive about Vince’s Hive verse is his ability to phrase his lyrics very coherently will staying exactly in the pocket of the beat. Rhythmically it strikes me as very boring, and almost paradoxically it might be BECAUSE he’s so good it getting in the pocket.

      If I can assume you’re familiar with early Mobb Deep it will help make my point. Most people say Prodigy is the better lyricist (and he’s great) but I am a massive fan of Havoc. His bars don’t always fight so cleanly into the beat – even if this is ultimately because he’s a worse rhymer, I don’t care. I think it makes for a much more interesting, complex experience from a sonic standpoint when some extra syllables have to be fit in. Another example I could give would be Raekwon on “Glaciers of Ice.” Judging by his later, more smooth flow I assume his deviations from the pocket were unintentional, but I absolutely LOVE that verse.

      Which brings me to Earl. I think he’s a rapper who is much more intentionally trying to play around with the beat – lead or trail it. Fit in syllables in asymmetric ways. etc.

      As for the construction of his verses, take Burgundy as a really great example. Most rappers try to ratchet the intensity of their second verse by modulating their vocal tone or the content of the lyrics. Earl’s verse two is practically unrelated to the first, rhythmically. For me he achieves a sort of climax without saying anything conceptually noteworthy or changing his vocal tone. That’s what I loved so much about it.

      Basically a lot of his verses kind of take you on a winding rhythmic journey rather than having a predetermined, clear rhythmic scheme. I don’t expect his style to appeal to everyone but I think people misunderstand him when they judge him on the same terms as most other rappers. I see him as really distinct and hopefully his future work will amplify that.

      There’s also an aesthetic factor…I feel that I’m one of the only people who LOVED Earl’s vocal tone on Doris. Not comparing it to Vince, just saying it wasn’t remotely a shortcoming for me.

      • Again, not trying to knock Earl, even with the “monotone” comment. I’m a big fan of his. And I agree with you that Earl’s stuff on Hive was more rhythmically diverse than Vince’s, but I still think Vince’s flow was the most memorable on the song and that he put in a fresher vocal performance. Maybe I’m just more a sucker for intonation than for rhythmic dexterity, but I thought all of Vince’s drawn-out bent notes (“the way I cuuueee shiiit”) were really striking. To each his own, my dude.

        • Just to clarify, didn’t mean to imply everyone has to have the same favorite verse in some particular song, or the same favorite rappers. If you think he “stole the show” that’s fine. It was more about the fact that a lot of times people discuss hip hop (talking about “best in the game” etc) as if rappers can be rated with a number from best to worst. So my long post was just to explain the different approach I see between the two of them rather than convince anybody they have to prefer one or the other.

  3. i still listen to Vince’s verse on Moracular World. it was obvious he had a vivid eye for detail. its a bit ridiculous how overlooked he is

  4. Just to add to the Hive talk, Earl himself declared Staples verse on that song to be his favourite verse of 2013 both times I saw him his year. He rapped it acapella.

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