Vince Staples Folds Inward
Vince Staples has been funny in interviews. He’s been funny on Twitter. He’s made vivid, stylized videos and rapped over futuristic dance tracks. Staples was the headliner at the block party that Issa put together on Insecure. His song “Norf Norf” was the subject of some lady’s viral freakout, which then became a plot point on Atlanta. If you look at Vince Staples’ career from a distance, he seems like a fun person to have around. This, presumably, is why he keeps getting booked at rock festivals, why Netflix has given him a show. But Vince Staples is not fun, and Vince Staples has been letting us know that this whole time.
For Vince Staples’ entire career, since he first turned up on various Odd Future-affiliated mixtapes more than a decade ago, he’s been making cold, hard, incisive art about the existential fear of growing up surrounded by violence and by the racism and poverty that fueled that violence. Consider the final shot of Staples’ “Señorita” video, where we see that all the scenes of degradation are art hanging on a wall in a museum full of rich white people. With things like that, Staples has long been implicating his own audience in his art. Staples can be entertaining, but he’s never been an entertainer, and his new self-titled album feels like his attempt to make that point clear.
On every level, Vince Staples feels like Vince Staples’ attempt to reset the world’s expectations for Vince Staples. It’s been nearly three years, an eternity in rap time, since Staples released FM!, his last album. When that album came out, Staples said he would release four albums in the next year. He released zero. Given the long break between projects, Vince Staples — a 22-minute record with eight songs and two interludes — can’t help but seem slight. Maybe that’s the point.
Vince Staples is a notably downbeat affair. On those eight songs, Staples seems to work hard to avoid projecting energy. He keeps his verses short and his hooks flat and unmemorable. Every song has a production credit for Kenny Beats, who’s been working with Staples for years, but none of the songs have the frantic Adderall-addled energy that often characterize Kenny Beats beats. Instead, everything on Vince Staples is calm and controlled and sad. The only billed guest is the R&B singer Foushée. In interviews, Staples has said that Vince Staples is a “personal” album. But all of Staples’ albums are personal. This is just the first one that doesn’t go out of its way to entertain.
Instead, Vince Staples, in his muttery and downbeat way, spends the entire LP reminding the world that he has seen some shit and that he has not recovered from it. The way he talks about his life now, Staples seems like he can’t enjoy his fame. He doesn’t want to move to Malibu or Calabasas, and he doesn’t want to leave the street alone, since it’s the only place he feels at home. Now that he’s made a little money, everyone is trying to take advantage of him, and he’s sick of it: “Count my bands, all alone at home, don’t you call my phone/ Everyone that I’ve ever known asked me for a loan.” Staples can’t be out in the streets the way he used to be, and he doesn’t even trust the people who like his music: “Hangin’ on them corners same as hangin’ from a ceiling fan/ When I see my fans, I’m too paranoid to shake they hands.”
Given that Vince Staples came up in the same place, at the same time, within the same artistic circles as Tyler, The Creator, it’s hard not to compare Vince Staples to Call Me If You Get Lost, another new album with another interlude where the rapper’s mother discusses her own readiness to fuck somebody up. But the two albums couldn’t be more different. Call Me If You Get Lost is a messy, joyous love letter to rap music in all its forms. Vince Staples, on the other hand, sends a pointed message to the world — that you should stay the fuck away from Vince Staples.
Staples says he’s got another album coming out this year, and I don’t know if I believe him. Vince Staples is a thoughtful, cohesive, well-made rap record, but it seems to be a rap record about how its maker does not really like making rap records right now. I respect Vince Staples as an artistic statement, but I don’t really enjoy listening to it. It’s a quick little mood piece from someone who’s done much more gripping and immediate work in the past. Right now, Vince Staples sounds like he’d rather do just about anything else other than make rap records. So maybe he should go do anything else. If he ever feels like making rap again, the music will still be right there for him, and so will the audience. But if it’s not in him, then he shouldn’t force it. On Vince Staples, it sure sounds like Vince Staples is forcing it.
1. Dave – “Clash” (Feat. Stormzy)
There is so much coiled energy on this song, and yet the verses are so casual and conversational. I don’t know how they do it. Must be a British thing.
2. ZelooperZ – “Bash Bandicoon” (Feat. Danny Brown)
It is not possible to listen to this song and to feel like a sane, functional human being. If you play it loud enough, colors will start to speak to you.
3. Bia – “Whole Lotta Money (Remix)” (Feat. Nicki Minaj)
When Nicki demands her own rewind two bars in, that’s a beautiful display of authority. “Whole Lotta Money” was a slick little rumble before Nicki jumped on it, but Nicki brings the level of charisma up about twelve notches when she first arrives. She earns the rewind.
4. Lil Uzi Vert – “Pump Up The Jam”
When the tracklist for the Space Jam sequel came out, I truly hoped that “Pump Up The Jam” wasn’t just a title — that it really would mean Uzi rapping over Technotronic’s 1990 house-pop monster. I was not disappointed. It makes no sense, and I wish it didn’t have trap drums, but I love it anyway. If Uzi wants to rap over Black Box and 2 Unlimited and Real McCoy and La Bouche next, I’ll love it even more.
5. DaBoii – “Gangsta Shit”
I’ll miss SOB x RBE, but former SOB x RBE members sneering at each other in public is pretty good, too.