Vince Staples is one of the most poignant rappers in the game. His songs are like lyrical bullets that hit like lead bricks. His particular style of delivery comes in the form of in-your-face, snarling, vicious bars that ramshackle inside your ribcage. But deep inside, he’s a Tupac-esque protester.
When Staples arrived on the scene, his songs were seen as a rumination of the West Coast gangster rap movement. A ripple in the splash created by NWA mixed with some Black Flag-era punk rock mixed in. However, as he emerged, the fire he sparked on his first mixtape Hell Can Wait turned into a deliberate arson of the entire political and judicial, as well as racial, systems. His subsequent releases Prima Donna and Summertime ’06 continued to cement Staples as absolutely not someone to trifle with.
Staples took the stage at the Granada Theatre last night to a sold out crowd, and no surprise to anyone in the venue, absolutely destroyed the place with ferocious intent. His performance was much like a punk show- loud, sweaty and heavily moshed to. The lights were dark and low, the speakers turnt up, and the audience lit like a torch.
Staples songs range in speed, but never in aggression. Some songs are so piercing that they command your full attention, like “Blue Suede,” “Seniorita” and “Norf Norf”. All of these songs are ludicrously rowdy and will elicit a response that borders on starting a riot in the streets. To me, these songs sound like the perfect soundtrack to flowing a flaming trashcan through a storefront and flipping an unsuspecting police car.
Feeding off this energy, the crowd during these songs was remarkable. For every hard-hitting verse Staples would spit out over bracing and pounding beats, the crowd would push and shove and jump to every word. There were a few moments were someone would get shoved so hard, the four rows of people behind them would fall to the floor.
Other songs, like “Lift Me Up”and “Summertime” are just hard, but in an emotional context. Staples is a unique talent in that he is actually witness to every activity and every word he speaks. He does not bend truths or depict himself as anything he’s not. If that depiction is that of depression, addiction, or reconciliation for past errors, so be it. He’s a Crip from Long Beach who, in life’s growing process, has surely experienced a great deal of police attention, gang affiliation and general stress of growing up in a war-torn section of the city. His songs are brutally honest and vivid pictures of this life and to hear them painted like they are in Staples’ songs is truly amazing.
What truly makes Staples great is the fact that he is both an illuminating light onto the life of the streets, as well as an activist towards progressing the way the same streets he comes from gets represented. Staples is fully aware of how the system works, and he is fully aware of how it can be fixed. These solutions become apparent when listening to his music and in lyrics like “I never vote for presidents, the presidents that change the hood is dead and green.”
Staples ability to deliver his slick bars on top of fiery beats will easily elevate him to the height of rap stardom. He just sounds so cool, spitting quick and syncopated verses over some of the hardest beats imaginable. To his benefit, he’s also very aware of society and his place as an entertainer, a civilian, and a survivor of his city and his circumstance. He’s taken his style of rap and paired it with the anti-police violence movement on “Hands Up.” On his latest single, “BagBak,” he exclaims “Tell the one percent to suck a dick, because we on now / Tell the government to suck a dick, because we on now / Tell the president to suck a dick, because we on now”
The urgency of Staples’ music is what keeps me coming back. It’s also what made this concert so necessary to attend. It’s not every day that you get to witness a true star, making music that hits your soul and holds your ears hostage. I may never experience a Long Beach Cali Crip lifestyle, but dammit does Vince Staples’ music make me feel like it.