Vince Staples is Holding the Country Together
At a time in which many people are afraid to speak their minds, the 23-year old rapper is a hilarious, insightful voice of reason.
By Kevin Cordon, UC Irvine
Vince Staples is the guy that sits at the back of the class.
He watches, waits and will share his opinion when he feels like it. Based on his appearance, other people may not think he knows the answers, but he does. All of them. He doesn’t care what you think about him because he’s heard all the labels associated with his name: weird kid, gangbanger, fake crip, nerd and many more all through the relative anonymity of Twitter. No matter what label is associated with him on any given day, one thing is for certain: Vincent Staples may be one of the youngest people in the room, but he’s always the smartest.
At only 23, his raps emit a wisdom beyond the comprehension of anyone his age, an obvious product of his childhood spent gangbanging on the streets of Long Beach, California. That’s where the comparisons between himself and his rap colleagues end. He doesn’t glamorize the gun and gang violence that was so common during his childhood; he recognizes it as a reality of neighborhoods like his and understands that kids are influenced by the words of rappers like him.
Staples offers an interesting narrative that people outside of neighborhoods like his don’t get to hear. A kid who grew up in a gang, got into trouble and then used rapping as an avenue to get away from the death and negativity that comes along with gang activity. Sounds familiar, right? However, contrary to other rappers’ come-up stories, Staples never had dreams to be a rapper. He wanted to go to college and make money like the white people he saw on TV and in movies. He began rapping on a dare, and his raps ended up taking him to places college probably never would’ve.
For Staples, rapping is his job, just like being a plumber or a bus driver. It’s a way to get paychecks that are taking his family out of the hood and he’s a rapper who takes pride in being professional. He never cancels shows, is never late to appearances and understands the inner-workings of the music business better than some label representatives do.
In fact, there’s little that he doesn’t know or have an opinion on. The Long Beach rapper is like a walking encyclopedia, educating people on everything from the pop culture influence of Ray J to Crip history. Some of his statements come off as though he’s just trolling to get a reaction, but his sly remarks quickly turn into full-on debates, which he backs up with factual evidence and references that would make even the best college debate team piss their pants.
Operating with the quick wit of a standup comedian, Staples’ opinions earn him more than just rap paychecks. He frequently gets called to share his opinion on just about anything, and it results in hilarious moments like this.
Staples’ lack of fear for his image in the social media age, where everything you say and do is posted online, is what makes him so important. While he uses it at times for comedy and occasionally to talk shit about Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul, he also uses that unapologetic honesty to encourage kids to stay out of trouble.
In interviews, Staples refers to rappers and people who act “hard” as corny. He’s not a fan of rap music and calls bullshit on artists that glorify violence that they’ve never been involved in. Getting addicted to drugs, getting arrested and going to jail—all corny.
“Prima Donna” and “Summertime 06,” Staples’ latest releases, tell real stories of the lives of teenagers in his neighborhood. The lyrics aren’t candy-coated, they’re vulgar, because that’s reality and a product of the hopelessness of Long Beach youth. Staples’ 2014 EP “Hell Can Wait” began with him chanting “I’m probably finna go to hell anyway,” echoing the sentiments of being groomed from childhood to be in a gang.
“Summertime 06” is aggressively insightful with lyrics like “Ho, this shit ain’t Gryffindor, we really killin’, kickin’ doors/ Fight between my conscience and the skin that’s on my body.” That album is the story of his childhood and the summer his innocence was taken away from him the moment he became a gang member. He’s not shy of that affiliation and is fully aware of the factors that entice a kid to join a gang, allowing him to identify the problem and take action.
Having lost too many friends to gun violence, Staples wants to make a change in the lives of kids who live in the same North Long Beach streets he grew up on, and he’s not all talk. To combat the pull of gangs, Staples and the YMCA are launching after-school programs to keep kids off the streets and offer them opportunities to participate in creative programs like filmmaking or music production. He recognizes that the odds of making it as a rapper are slim, but wants hopeful kids from the neighborhood to understand that there are other avenues within music, like production, to be successful and provide for a family.
“Put my glock away I got a stronger weapon/ that never runs out of ammunition so I’m ready for war,” Andre 3000 raps on the intro of Staples’ song “War Ready,” which uses a sample of Andre’s verse from Outkast’s classic song “ATLiens.” The verse fits perfectly with the song as it symbolizes the 23-year old rapper’s progression from gangbanging teenager to the wiser outlook on life he has now. He’s chosen to tone down the stories of his past and focus more on the future, putting the Glocks away and using his new weapon of choice, his words, to push at-risk youth in a more positive direction.
Staples is taking the war to the same streets he used to fight and shoot on, but this time he’s looking to end it.
The scars left from losing friends and fighting to survive will stay with him forever, but he’s not running away to live a lavish life, he’s coming back to change the paths of those who come after him.
This country needs Vince Staples. Although he won’t admit it, he’s smarter and funnier than just about everyone and packs the wisdom of a 90-year old mind into a 23-year old body. He’s an unfiltered perspective in a world where people portray their favorite version of themselves through social media and premeditate every move they make in fear of being scrutinized online. Vince Staples identifies himself as the weird kid, the gangbanger, the kid who got into trouble, but the best part is: He really doesn’t care.