After years of study, scientists were able to prove the theory that sunlight has mass and weight. It presses down with an almost impossibly small amount of force. Vince Staples, one of the new leaders of rap music coming from the West Coast—whose EP Prima Donna was just released via Def Jam Recordings—writes and talks as though he’s been aware of that weight his entire life.
Maybe the sunshine weighs more in Long Beach, Staple’s hometown, both celebrated and memorialized in his lyrics. “I don’t really think about it, I just write it down,” he says of his process, “It’s the things that have always been happening, since I was a little kid.” The images—the places in and around his childhood haunts—become “part of everything I say, how I say it.”
In the music videos that accompany his tracks, a common thread about the perils of fame emerges. He takes a thoughtful moment when asked about it: “I wouldn’t say that fame itself is the problem, but it doesn’t help, you know? The more people know who you are, that’s just that many more people that have a false impression of what it’s like being you, getting money, getting higher up. I’m always just me. I haven’t changed.”
Even his footwear speaks volumes about someone who has a direct line that leads to where he’s from: “Converse, only wear Converse. I don’t need expensive shoes.”
Where some lyricists walk into a track like they’re the new guy in jail who tries to cut the biggest inmate, Staples plays back life experience and observations rapid-fire like a journalist hell-bent on making a deadline. It isn’t until you’re a few lines into “Norf Norf,” or “All Night,” that you realize he’s not only reporting, he’s writing from a perspective of someone who took down the big guy in the cell block while nobody was looking. In contrast, when he calmly repeats “I ain’t never ran from nothing but the police,” you can almost see him making a break down an alley from a stopped squad car, from a fight he’s not willing to get into.
Staples moves easily from topic to topic, talking about self-image, Jimi Hendrix, and race relations (“It’s always been that bad, always”). When I mention a particular song from one of his earlier mix tapes, it’s the only time he seems to stop short: “It’s about a girl,” he says, without elaborating. The words of a man who seems to give others as much respect and privacy as he demands.
At the end of our conversation, I ask, ‘What’s the best part about home after dark?’
“Ah man,” he says, laughing, unable to specify a person or a street, “It’s just, it’s all cooler at night, you know?”
Written by Sean U’ren
Photographer: Kenneth Cappello.
Stylist: Zoe Costello For Jed Root.
Groomer: Ashley Bourdon For Celestine Agency.
Styling Assistant: Erycca.