Long Beach, California native Vince Staples seems like a goofball. If you follow him on Twitter, you’ll see constant NBA jokes, snarky advertising references and a disdain for the rapper lifestyle. If you’ve ever watched one of his interviews, you’ll see a collected, confident young man with a great sense of humor. If you’ve ever listened to his music, however, you’ll get a slightly different impression.
Staples busted onto the radar with 2014’s Hell Can Wait. It was a tight-knit seven track EP with tales of police brutality, living under the roof of a drug dealer, and twisted hood love stories. In 2015, Vince released Summertime 06’. It was a critically-acclaimed full-length album which linked Staples up with heavyweight producer No I.D. and fleshed out the voice of the 22-year-old rapper, synched over percussion-heavy production. Now, in 2016, Staples has given fans yet another EP – Prima Dona – and it’s fantastic.
Many of today’s best music releases are overloaded. Featuring daunting track lists of 17 or 18 songs, rarely is an album flawless. Artists put on filler tracks to complete records more often than not. On Prima Dona, however, Staples has yet again delivered a tight seven track EP (the first song is more of a skit). Unlike Hell Can Wait, Prima Dona shows Vince flexing his conceptual chops. Throughout its 21 minute runtime, Staples tells the tale of a rock (or rap) star who questions his own integrity, while ultimately losing an internal battle against his own demons. It climaxes with the character in his narrative “having Kurt Cobain dreams”, contemplating and going through with suicide in a hotel room.
On Summertime, Vince gave listeners a clear view of the dangers associated with growing up poor in Long Beach, California. On Prima Dona, Vince makes it clear that while he escaped those dangers, even fame doesn’t offer a complete escape. ‘War Ready’ has Staples contemplating a trip to Ibiza to get his mind right, while coming to the conclusion it’s all irrelevant. Whether he’s a star or a poor black kid, the public will likely view him the same and his mental state will suffer for it.
The production on Prima Dona shows Vince experimenting with new sounds, new producers and ultimately achieving some infectious results. Indie-darling James Blake stops by to produce ‘War Ready’ and ‘Big Time,’ offering his signature synth-heavy beats and bouncing percussion, which adds to a sense of internal paranoia. The strongest stretch on the EP, however, is produced by DJ Dahi (“Smile,” “Loco” and “Prima Dona”). “Smile” gives Vince a Rock ‘n’ Roll canvas to paint a story of survivor’s guilt and the shaking feeling that he left his friends and family behind on a treacherous road to fame. It even comes complete with a guitar solo. “Loco” is probably the best song on the EP. It’s here Vince finally reaches the point of no return, rapping “Housekeeping keep knocking on my door though / Don’t she know I’m staring in the mirror with a 44 / Tryna get my head straight / She tryna get the bed straight / No room to think / Kaboom on the sink.” The song and EP as a whole is a haunting interpretation of fame.
Deep down, I hope Vince is more like his public persona than his rapper persona. While growing up in difficult situation certainly didn’t eliminate his sense of humor, it made him into a cynical artist. This, like every artist’s release, could be a direct effect of Vince’s deteriorating psyche. Or, it could be a completely fictional story, inspired after Vince ripped through the Kurt Cobain documentary, Montage of Heck. Regardless of the EP’s roots, the final product is a cohesive and strong rap release from a young man who has constantly delivered and evolved as an artist.