For those of you not very familiar with the North Long Beach, California native; Vince Staples is a unique artist in the rap game. While rap really has expanded well beyond the West Coast Style that came to define the genre, Vince distinctly stands out. What exactly makes his rap so different? A lot has to do with his demeanor; his music is shaped by his experiences growing up in the rough part of Long Beach, in particular, the area around Ramona Park. His style is very open and vulnerable and you’ll hear the details of growing up in such tough place.
At the same time, Vince often raps about conflicts of the present, a theme that has found itself in more and more of the top 40. Artists like A$AP Rocky & Kendrick Lamar have gained a wider following with very cognizant albums like “At Long Last A$AP” and “To Pimp a Butterfly.” What makes Vince different is that instead of rapping about an overarching theme, Vince is a lyricist; he has no problem rapping in an almost visceral manner, vividly describing his experiences and thoughts in a harsh manner. At the same, his production stands out, with most of his beats suited to a very filthy party. Still, the lyrics break away from that convention.
It was 11am and I was expecting a nice calm night in. Just get through the workday, get cozy at home and catch up on other stuff. WRONG. Suddenly I got the press pass I wasn’t expecting and I would be spending the night shooting photos of Vince Staples, one of my favorite rappers in the game.
This was actually the 4th time I’ve seen Vince, and I was expecting a fairly similar show to the three I’d seen prior. Considering this was the beginning of his individual tour immediately following his joint tour with Tyler, The Creator, I expected something akin to the more minimalist sets I’ve seen at his previous outings. As it turns out, the same moody Vince was very much present, but this time he brought one hell of a light show to go with his set. It was the same one he brought on his joint tour with Tyler.
It is clear that Vince Staples is a lyricist first. He spends a lot of time on stage brooding, and keeps a surprisingly calm demeanor, despite the lyrics in his tracks. He lets the music do the talking, and, for the most part, it does. The bass on many songs resonates through the entire main room for the length of some tracks, and the crowd would always get appropriately hyped for his most famous tracks like “Blue Suede” & “Norf Norf.” Others, like “Rain Come Down,” provided the calm between.
The addition of a massive LED lighting setup was different from his other shows. It doubled as a screen for many parts of the show. Intermissions featured an Amy Winehouse interview, cryptic footage and a news team getting progressively more unhinged and pixelated with every passing track. It was a near-perfect analogy for the strange times in our country. The backing video got progressively more unhinged, much like what we’re seeing in the media every day. The outlandish, crass words by the newscasters in the video weren’t too far off from what we’re hearing day in and day out in real life. Vince himself did the entire show in a tactical vest, something that really speaks to the current climate of police brutality.
As for the music itself, Vince played tracks from every era of his music. From the grating beats of his first three LPs and Eps to the more dance electronic Big Fish Theory. Songs like “Blue Suede” got the crowd jumping up and down, while “745” kept everyone swaying; “Big Fish” turned into a big singalong, with its very catch Juciy J hook, while “Senorita” was the exact opposite, because no normal person has the rap chops to rap along to that one!
Then there was “Norf Norf,” which was the second to last track of the night. It has the notorious reputation for spawning a rant by an angry mother last year, but, with its haunting beat and biting lyrics, also remains a fan favorite. It’s tough to beat a song that starts with the hilariously shameless plug of “Bitch you thirsty, please grab a Sprite.”
Finally, Vince ended with “Crabs in a Bucket” a song that borrows its name from the ‘if I can’t have it, neither can you’ mentality coming from crabs who pull down other crabs trying to escape a fisherman’s bucket. Again, this idea is representative of our society today, and also of Vince’s upbringing.
It was great finally getting to see Vince Perform again, and, this time, to photograph him too! There’s a reason Vince Staples is at the forefront of hip-hop with some of our most influential rappers. It will be interesting to see what he’s up to in the coming months, after his mini-tour concludes. With Big Fish Theory signifying a significant departure from his previous work, it’ll be worth watching where his music goes.