Prominent Cali MC raps about the realities of being black in America
“Everybody think they know me now,” raps Long Beach MC Vince Staples over stark, dark synths on new single “BagBak.” Later on in the track he corrects that assumption: “You don't know me.”
Reached by phone recently, Staples said he had no idea why people make assumptions about him based on his music, but it's likely because the rapper's lyrics often reference his hard California upbringing and reveal a particularly bleak outlook. Since releasing well-received mixtapes and boasting guest spots with artists like Common and Earl Sweatshirt, Staples' music has made him seem like an open book, but he lets the music do the talking.
Staples hit the mainstream with his 2015 opus, Summertime '06, and followed it up with the critically acclaimed Prima Donna EP last year. The Columbus venues Staples has visited correspond with his notable rise: Park Street Saloon in 2015, A&R Music Bar in 2016 and an upcoming performance at Newport Music Hall on Wednesday, March 22.
“BagBak” is a protest song with staying power, but there's nothing anthemic about it, even when he tries to be reassuring (“Clap your hands if the police ever profiled / You ain't gotta worry, don't be scary 'cause we on now”).
And when he gets political, Staples makes no safe spaces for complacency. “Prison system broken, racial war commotion / Until the president get ashy, Vincent won't be votin' / We need Tamikas and Shaniquas in that Oval Office / Obama ain't enough for me, we only getting started,“ he raps in a flow that's steady yet urgent.
Staples said he doesn't feel a sense of responsibility to sing about such racially charged topics. He's merely singing about his life.
“It's not racial injustice or prison reform to me. It's just being black. When you're black, it's your reality,” he said. “It's not, ‘Oh, I just read about this today so I'm gonna [write] about that.' That's not the case at all. It's being black and where I'm from. … It's a part of me. It's not a new thing. It's something that is real that has happened forever. It's a constant thing since hip-hop has started. It's a part of life that people go through and experience.”
While Staples is staying tight-lipped about the reason he dubbed this string of concerts “The Life Aquatic Tour” (in a promo poster, Staples wears a blue jumpsuit in a boat — a callout to Wes Anderson's film “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”), he said that years ago, Vince Staples concerts were not good.
“There was no showmanship,” said the rapper, who has since learned how to command a stage. And while he takes pride in his shows now, Staples doesn't get caught up in anything that's not related to his music, be it fame or hype or fans and critics misunderstanding his intentions.
“I honestly don't even care. My job is to make songs, and I try to make the best songs I possibly can,” he said. “I'm always making music. I'm always creating.”