VINCE STAPLES reminds me of those singers who have impeccable, unfathomable voices and energy, which remain on par live as on their records. I’m talking the likes of D’Angelo, Thandiswa Mazwai and The Brother Moves On.
Over the last week and a half I’ve been listening to Staples’ third studio album FM! and during that period, I was fortunate enough to see the 25 year-old from North Long Beach, California performing at Soweto’s Zone 6 for the Capsule Festival. I’m always fascinated by album titles and covers, in my first interaction with a musician’s project, before delving into the tracks. Often the name of the album and its art make sense as I listen to the music. Like pieces of a puzzle, it all comes together with each track.
FM! is themed as a takeover of LA radio station show, Big Boy’s Neighbourhood, hosted by Big Boy. It opens with Feels Like Summer which ironically is meant to celebrate how Long Beach always feels like summer, but Vince paints a picture of the dangers in his hood in the verses. He pulls from personal experiences, where he lost a friend at 15 years-old while they were just playing ball. I was slightly surprised to learn that Don’t Get Chipped where he features Jay Rock, is the first song where the two West Coast kats share the mic. I enjoyed the track, particularly the first verse where he raps…
Can’t wait ’til I’m rich, I’m finna buy a whole Crate of guns, for my naughty Crips, Shit I really come from the slum Time to represent, let me see you bang, where you from? Don’t be acting spooked, I’m a troop, I don’t give a fuck, I just wana live it up, use to make ’em give it up, Flockin’ is for hoes, I’ma take somebody soul, If he don’t give me what he own, now I’m getting what I’m owed, You ain’t seen me at a show? Oh, you missing out, Swear I bring the realest out, Everybody know me who’s somebody to know (Who somebody to know) Watch me mind my business my business while I’m counting my dough (Counting my dough) Stay away from citches who would clown me before (Would clown me before) On the road to riches, they gon’step on your toes Sammy told me that a change gon’come (Gon’come) I’m not going if my gang won’t come (won’t come) If you see me pull that thang, don’t run (Don’t run) Playing ball, if I swing home run
I can’t say I’m a Staples fan, I appreciate some of his joints. But more than that, I’ve always respected how he thinks and delivers his ideas and thoughts, on beats that can get any party started. He is quite dark, largely because of gang activity he witnessed growing up on the West Coast. But he merges that eerie side of him with the music, which makes for good art. The effect this contrast has on an audience when he’s performing, is good on the eye. Like when he performed Lift Me Up from his Summertime ’06 project, just before the end of his set at Zone 6, most of the club was in a jump.
His set at Capsule Festival was after midnight, with most of us tired and just waiting to see Staples on stage. He played tracks from his previous work from Big Fish Theory, Summertime ’06 and even invited Yugen Blakrok on stage to perform the Opps they did together for the Kendrick Lamar curated Black Panther soundtrack.
Vince’s fans in Soweto had familiarised themselves with his new album, that as soon as Outside! came on, the atmosphere in the club became feverish. Standing on the second floor, I could see the crowd’s unfiltered reaction.
“We didn’t expect this many people and I didn’t expect this much love, so thank you, thank you, thank you. But before I get out of here…shhhhh! I just need one thing, everybody repeat after me, ‘Oh yea, oh yea, oh year right…” said the rapper interacting with his fans, just before playing crowd favourite Yea Right.
WE live in a world where rhetorics of something being timeless and classic are made with haste. Where loving something is akin to ass kissing and disliking it is associated with hate.
I remember six years ago today, when Kendrick Lamar’s album Good Kid M.A.A.D City came out, a lot of noise was made about this being a classic. And for once, the noise and the adoration around an album was valid. After years of it being released, I still feel the same way about it as I did in 2012. Good Kid M.A.A.D City sits up there with Hip Hop’s deity.
Lamar had already proved his worth in the game, with masterpiece mixtapes and a debut album, Section.80, but Good Kid M.A.A.D City is the album in which his gospel spread throughout the world as it was his major label debut after having signed with Aftermath and Interscop earlier in 2012. “I couldn’t tell you what type of sound or where I will be in the next five years as far as music…Back to the neighbourhood and going back in that same space where we use to be, got me inspired. So this album won’t sound like Section.80.” He said this in an interview with XXL prior to the album’s release.
If Section.80 was a young man sketching out his manhood through spirituality, society and everything in between, then Good Kid M.A.A.D City was a man with a tight grip on who he is, having made peace with his childhood and the evils of his youth.
His story telling refreshed Hip Hop, at a time when rappers weren’t painting beautiful pictures through their narrative. We hadn’t seen a conceptual album from someone in the commercial space in a minute. On the same album, he had a 12 minute song, Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst. That was and still remains a novelty. It was like listening to a conscious rapper such as Common, yet gangsta as Ice Cube, who raps with the exuberance and skill set of a Pharaohe Monch.
In the hype and height of promoting their new albums, most musicians will insist on how the project will be appreciated by various people, as a show of its diversity. But very few deliver on that promise. Good Kid M.A.A.D City was satisfying for the lyricist, rhyme scheme obsessed fan; enjoyable to someone who likes sing-alongs and catchy hooks and the production was neat and had sufficient bounce for a club. Money Trees with Jay Rock, Swimming Pools and Backstreet Freestyle are perfect examples.
This is the one and only Kendrick album that saw him work with Canadian superstar Drake, in Poetic Justice. The two complement each other pretty well, it’s a pity they never collaborated again because of subliminal shots they started serving each other on tracks, after Kendrick’s verse on Big Sean’s Control.
According to Acclaimed Music, a site which aggregates a number of critics’ lists from all over the world into all-time rankings, Good Kid M.A.A.D City was the most acclaimed album of 2012, the third most acclaimed of the 2010s and the 141st most acclaimed of all time.
The album earned five nominations at the 56th Grammy Awards but surprisingly and controversially Kendrick left empty handed, with Best Rap Album going to Macklemore-a result that caused revolt from fans who believed Kendrick was snubbed.
Accompanying the music, were hilarious skits on this album. Whether it was his mother leaving him voicemails on his phone, asking for the car simultaneously arguing with Kendrick’s dad about his fixation to dominos or conversations with friends after breaking into someone’s home.
Kendrick is a great artist who is very observant. In his last album DAMN, he had a track titled Duckworth, which tells the story of the connection between his father and his boss, Top Dawg that stretches far back as his childhood. That he never added that story to Good Kid M.A.A.D City says a lot about the reverence he has for his creative process. He’s a special artist of our time that’s way ahead of his time.