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.
There’s that scene in Love Jones where Darius Lovehall recites a poem, which was an ode for Nina Mosely at the Sanctuary, the poetry and jazz club that the two met and frequented often with friends.
As soon as Pieces of A Man was in my earshot, it was as though I could see and smell the clouds of smoke in the club, waitresses taking countless orders from those fortunate to get a seat at one of the few tables in the big room filled with those with the proclivity for bohemian vibes.
Depending on the performer, the entertainment value in poetry sessions can be equal to that of a simple book club. But this album is a gesture to Mick’s days as a poet in the poetry collective, Young Chicago Authors. He opens with a sonnet on Heron Flow setting the scene for the whole album, then the joint takes a soulful funk twist with some singing by Julien Bell.
Pieces of A Man displays Mick’s evolution as a young black man as well as an artist which excites me, that he’s only 27 years old creating such rich music. His bars pack the same truth as a Dave Chappelle joke.
From the jump, I built a connection with the song Ghost, one because of the beat that break so nicely on Mick’s flow and two, the content and his brash delivery. He hints at being a recluse who isn’t too concerned by superficial stuff that come with the fame because ultimately, he knows his worth.
N define worth to me,
’cause I won’t win the trophy
I been watchin’ it closely,
All that glitter’s just garnish
And I’m more partial to Parsley,
And all the medals will tarnish,
You played your hardest
And they ate your heart out
I found these lines particularly interesting because at age 27, most artists still harbour dreams of winning an award and receiving recognition from dubious industry gatekeepers. But Mick shows that in his isolation and in finding himself as a man, he’s made peace with the fact that he won’t be a celebrated kat like a Kendrick Lamar, not for lack of skill, but because of industry red tape.
One thing that most of us struggle with as we get older, is growing apart from friends that we’ve known for a years. This could be because they aren’t on the same level with you socially, financially and otherwise. He talks to that discomfort in Pull Up. He could’ve done without Grace & Mercy on the project-listening to the song was the equivalent of going to the lavatory during a great show for about a minute and 51 seconds, and then coming back for the enjoyment.
I find Corinne Balley Rae’s music insipid, it’s not about her talent. Her music simply doesn’t stick on me. But I found the Brit quite sexy in this song Consensual Seduction. It was like hearing a singer from my church doing sensual music, and actually finding her attractive. She’s a great feature and a surprising one too. If I had heard the song before she recorded her part, I would bet my life that Mick was gonna rope in a Ravyn Lenae. Soft Porn is another joint I enjoyed, the beat reminded me of Mick’s Get Up Get Down joint from his Waves project. Soft Porn is slower and raunchier.
Mick’s writing is enjoyable to listen to and even read through- listen to Barcelona to get what I mean. I disagree with a friend of mine though, who called me in excitement after the album dropped, to say Mick Jenkins is the lyricist of our generation. He’s an astonishing writer who perfectly puts his vocabulary into good use, but I don’t know who or what that doesn’t allow me to agree with that outrageous statement that he’s the best of our generation. To which includes, Kendrick Lamar, Joyner Lucas, Tobe Nwigwe, J.I.D, Lupe Fiasco and Acidrap Chance The Rapper among the long list. My definition of “this generation” is from around 2006 when the mixtapes went from spittin’ on popular beats, to actually creating bodies of work that can stand next to albums.
Fittingly titled Reginald, Mick displays his pen game and perspective. He places himself as a ruler and one to gives sound counsel on a few things, staying in pocket on the lazy beat, delivering poignant rhymes.
Don’t spend too much time in mirrors,
Reflections will get you cought up,
Connections will get you brought up in conversation,
You basing everything you know about me from moments,
I’m more a compilation of composition, it’s complicated,
I’ve contemplated so many perspectives,
Accommodated my vices, exonerated emotions,
And then I’m copin’ Macaulay Culkin,
I’m trappin’my demons over Bohemian Rhapsody
The theme around poetry is palpable, but Pieces Of A Man is quite complex. Poetry plays the role a conduit in the piecing together the man’s narrative . Gwendolynn’s Apprehension is based on African American poet, Gwendolyn Brooks’ 1959 poem We Real Cool. That Brooks’ words still carry weight as they did when her piece came out almost 60 years ago is telling of how youth, despite era, think they’re beyond reproach and just too cool for school.
BadBadNotGood’s working relationship with the Chicago rapper is a great match. The album’s last track, Smoking Song was sitting alone with Mick, sharing a joint by the corner of the club after he just gave the packed room himself.
Love Jones was a classic film that transcended the time, but unfortunately did not do well in the box office. Pieces Of A Man shares that sentiment of timelessness, I just hope it doesn’t get slept on.
A self-confessed foodie, SiR unfortunately did not get to experience true local cuisine, but fed the souls of many who came out on Friday night to see him perform at the Alchemy festival.
“I love to eat, so anywhere I go I always try to find the best food. Plus I smoke big trees, so anytime someone has some (when it’s safe) I partake,” says SiR speaking to Tha Bravado.
Due to his short stay in the country, he couldn’t really explore some of the country’s best food, admitting that he was subjected to some Porto Rican food the night before.
In a crimson room that would make a great makeshift Death Row recording studio, I sit with the singer, producer from Inglewood just before his performance, with his bodyguards stationed at the entrance.
He arrived in the country Thursday and was out Saturday. This being his first visit on the continent, like most tourists who come from distant lands where African people aren’t in the majority, SiR was pleasantly surprised by the ubiquity of black dominance. “It’s really good to see black people in power, working together with white people,” he said.
He’s signed under Top Dawg Entertainment, which is also home to Kendrick Lamar, Shoolboy Q, SZA and other stars. Ab-Soul and the latter have in the past spoken about their frustration with album delays at TDE, but SiR says he isn’t concerned by that. “Everything happens in its proper time. I’m patient. And I trust my team, we don’t have to rush what we do.”
His music is smooth as wine and quenches the soul’s thirst like glass of cold water, on a hot summer’s day. It’s mind bending that he initially rejected getting into music having grown up in a home where everyone is gifted in the art. His mother is a former backing vocalist for Michael Jackson, Yolanda Adams and Tina Turner and his brothers, Daniel and Davion Farris are songwriters who’ve been in the game for a minute. “I definitely had an appreciation for music early on. Growing up in the church taught me a lot about music, musicians and I’ve always had a place in my heart for Hip Hop,” he says.
His appreciation for Hip Hop is evident in the music he makes, no better than the song Jay-Z from his debut album Seven Sundays. “I was in studio with the fellas and wanted to tell that story that way. I’m from Inglewood California and when I talk about ‘head down Bird, make a left on Third…’ I’m talking about actual street names of where I’m from,” he says. During his performance on Friday night, he sang Jay-Z over Jigga’s Girls Girls Girls which had the audience tripping. It fit like glove in hand.
His introduction to the music was through sound engineering, but he worked on his song writing on the side, which led to him writing for some of the best musicians like Jill Scott and Tyrese. “I was very unsure of myself when I first started writing, but I had great mentors guiding me and I worked hard to overcome my insecurities,” he says.
He jumped on stage Friday night, with a show of humility greeting the eager screaming fans in Nguni, “Sawubona” he said. Wearing an oversized top with stripes,that looked like a rugby jersey, with a Chinese collar, he looked comfortable enthralling the audience with his array of soulful joints. The backdrop was the cover of his album, November which brought much needed visuals on the simple stage.
There were chants of ‘we want more’ at the end of his hour long set, after he performed the two leading singles from November, D’Evils and Summer In November. It was intimate while simultaneously being a jump. A telling sign of the kind of music he makes, which can be dubbed new age R&B in how it fuses sweet harmonies and melodies with thumping 808s. “I just know my sound is true to me. I’m still evolving as an artist as well. Who knows what my music will sound like in 10 years.”
You’d swear he was about to be knighted at the end of his set, kneeling in gratitude to the audience for giving him their time.
DUE to his talents being slept on, not a lot of people know about Los Angeles soul singer SiR, who performs in Joburg tonight.
The TDE musician is in the country for his performance at this year’s Alchemy festival. This is the same festival that brought Mick Jenkins, Tom Misch, Anderson.Paak and Low End Theory in previous years. But unlike the aforementioned kats which have been on the Alchemy stage, very little is known of real name SiR Darryl Farris. He got recognition on the scene with his critically acclaimed Seven Sundays album in 2015, following that with an EPs, Her and Her Too.
It was through the EPs that he got signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, home to Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, SZA and other talents. But he had been a constant feature on songs of TDE artist prior to that. Earlier this year he released his album November which has produced the popular singles D’evils and Something Foreign featuring Schoolboy Q and has been mentioned as a likely Grammy nominee for R&B album of the year.
Here are just five interesting facts about the Inglewood lad:
HE IS A FORMER GYM MANGER
It explains why he’s quite buff uh? Because he comes from a musical family, SiR was surrounded by harmonies and compositions from a young age. This made him want to carve out his own path in life, doing something totally different from what he was exposed to. But his tenure as manger didn’t last that long thankfully, because we wouldn’t be exposed to his soulful sounds.
SiR IS ACTUALLY HIS REAL NAME
Bestowed by his Louisiana grandmother, the singer once said that his gran gave him that name because she wanted people to be respectful of his grandson when addressing him.
HIS BROTHERS ARE GENIUS SONG WRITERS
Daniel and Davion Farris are SiR’s older brothers who embraced their music genes long before SiR even considered getting into the business. The two siblings have separately written songs for Mary J. Blige, Joe, Jaheim, Trey Songz and Jill Scott among their long list.
HE’S A PK WHOSE MOTHER WAS A BACKING SINGER FOR POP STARS
After spending a decade in prison, SiR’s father got into the ministry thus making SiR a preacher’s kid. While his mother use to singing backing vocals for Michael Jackson, Tina Turner and also worked with Gospel artists like Yolanda Adams and Fred Hammond.
HE’S AN ENGINEER AND HAS WRITTEN SONGS FOR OTHER SINGERS
After giving in to the music, he began doing sound engineering. But while doing that, he was also creating some music on the side, which received positive responses from a number of people. He wrote Jill Scott’s Prepared which is on her 2015 album, Woman and co-wrote two songs on Tyrese’s Black Rose album. He’s worked with Anita Baker, Stevie Wonder and Melanie Pheona.
He performs tonight at Victoria Yards and will be supported by local talent such as Rouge & the Brass Cartel, Thabsie, Uncle Party Time & Capital; P Kuttah, Akio and DJ Vigilante.
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.