Few rappers are as nonchalant about their talent as Long Beach-native Vince Staples. Nearly forty minutes after opener Ras Nebyu—a member of pseudo-Rastafarian style collective the Washington Slizzards—and his posse stepped off U Street Music Hall’s Stage on Thursday, December 3rd, the 22-year-old sauntered on in Chuck Taylors and a sweatshirt, hushing the sweaty “Norf side, norf side”-chanting crowd with a grin as the opening beats played to “Dopeman,” a single off of freshly released “Summer ‘06.”
“I’m the dopeman,” he delivers in a refreshingly calm yet cutting cadence, “tell me whatchu need I got that—”
The crowd goes wild. Staples illuminates the small, gritty space with his presence, pausing for occasional commentary on the dynamics of the city—at one point instructing the crowd the yell the signature “Fuck da police!” before performing “Hands Up”—and the crowd. Though I was in the presence of the greatest amount of sweaty teenage boys since accidentally attending a hardcore punk show in L.A. this past summer, Staples is impressed by the crowd’s composition: “I remember when it was four sweaty white boys at the show,” he says with his signature goofy grin, “Now we have 10% girls out here…got me feeling like Chris Brown.”
Despite the clear humor in this comparison, it is obvious that Staples is anything but the autotuned and self-sabotaging Brown. In his first full-length album “Summertime ‘06”, Staples’ sharp lyrics bluntly mull over gang relations in Long Beach, the appeal of white culture, and breaking out of a hood mindset; songs including “Lift Me Up” and “Norf Norf” allude to the hard-hitting violence of Long Beach, while others like “Lemme Know”, featuring Jhene Aiko and DJ Dahi, alter the dialogue to sex and love, discourse quintessential to the rap genre. Though he did bring in some older hits such as “Blue Suede” and “Limos” (both from his inaugural EP “Hell Can Wait”), Staples mostly stuck with hits from his new album—the tour is called “Circa ‘06” after all.
This focus on the new album in his performance lent him much more self-assurance; as an opener for Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt’s tour earlier this year, Staples’ performance was consumed more with his collaborations with Sweatshirt—including “Wool”, “Centurion”, and “Hive”—rather than his own singles; he did not radiate quite the same impossibly calm demeanor or straight-faced humor as he did at U Street. Perhaps his recent surge in fame is also to blame for this newfound presence; with a profile in the New York Times and numerous features on Pitchfork, Staples’ fanbase is certainly no longer limited to the West Coast. (Though, while many of the members in the crowd seem to be familiar with the subject matter of his songs, just as many did not; one guy repeatedly proclaimed that he was from Long Beach throughout the show yet seemed shocked when Staples uttered the n-word in his songs.)
Though the show was filled with afflicted paradox—Staples forcibly telling the crowd to go “wild” followed by a song discussing the brutality of growing up around gang violence—it still was one to remember, providing an exciting look into the future of Staples’ music, a future in which he will surely be considered on the same axes as Kendrick Lamar or N.W.A.
– Lily Sperry