Vince Staples asked his manager Corey Smyth to secure a record deal. Signing to a major label is frowned upon in an age where success can be acquired independently, where rappers are no longer required to give up their artistic souls. But Vince wasn’t thinking about the pros and cons of a major, and he didn’t sign to increase his chances at stardom. He had a much deeper need to acquire money—to assist an ailing mother.
It wasn’t until a recent interview with The Breakfast Club that Vince revealed the true reason behind his alignment with Def Jam. Even under dire circumstances, Vince didn’t take the highest offer, choosing instead to take a lesser advance to maintain creative control. Greed didn’t possess him, he had a goal and wouldn’t take more than what was necessary. He became an employee, using his music as a way of getting hired to rap. The evil major label wasn't so evil.
Vince didn’t want to be a rapper, but he didn’t want to stay home. Home was where trouble haunted every corner and crevice. Being introduced to Syd Bennett and Tyler Okonma changed his life; he now had a place to go where trouble couldn’t travel, and friends who cared more about making music than fighting for a set. It was a new environment, so while in Rome he did as the Romans do and began rapping without foresight of a future but as a way of killing the minutes until his return to Long Beach.
Rap was always an escape for Vince, a temporary way of removing himself without any intention of making the getaway a long-term solution.
"People are too focused on gang banging in Long Beach. Niggas think that's some old shit but not out here. Long Beach, Compton, and this whole area—not necessarily Los Angeles but the places that Los Angeles likes to leave out. That's what it is out here, niggas either grow up gang banging, get old and start gang banging, or they have a regular ass job. It's not a place a lot of people leave." — Vince Staples, "Who Is Vince Staples?"
Aside from his young nephew and niece, everyone in Vince's family tree has been caught up in the thorns of trouble. It wasn't that he didn't come from a good home; his family encouraged him to stray from the streets, but he still followed their paths, almost as if he inherited their magnetism to wrongdoing.
Vince breaking the chain tying his family to the street life begins a new chain for his future family to follow, a path of prosperity that’s not shrouded in violence and pain. Hip-hop has saved the lives of countless kids who needed an outlet that allowed compensation for their stories. Hip-hop put Vince and the future of his family in a position where his kids won’t have to live the life he describes. Better days are ahead.
The same can be said for Kendrick Lamar. While the internet clowned Kenny for buying his little sister a Toyota Camry for her high school graduation instead of a flashy luxury vehicle, a brand new 2017 car is a huge step up from his momma’s van. that aided home invasions and sleeping with Sherane. A few years of rap success has already allowed him to give back and allow family members opportunities that weren’t possible during his youth. Vince and Kendrick are offsprings of similar circumstance, born into families and elements where trouble came in abundance.
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“My uncles and all my cousins was doing it on a daily basis—shootouts, running in my momma house, trying to hide somewhere, selling dope,” Lamar remembers. “So for a while I thought that was how it was supposed to be, until I ventured out into other spaces and people didn’t know about what was going on where I was from.” As Lamar watched friends and family land in jail, he consciously pulled away from the street, thanks in part to nudges from his ever-present father. “The cats that’s in jail they never had father figures. I had one,” he explains. “He wasn’t perfect but he was there to pull me out and let me know when I’m about to bump my head." — "Black Hippy: A View from the Center"
When Kendrick raps of Deuteronomy and the curse of disobedience on DAMN., he is searching for an answer to save his soul from damnation. While cousin Carl makes clear we are a cursed people, on “DUCKWORTH.” Kendrick briefly explores how one decision can change one curse at a time. Anthony not harming Ducky was an event that he views as a moment where his life was allowed to walk this path.
Think about the end of GKMC. After losing his friend, Kendrick’s mom calls him about Top Dawg wanting him to visit the studio. It’s a call he wouldn’t receive if Top was doing time for armed robbery, or worse, the murder of his father. The studio is how he was able to escape the weakness and wickedness of his environment. Ducky raised a king in Compton and now his bloodline is a royal one. The success of Kendrick Lamar is much deeper than gifting cars, it means he’ll be able to keep future good kids out of the mad city that raised him.
JAY-Z raps on “Sweet” from American Gangster: “If I would have grew up to be a doctor / My nephews would have grew up to do the same,” a lyric perfectly capturing how influence can be generational. Jay isn’t a doctor, but he is a successful rapper turned successful entrepreneur, and now the Carter lineage has him as the biggest banner to follow. Legacy is on JAY’s mind at the end of 4:44, the final song beginning with Blue Ivy asking her father about a will. There’s a tenderness in Jay’s voice as he explains how generational wealth is what he wants to pass down. He speaks of money and business as passing torches, citing how a shift changed him. The poverty he knew won’t be known by his children and their children, and for the first time, he was using money to brag not about his own purchases but about how his family was freed from a cycle of hardship. They don’t have to be doctors or lawyers, but the future Carter kids will be allowed to be whatever their hearts desire. Anything but drug dealers.
"[I want] to create a comfortable position for me and everybody around me. Cause, like, blacks, when we come up , we don’t normally inherit businesses. It’s not a common thing for us to have old money, like three, four generations of businesses. But that’s what I’m working on right now. A legacy." — Jay-Z, Vibe interview, 1999
JAY-Z entered rap when drug dealers were making more money than rappers. I’m sure in most cases hustling corners will bring quicker dollars than standing in recording booths, but we have seen so many financial success stories to know money is in music for those who are talented and work hard. Sean Combs went from being Andre Harrell’s intern to a bad boy soaring to the top of Forbes. T.I.’s moms used to find glocks in his toy box and now his kids will never want for a single toy on this planet. Hip-hop wasn’t supposed to be more than a temporary fad, a genre of the moment, and decades later, we sit atop countless stories of men and women who have used it to escaped dire circumstances. Rap has become synonymous with fame and fortune, a way to escape poverty into paradise. The genre has reached the point where an artist like Lil Dicky can leave the creature comforts of a well-paying advertising job to become a rap artist.
Money should never be an artist's sole motivation, but in a case like Vince Staples, the money was able to help his family and not a reason to brag on Instagram. He is still selling art instead of focusing on commerce and has refused to be tainted by the attraction of commercializing his music. That’s the only beauty of hip-hop being at the forefront of popular music: there’s a chance to turn lives around without compromising the message.
Record deals, business ventures, brand associations―all the corporate money that’s frowned upon isn’t just used to just pop bottles in clubs and buy expensive cars to crash. You can sell without selling out. You can make money without succumbing to the evils of greed. Rap won't make everyone rich, but there's enough money in the industry to make a decent, legal living.
Hip-hop is the medium that has helped give the youth a voice, and it has grown into a platform leading to a turning point in the lives of those who needed a chance to escape the troubles of their youth. Hip-hop is saving lives. It will allow the children of tomorrow to have a brighter future.
Vince's nephew, Kendrick's sister, and Jay's children can look up to men who can proudly say they gave their family a better opportunity at life, and hip-hop is the common thread tying their success together.
By Yoh, aka Yoh Ivy aka @Yoh31