It’s 2 a.m. on a Saturday night. I’m speeding in my grandma’s Cadillac through a quiet neighborhood. The windows are down, the humid summer night air striking my face.
Vince Staples’ “Blue Suede” is blaring from the car speakers.
The song’s bass and sirens, reminiscent of a prison riot scene in a Jason Statham film, conjure adrenaline.
Finna party like it’s prom tonight / Finna kill a nigga walking to his moms tonight / Shit real in the field, get caught, don’t squeal…
In the passenger seat is my friend Xavier, who is slowly unbuckling his seatbelt so that he can sit where the window should be.
Flames ignite in his pupils.
Shouting, “Hope I outlive them Red Roses!” he begins to throw up gang signs. We are juggling a bottle of alcohol between the two of us. The bass shakes my rearview mirrors. The sirens wage. My head nods in rhythm to Vince’s flow while light perspiration decorates my throbbing temple vein. In the backseat, two girls watch in fear and amazement.
I’ve been a fan of Vince Staples for several years, and if there's anything I’ve learned over the course of my fandom for his work, it’s that he doesn’t condone gang-inspired ignorance or violence—no matter the circumstances.
The Long Beach rapper is repeatedly asked questions related to his gang affiliation in interviews, and generally, following a deep sigh of annoyance at the repetition, Vince goes on a passionate rant, explaining the ignorance that gang life entails.
If Vince despises and has removed himself from gang life, though, why does his music still inspire feelings of gang affiliation? In particular, on material from his first two projects, Hell Can Wait and Summertime '06.
The answer: In the same way a mirror reflects the unfiltered truth and the perspective of its beholder, Vince doesn’t just tell us, he shows us. Vince forces listeners to see his perspective, to feel his frustration, and to hear his truth.
Based on a now-deleted tweet (see below), we can assume that Vince is aware of the aggressive nature of his music and how it can easily be misinterpreted, which could explain the shift that has taken place in the selection of production and in his delivery over the course of his last two projects.
Vince has always rapped over a variety of “different” beats, so the more electronic production on recent projects didn’t necessarily throw up a red flag. However, what did catch my attention, beginning with Prima Donna EP and continuing with Big Fish Theory, was his delivery. Vince's bars were primarily frank; they were still attacking, but not full of the same ignorance-inspiring aggression found on some of his older works.
To be clear, I don’t believe that Vince has changed his style or his approach to making music in order to completely remove the possibility of misinterpretation. But, I also don't believe he wants to because it would exacerbate his music.
Another story of a young black man / Tryna make it up out that jam, god damn
Would Vince rather have listeners misinterpret one of his songs as a gangster anthem that has the power to influence a 2 a.m. drunk driving escapade, complete with a passenger-seat gang member proudly shouting out the same gang rhetoric Staples has vehemently denounced? Or, would he rather have listeners misinterpret his song as a club anthem meant to make you dance and have a good time?
No matter his delivery or his beat selection, those who listen to Vince Staples will hear his message—Vince knows this.
Of course, there will always be the “get back to that gangster shit, Vince” fans, but as he pointedly remarked in the above Hot 97 interview, “I don’t care, cuz.”