Vince Staples isn't a pop artist, but that has nothing to do with the way his music sounds.
As the oh-so-eloquent MC reminded Pitchfork managing editor Matthew Schnipper, who during a recent taping of their In Sight Out podcast called some of the music on Staples' Big Fish Theory album "pop," the term has more than one meaning, in particular, as it relates to the hip-hop music being made in 2017.
"I mean, what's pop? The Migos is pop now, Cardi B is pop. Pop means popular," Staples said. "Pop, for a second, just meant corny, bubble-gummy shit like that. But Michael Jackson made pop music about not taking care of kids that's been claimed to him. It all depends on what you look at it as... Michael Jackson came out as a zombie in the movie theaters, that was different, that was new, still subjectively pop. Everything is kinda repetitive at this point in time."
What most hip-hop fans cannot seem to wrap their heads around is the idea that an artist can be popular without explicitly making "pop music," a categorization that is commonly given to material that is simplistic in nature, with basic writing and a catchy, often looped hook.
Artists like JAY-Z and Kendrick Lamar are highly respected in hip-hop circles—both by fans and critics alike—and both have made music that caters to the masses. By definition, this makes them popular artists. On the flipside, JAY-Z's "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" and Kendrick's "LOVE." are both "pop records" by popular artists, but neither should be used to define their artistry, their sound, their catalog or their place in the annals of hip-hop history.
Staples isn't the only artist who has made an effort to destigmatize the word "pop." In an interview with our own Kenan Draughorne, fellow LA native Duckwrth expressed the same desire. “I want to take the stigma away from pop music,” Duckwrth told Draughorne. "It’s just good music."