One of the first things I learn about Hammond, Indiana rapper Vince Ash, is our shared birthday. “Swear to God?” Vince asks excitedly over the phone when I mention spending March 18 locked inside my home due to the coronavirus.
“Unless I’m trying to make money or some shit, nigga’s in the crib most of the time, anyway,” Vince says. If anything, COVID-19 has helped narrow his focus. Vince listens to audiobooks often, notably James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh and Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings. “I might read a book or watch a documentary, and if something strikes me, it gives me more shit to think about how I process my mind,” he explains.
Processing his life in the most authentic way possible has been Vince’s mantra since he released his debut EP Do or Die via POW Recordings in 2018. Growing up in Hammond, Indiana, several of his family members—his uncles, a cousin, and his brother—were rappers who instilled the value of keeping it real from a young age. “That’s something we take a lot of pride [in] where I grew up. You know your range,” Vince says.
In hindsight, Vince feels Do or Die was more anger and angst than an earnest self-portrait. “Do or Die was songs from when I was 18, 19, and 20,” he says. Over the next two years, Vince honored his family’s mantra of realness by working to bridge the gaps in his writing and storytelling. VITO, his sophomore project out today via POW, is his vision of Indiana, turnt and methodical in equal measure.
Vince’s vision is panoramic across VITO’s nine tracks. “Whut It G Like” is a day-in-the-life recounting of a drug deal gone wrong, perfectly balanced between Southern swing and West Coast funk. The smooth reconnection of “LMK” bleeds into the somber introspection of “Back N The Dayz (Interlude)” before the Memphis-inspired thump of the title track and “Mafia Music” let Vince flex and balance the album’s equilibrium.
VITO is jam-packed with detail and movement. Take the man reciting poetry before being gunned down outside of a store on “Prologue,” or the boy too young to buy Black & Milds “but strapped up with poles” in the streets of “Back N The Dayz.” The periphery of any given song in Vince’s canon is brimming with mise en scene, coloring a world he feels obligated to bring to life accurately.
“Me being one of the few people to come from where I come from, it’s kind of like a responsibility,” Vince concludes with pride. “We’ve got a story that hasn’t been told. It’s our responsibility to give you the clearest picture of what it’s like to grow up here.”
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: As an artist from the Midwest, what influences did you have coming up?
Vince Ash: Growing up, we didn’t have one defining culture. East Coast was the hip-hop and shit; West Coast was the gang-banging; the South was the screwed up shit. Us, we had a mixture of all of that, and I guess it kinda created its own thing. My influences as a shorty were [Lil] Wayne, [Waka Flocka Flame], Gucci, Boosie. As I got older, I started expanding my music palette. As far as local talents, there was CCA, Ric Jilla, and my uncles and cousin used to rap, too. My older brother was also going crazy when I was younger. Me seeing him do it inspired me to see this shit was actually popping instead of some shit you just see niggas do on the TV.
Being someone who prides themselves on being a Hoosier, what’s the importance of rap regionalism in 2020?
Me being one of the few people to come from where I come from, it’s kind of like a responsibility. Artists like Freddie Gibbs and shit feel a certain type of way. We’ve got a story that hasn’t been told; not a lot of light has been shed. It’s our responsibility to give you the clearest picture of what it’s like to grow up here. It ain’t too many people for kids to look up to and connect with. It would be a disservice to come out and talk about a whole bunch of shit that ain’t even happen out here.
If they hear I’m from out here and they listen to my music, and they can’t identify with it, it would be pointless. It’s also important to stay authentic to your sound and who you are because when it comes to your younger fans, ain’t no telling who you’re influencing. As rappers, we don’t take enough accountability for that. That’s something that needs to be spoken more about.
It’s been two years since your last project, Do or Die. What inspired you to come back with VITO?
I’ve just been going through [the] motions and trying to learn this whole time. I was taking a lot of time just to understand the music industry as a whole. Be more on top of my game in terms of contracts and trying to craft my sound. Like how we were just talking about regionalism and all that, I wanted to get more of an idea of what I wanted my sound to be. It’s gonna be representative of the whole area when people think of 219. If that’s the case, let me try to bring something new to the table instead of piggy-backing off what everybody else is doing.
What was the most valuable thing you learned about yourself between Do or Die and VITO?
I learned how to get more detailed with the stories I tell. If you listen to Do or Die, a lot of the songs sound more generalized. I’m getting into being more descriptive and painting a whole picture so you can see exactly what I’m talking about. Artists like Biggie and Stevie Wonder are the biggest inspirations for crafting stories because they were both good at that shit.
You pack so much content into just nine tracks. “Whut It G Like” flows into “LMK” and the title track while keeping things cohesive.
Appreciate that, bruh. I take pride in that. When I listen to [Kendrick Lamar’s] good kid, m.A.A.d. city and To Pimp A Butterfly or double albums like [Tupac’s] All Eyez On Me or [Biggie’s] Life After Death, the sound of them all comes together. You can listen to those albums start to finish, and that’s how I want my albums to sound. I always shoot for that. Even getting down to the last detail with helping with the sound design and writing out the skits myself.
What would you say is the overall story across VITO?
It’s more dynamic than what I showed on Do or Die. Do or Die was songs from when I was 18, 19, and 20. I dropped it when I just turned 21. That was more angst and anger. I felt like I did myself a disservice, so I wanted to be as dynamic as possible on [VITO]. I’m not just this turnt up ass, whatever situation happens, and I can rap about it type dude, you feel me? I can talk about laughing and joking with my uncles; I can rap about dealing with a woman; I can get a little vulnerable. I can give a little piece [of] myself and connect with the audience a little more.
On “Back N The Dayz (Interlude),” you say, “Too young to buy blacks, but we was strapped with poles.”
You can tell when somebody’s giving you generic, cookie-cutter answers. That sounds too much like the other nigga’s stories. Where the actual detail? What was the pain you felt? If something happened to you, you can speak to it on different levels. Everything feels too surface level when it comes to different people.
That line speaks to how niggas was when we was growing up. I was 16 or 17 when I got my first gun. I wasn’t old enough to have that thang because I wasn’t old enough to buy a [Black & Mild] by myself. We was moving around and doing all this hot ass shit because we thought we was grown. But we was still kids.
The difference between the time in which I wrote [“Back N the Dayz”] and now is the fact that there’s more media attention focused on it. This shit has been going on since forever. My uncles would tell me stories of them being out in the streets and the police fucking with them. These stories as old as nigga’s lifespans, but now we’re seeing more of it recorded and revealed. I’m 23, and this has been the norm since I was born. This is the stuff that makes music timeless, man.
What’s the importance of making timeless music?
I’m thinking about listeners 100 years from now. Obviously, I’m not making that music yet, but that’s the headspace I’m in. I wanna give enough knowledge and enough of myself for it to transcend what’s going on now for [future listeners] to learn about myself and my time but still have it relate to the present. I still find myself listening to Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, and Curtis Mayfield; shit my grandparents were listening to, I can still connect with like it dropped yesterday. Continuing to do that will help me reach that goal.