“I’m a real beach boy, come ride my wave,” Vince Staples sings on ‘ARE YOU WITH THAT?’, the opener to his latest self-titled album. However, he ain’t talking about surfboards (despite repping that Billabong in his early days). He’s inviting you on a journey through his creativity, whether the shores are long, or in limbo.
Through the smooth waters of this 10 new song collection, Vince is simply telling you how it is. He’s paying homage to both the good and the bad in his stomping ground of Long Beach, the LA area that helped shape the man we see today. It’s the narration of growth and introspection, delving into themes like paranoia on ‘SUNDOWN TOWN’, and the struggles of adversity in his community on ‘THE SHINING’. Nothing is shrouded in metaphor, everything is like a hand out of a window; existing in reality, and communicating through the breeze. Kenny Beats serves as the Poseidon of this ocean, commanding waves of atmospheric synths, off-kilter drum patterns, bellowing 808s, and melancholic vocal samples. The tides move differently to the seas of Summertime 06, Big Fish Theory, and FM, but Vince captains the ship just as comfortably.
The voyage of Vince Staples is not just limited to this one boat, as the artist continues to expand his expression into the form of a whole fleet. He has a second album slated to drop this year in the form of Ramona Park Broke My Heart, a show with Netflix in the works, and his graphic novel called Limbo Beach, which details a group of kids battling to reclaim their youth. While often nonchalant, don’t get it twisted; Vince Staples doesn’t stop working. Amidst his busy schedule, I managed to hop on a Zoom call with Vince Staples to talk about all his new projects, his chemistry with Kenny Beats, and why California is a hotbed for creativity.
Congratulations on the album man. How are you feeling?
I’m feeling good. I was happy to get it out and have it reach the people.
I love how this project is self-titled because it emphasises the fact that this collection exemplifies who you are. What made this set of songs the best to represent the name, Vince Staples?
It’s exactly what you said. Just what it is, how it is, and the form of fashion in which it came together kind of just suited my name. Out of all my projects, this one fits the name the most. The title is really simple because of the music.
Critics have described your album Big Fish Theory as “peering into the fishbowl of rap and its changing ecosystems.”
What was it like with Vince Staples, peering into the fishbowl of your mental state?
It was easy. I’m not the type of person to get overly analytical with things, to the surprise of a lot of people. So I just appreciate people taking the time to listen to the things I’m creating and the things I’m trying to do. It’s not the first time I’ve made personal music or music that is reflective of who I am. But it’s the first time I’ve decided to put it at the forefront, so it’s the first thing you see. Before, I had done things where I thought ‘Oh, this is a cool take on this or that,” but I had never been deliberate with making sure that the first and last things you heard put the storyline center stage. That’s where I really wanted to go with this project.
I’ve seen you mention that you made hundreds of songs last year, and in playing them for people, not all of them connected the way you thought they would. But in the same breath, you always highlight that the only thing of importance is whether you like them or not. How do you achieve that comfort in an art form that is so dictated by public discourse?
You know what you’re in love with, and not in love with. If you need to second guess, that’s where those types of situations come from. But most of the time, I don’t really need to second guess, I don’t really know how to. Sometimes you can be tripping and people will think it’s amazing. If you think something is okay, and people respond to it in an okay fashion, you’re just reassuring your own thoughts. If you love something, no one is going to change your mind about it. This is more for the stuff you’re on the fence about.
You made this album over a period of 8 sessions. Was that type of quick timeline a device that helped prevent overthinking?
I think it all depends. You need a certain amount of time for certain things. It depends on what you’re creating and when you’re creating. Some things may take longer. But with this album, it worked out in a very quick sense.
The production of this album is primarily handled by Kenny Beats. What is it about your chemistry with him that elevates the Vince Staples experience?
I think when you work with anyone, they bring something unique or special because we’re all different people. So whether it’s Kenny, DJ Dahi, NO I.D, James Blake, or any one of the other great people I work with, it’s going to be a different perspective. It’s all about what fits the moment you’re in.
DeAndre Hopkins once said “repetition makes perfect,” and I’m sure there was a lot of repetition in the process of making over a hundred songs. How do you think you improved in your art during that time?
It was just a lot of practice. I’ve never had that much practice. Most of the songs I’ve ever recorded have come out, I’d say over 90 per cent. So having the time to sit there, create, and throw shit at the wall to see what sticks helped me get better in the overall process.
When you’re making an album that has an added focus on your name and life, I’m sure there’s a lot of conversations you had in and out of the studio that helped fuel the creation of these songs. Are there any that stand out?
Kenny is the type of person who listens when you make music with him. He’ll make stuff based on you saying something. He’ll take simple things from a conversation and make them bigger. It makes it so there are no wasted statements, with everything being in tune with the music.
The project also serves as an ode to Long Beach. What was it about growing up there that helped shape the Vince Staples we know today?
I think everybody’s surroundings help shape them, whether for the good or the bad. You can learn and take certain things that help motivate you, or they can also hinder you. We are all products of our environment to a certain extent, and Long Beach is very instrumental in who I am today. In all of us, really.
California in general over the last few years has become a hotspot for some unique and creative hip-hop, including the likes of ALLBLACK, 03 Greedo, Drakeo The Ruler, and more. What is it about the area that you think inspires these boundary-pushing sounds we hear today?
I feel like California is a place that’s not predominantly black. It’s very secluded, very oppressive. It has a lot of things going against us, but also a lot of things that can go great for us. I think we take from both the good and the bad, to make the most of things. We have a great history of creators and things that have come out of here. There’s something in the water.
A great example of the creativity coming out of California is your debut album Summertime 06, which recently turned 6 years old. How do you feel looking back on that project today?
I’m just appreciative of it because it opened up a lot of doors for me. But I really don’t think about it. Sometimes you move so fast that you don’t look back at the things you’ve done and accomplished. But yeah, I mainly just feel appreciative. It was a pivotal point in the direction of where we are heading.
Vince Staples is 10 songs that include 2 interludes, a quick, refreshing listen in today’s age of 25+ track albums, and day-after deluxes. With the walls between music and technology continuing to blur, is there ever a pressure to conform with this quantity and algorithm-based approach to art we see today?
I don’t think so. It’s leaps and bounds when comparing where I came from, to where I am now. I come from the worst circumstances I could have possibly imagined, so I’m grateful for every opportunity I get. Of course, there are always going to be hiccups, nothing’s perfect, but it’s better than what I had to do growing up. I never had a job before this. I never had any financial literacy before this. So if I have to deal with the ever-changing business of music and tech, that’s fine by me. It’s better than the alternative.
Outside of music, you have Limbo Beach, your upcoming graphic novel about children fighting to regain their stolen youth. What made this form of expression the one you want to pursue with this narrative?
There’s a company called Z2 that works with Universal to create graphic novels based on the music artists are releasing, and they reached out with the opportunity. I asked if we could make something from scratch, and they were on board. It worked out perfectly. It’s exciting to try different things in a new medium.
Is it a different process telling stores in this form as opposed to your music?
I find it pretty similar. Writing is writing for me, so it’s just cool to see what else you can do because I didn’t grow up wanting to make music anyway. It was something I just tried. So why not try other things? Maybe it results in the same outcome.
You’re also working on a show for Netflix. As someone who grew up engrossed in film, what’s that process been like?
I’m having a really good time. I’m learning how to write scripts and what it takes to fully create these things. Hopefully, it comes out great. Well, we’ll make sure it does.
So with a new album out, and both a graphic novel and television series on the way, how do you want to spend your downtime in this latter half of 2021?
Everything is downtime if I look at it a certain way. I’m just going to try and be creative, patient, and optimistic about the future. Everything will work from there.