To those who do not actively seek out rap music, Vince Staples might be a total unknown or otherwise thought of as a “typical” rapper, the type who Youtube commenters unceasingly remind of the fact that they are neither Tupac or Biggie. A deeper listen to Staples’ catalogue, however, reveals diverse lyrical ability, appreciable technical skills, an unflinching resilience in the face of unconventional beats and a nuanced approach to the subject matter of his songs. Staples has released two studio albums, two EPs and four mixtapes over the past six years, all of which received rave reviews across the board. Adored by critics, he is equally admired by fans and fellow rappers alike; despite being only 23 years old, Staples has featured on records of some of the most respected names in hip-hop, including the Gorillaz, Common, ScHoolboy Q, Ghostface Killah, Flume, Earl Sweatshirt and Mac Miller, all while boasting a core loyal following who have tracked his meteoric rise to rap superstardom. While Staples might never reach the level of fame of Kendrick Lamar, his trajectory to the top has shown a similar penchant to continually impress with fresh, new flows and bold musical choices.
Despite being a relatively experimental rapper, Vince Staples stage show is refreshingly simple. While Staples works with several artists outside of hip-hop, he isn’t a guy who would really benefit from having anyone on stage with him. What type of band would he need to properly pay tribute to the pure insanity that occurs in some of the beats that he raps over? Short of pulling a Kanye, I think Vince is wise to stick to a minimalistic stage dressing. Even a DJ would just serve as a slight staleness in Staples’ otherwise perfect MCing crispness.
With nothing but a large, white, backlit tarp behind him, Staples roamed the stage rapping venomously, switching from energetic to low-key as he saw fit. The tarp was lit with a bright, pinkish-orange hue and the fog-machines worked overtime, combining to make Vince appear as an obscured silhouette that burned black against a hot fire. I was surprised by the thick fog – the thickest I’d ever seen, by God – because Staples has, in the past, asked fans to abstain from smoking when he performs due to his asthma disorder. Now, I don’t have asthma disorder but, by God, that fog was the thickest I’d ever seen.
Vince spat hot flames through the smoke, not literally, of course, but figuratively, performing “Party People”, off of his most recent album Big Fish Theory. Staples moved onto “BagBak”, the first single off of the same album, a bold and cheeky song with a booming, head-bumping chorus. He followed this up by rapping his verse on “Ascension”, from the Gorillaz 2017 release Humanz.
Staples’ has strong, to-the-point vocals, which was a concern of mine because I’d heard that he has struggled, in the past, with his asthma. Well, besides his decision not to rap some impossibly-fast choruses or looped lines, Staples’ spat every line to near-completion, rarely swallowing his words or relying too much on his vocal backing track. Most rappers struggle with this, to some extent, and Staples’ has some incredibly complex bars that most rappers couldn’t reliably get through. Staples’ did an enviable job, with high energy, crisp vocals, and a commanding stage presence.
After a cut from Hell Can Wait, “Fire”, Staples moved onto “Birds & Bees” from Summertime ‘06. “Birds & Bees” is one of Staples’ catchiest song, with a rolling, grinding hook that burrows itself deep into the head of anyone who hears it. Staples rapped energetically and jaunted up and down the stage. He followed up with the similarly catchy “Big Time”, at the conclusion of which Vince disappeared and the stage went black. This was the end of Part I.
Part II began with a slow, deep piano tune that turned into yet another of Staples’ most singable songs – “Rain Come Down”. After a few more cuts from Big Fish Theory and Summertime ‘06, Staples’ concluded with two features – “Little Bit Of This” and “Ghost” – both of which feature morphing, electronic sounds that go all over the map that Vince expertly navigates.
Vince then went on an incredible, uninterrupted twelve-song run which featured many more of my favourites of his: “745”, “Surf”, “War Ready”, which jolted the crowd to attention with its’ sped-up sampling of Andre 3000’s famous “ATLiens” bars; “Lift Me Up”, “Jump off the Roof”, “All Nite”, “Yeah Right, “Big Fish”, and finally, with a wail of sirens and a cocky swagger, the now-famous “Norf Norf” bars – bars that even middle-aged women in middle-America have rapped along to.
In fact, there were many older folks in the crowd that night, although none were outraged. While we sat overhead at the front of the balcony, the crowd on the floor moshed on through the show and loudly sang along at several points throughout the set. Staples’ gave a great performance – a total of 24 songs – and while he didn’t interact much with the crowd, besides threatening a beating to the wisecracker who launched a water bottle onto the stage, his stamina and devotion to delivering as much music as possible was highly appreciated – at least by me.
1. Party People (Big Fish Theory)
2. BagBak (Big Fish Theory)
3. Ascension (Feature, Humanz, Gorillaz)
4. Fire (Hell Can Wait)
5. Birds & Bees (Summertime ‘06)
6. Big Time (Prima Donna)
1. Rain Come Down (Big Fish Theory)
2. Love Can Be… (Big Fish Theory)
3. Señorita (Summertime ‘06)
4. SAMO (Summertime ‘06)
5. Little Bit Of This (Feature, Good Times Ahead, GTA)
6. Ghost (Feature, Single, With You.)
1. 745 (Big Fish Theory)
2. Lemme Know (Summertime ‘06)
3. Surf (Summertime ‘06)
4. War Ready (Prima Donna)
5. Lift Me Up (Summertime ‘06)
6. Jump off the Roof (Summertime ‘06)
7. All Nite (Feature, 32 Levels, Clams Casino)
8. Homage (Big Fish Theory)
9. Blue Suede (Hell Can Wait)
10. Yeah Right (Big Fish Theory)
11. Big Fish (Big Fish Theory)
12. Norf Norf (Summertime ‘06)
Photos © Jamie Taylor//Cryptic Photography – (Bonus photos fo opener Charlotte Day Wilson)