By: Evan Campbell
“I know what indictment is, so I know you not like, selling cocaine, and then rapping ‘bout it. Because there’s statute of limitation and indictments and all them… I know people in jail so I know you lying. And It’s cool. But it’s like, ya know, don’t make someone else go to jail with your music.”
If there is nothing you can say about Vince Staples, at least admit he keeps it real. Most people are familiar with him through Earl Sweatshirt’s debut album, when he came on “Hive” rapping for his life, managing to go bar to bar with one of the best young rappers. His mixtapes leading up to his debut EP, most notably Stolen Youth and Shyne Coldchain, are filled with eye-opening stories from where he grew up, packed with enough detail that you know that it has to be from the perspective of someone who has lived through it. Vince isn’t known for incredible word play (a la Kendrick, Mick Jenkins, Earl Sweatshirt), but is rather making some of the most honest music you’re likely going to here this year. Every word feels laboriously thought over, every song has a similar theme, and Vince doesn’t waste his time getting his message across; if a phrase doesn’t fit with the message of the song, you sure as hell won’t hear it.
Vince brings to mind a young Pusha-T during the height of Clipse in the early 2000’s, and aesthetically Hell Can Wait seems like a worthy follow up to the last great Clipse record, 2006’s Hell Hath No Fury. The beats are all desolate, stark practices in minimalism; rarely do you hear flourishes or embellishments, and none of the tracks are sonically pretty. Lead single “Blue Suede” opens with a squiggling synth line before a booming bass kick and ticking hi-hats propel the sinister track forward, with Vince spitting menacingly about gangbanging on the streets, shining a dark light on the gang violence that towers over his neighborhood. “Screen Door” opens with a reference to arguably the most famous N.W.A song, and then over perhaps the starkest beat on the album Vince talks about lying to his mother about his father selling drugs inside the house, rather saying he went out onto the driveway. These songs about gangbanging and drug dealing are nothing new to “gangster rap” (just look at Schoolboy Q’s latest album, someone who Vince recently went on tour with), but to hear to Vince speak on it is to hear someone who’s managed to make it out and can now talk about the gritty details.
This brings us to “Hands Up,” the obvious centerpiece of the album. Released soon after the infamous killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, “Hands Up” details multiple accounts of police racially profiling young black men, killing innocent civilians, and promoting gang violence in order to create more crime. He speaks on Deangelo Lopez and Tyler Woods, two black men who were killed by police earlier this year. But it’s the people who he doesn’t mention that speak volumes (most notably Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown). In the days after Ferguson, and with people still speaking about the incident while being ill informed, it’s refreshing to hear a voice that manages to stick out and really make you think about the incident, and question what you’re told.
Hell Can Wait functions as a well-established introduction to what Vince Staples is all about. While this particular EP won’t be the big breakthrough he so clearly deserves, it does set the stage nicely for his debut album, which is tentatively coming out next year. Vince is a breath of fresh air; a young rapper who is as smart as he is street tough. And with all the potential demonstrated on this record, there’s no reason why his debut album shouldn’t be at the top of everyone’s list next year.
Evan Campbell is a freshman at Missouri studying Journalism and Business. He attended Booker T Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts where he studied Jazz Guitar and got one on one meetings with other musicians such as Erykah Badu. He hopes to one day write for a music blog, or perform music for a living.