Long Beach just got a whole lot crazier
23 year old Vince Staples, a California-born rapper and ex-gang banging provocateur of one of the West Coast’s most dangerous areas (Long Beach) has always seemed to be anxious when approaching the topic of fame. Known for his gritty, abrasive lyrics and dark production, Staples has never been one to dabble in the bravado and bragging of the more materialistic artists out there. It’s the grim expression of the pessimistic perception he holds when reflecting on life in the hood that he finds himself at his best, and ‘Prima Donna‘ epitomises this view in a short, sharp outing that continues his impressive streak since last year’s ‘Summertime ’06‘.
Announced in his The Fader interview just a month before its release, ‘Prima Donna‘ came along amongst a host of releases within the hip hop world. Without any sort of marketing apart from his tweets revealing the cover art and release date, the EP slipped into the unknowing ears of listeners on August 25th – a pleasant surprise to those like myself who have always enjoyed his musical escapades. Much like Vince, the project distances itself from the commercial releases around it with the continuation of his signature grunge-like attitude and harsh delivery akin to that of the likes of DMX (only without the party anthems). From the get-go there’s a serious sense of hopelessness and poignancy about the EP, with the initial opening track encompassing only Vince’s tired and croaky voice groaning through a haunting rendition of ‘This Little Light of Mine‘ – ending in a gunshot.
It was clear from listening to his debut LP ‘Summertime ’06‘ that Vince’s world was crazy; awash with pain and violence. Yet the rapper exhibited this sense of constant turmoil brilliantly through his higher-than-normal inflection and some insanely good production from the likes of No I.D.. Thankfully for the most part ‘Prima Donna‘ carries on much of the themes and sound from his last outing, with the next track ‘War Ready‘, produced by James Blake. A solitary piano loop and this bouncing drumline is fronted by an Andre 3000 sample, an unusual yet ear-catching piece that, when it fully gets going, is a simple but effective opener to this next episode of Vince’s life. The MC himself touches upon the shallow nature of how people observe and interact with rappers, saying: “They only fucking with the rapper if the rapper rich / Or got a platinum hit / A chain or two/ Seem the music interchangeable“. In his eyes the music doesn’t matter enough to these rappers and their fans; they still remain idols if they have something shiny hanging from their neck.
The combination of stellar production and relentless flows continues across much of the track list, with Vince never being forced back behind the instrumentals he pins his flows on . ‘Loco‘ featuring frequent collaborator Kilo Kish is as maniacal as its title suggests, with Vince seemingly not taking a breath until the end of the uncompromising first verse. The beat is nuts too, double time snares pepper the tracks sense of urgency and turbulence as the MC proclaims himself a “Gangsta gone Gatsby“. The proceeding song, sharing its name with the EP’s, is of a slower tempo but the heavy bass and distorted voice clips giveit just the same sense of madness and the feeling that you’re listening to a project that isn’t exactly going to leave you with a more positive outlook on life after listening. While A$AP Rocky is featured, he sadly doesn’t get the chance to pen a full verse on the track and only serves as vocals for the hook and bridge. Thankfully Vince shines again, throwing out threats and gang affiliations all over the track “Kick cack ce cool, watch a nigga get it / I be all around the city with the semi naughty crippin” (‘cack ce cool’ referring to his ties with the LA Crips gang).
The final track of the EP exemplifies Vince’s nature perfectly and is a satisfying end to a consistent project, with ‘Big Time‘ featuring a superbly monstrous instrumental and one of the rapper’s most braggadocios verses yet. “Man I love my bitches / Man they photogenic / Snatched em straight up out they Richardson mag they do my dishes” is a far cry from the usual grit and aggressiveness of his writing, but the MC still manages to make these claims his own, using his voice and flow to stand well above the production and still maintain to be the main focus here. The hook is a little weak in its simplicity, but the outro is a welcome change instrumentally, with its guitar-synths warming the experience just enough to not leave it on a completely cold note. That is until the ominous ending alluding to his next project; with a child’s voice asking “Is anybody there?“.
For like 90% of the run time the music is solid and coherent, well-mixed with some wonderful experimentation from both the producers and the rapper here. Unfortunately however, ‘Prima Donna‘ (at the end of almost every song) features a host of voice clips that are similar to the opening track. They amount to what is just Vince singing to himself about how he hates pretty much everything and wants to give up on life. They could’ve been interesting if used more sparingly and hadn’t gone on for so long, but in the end they stagnate the experience. I’m all for the addition of a concept and/or theme into music like this but at least make it vaguely intriguing – and not so depressing.
Vince Staples certainly hasn’t disappointed with this spin off/ follow-up to his debut album, carrying over the same unique take on both hip hop and life as a black individual in America. ‘Prima Donna‘ is another addition to the consistently impressive streak of outings from the LA rapper, piling even more memorable tracks into the guy’s repertoire. It’s rare that Vince and his chosen production don’t come together, and this is no exception, with its layered, dark beats merging so well with its heated-up host and his crazy flow. Like the image on its cover, it gets a little big-headed at times as it wallows too long in its unnecessary acapella sections and the self-pity of the rapper who is usually so energetic. Regardless, ‘Prima Donna‘ is one of the best EPs of 2016 so far, and certainly deserves your attention – even if it will rinse you of your sanity.
Highlights: Loco, War Ready, Pimp Hand, Big Time, Prima Donna