In an industry where authenticity is everything, Vince Staples has lived a lot in just 22 years. Growing up in Long Beach California, Staples shifted from a life of gangbanging to becoming one of the most respected lyricists in hip-hop, known more for his acerbic wit than his trigger finger. A vocal critic of the glorification of gang life and drug use in hip-hop, he has quickly become one of the most important rappers in the game. A collaborator of some of hip-hop’s Gen-Y finest, an XXL Freshman and a close friend of ex-Odd Future reps like Earl Sweatshirt and Syd Tha Kid, this year he also accomplished the small feat of releasing one of the year’s most important albums. Summertime ’06 is a real accomplishment; a challenging, potent and totally unique debut, far beyond the young rapper’s years. We talked to Vince about hating Twitter, going toe to toe with Kendrick, and the purity of unadulterated Sprite.
Vince Staples, thank you so much for speaking with me today.
Not a problem man. I appreciate you.
I’m very excited to talk to you. Summertime ’06 was my favourite album of the year. But I’m also excited because you are famous for your interviews. How do you feel about this title – Vince Staples: the funniest rapper in the game?
Ahh, well my question would be – what is the game? And then second, I be like, yeah I’m pretty funny. I’m just one of the funniest people. You have to understand that, that I’m one of the best.
What do you think about the role of humour in hip-hop?
I don’t think about hip-hop at all. I think hip-hop gets too much attention. We should focus more on all the things in everyday life. I feel like a lot of the things I say don’t really have much to do with hip-hop. We’re all regular people at the end of the day, that’s one thing we tend to forget with this music – all these artists, all these people, we’re just all individuals, we’re all regular people. You know we all like other things except for music. We should let that be known as well, within what we do in hip-hop.
How important is something like Twitter for you, to connect with your fans, and to allow them to see a side of your personality that they may not see in your music?
It’s a funny thing because I fucking hate the Internet, I hate Twitter. I didn’t have an Instagram until my manager made me get one. I had like a private one that I used to delete every time people found out it was mine. I mean, I understand the importance of it. We live in a day and age where it’s not about the music. The music is the least important thing on the list of things we have to do in this industry, the music comes absolutely last. Which is not necessarily a good thing to me, but it’s the truth to, they want the overall lifestyle effect of it. It is very important when it comes to what it can do for our careers, and what it can do for our listeners in general and how we can help them learn about new things, and about the things we also like. So I do understand the importance of it. And I wouldn’t use it at all, but if I had the choice – I’d be so cool on it.
You say that – but your tweets are amazing.
Yeah well it’s crazy, but I am one of the funniest people alive, so people have to understand that.
2015 was a massive year for hip-hop. We had To Pimp A Butterfly and At Long Last A$AP. Hip-hop almost feels more respected than ever. How does it feel to know that Summertime ’06 played such a huge role in that?
It’s a relief because I felt that we worked very hard for it. We did our best; we did our absolute best for everything that we did this year. So I’m glad to see that it turned out, you know, being worth all the hard work. Because as you said before, we are amongst the very best when it comes to those names you named. So I’m glad we’re in good company.
I appreciate it because we worked hard for it. Just being in the same conversation as Kendrick’s album is amazing. I’ve heard people saying when it comes to hip-hop albums this year it’s mine vs. his – just hearing that, I’m just completely grateful for everything. It’s great, man.
Talking about putting the album together, the effort you put into constructing it. The production on Summertime ’06 is as profound as the lyrics – did you know that No ID was crafting something really really original when you began working with him?
I began working with him years ago. And I had nothing but respect and appreciation for what he’s done with everyone involved. And like, if you know No ID he said in several interviews that he’s following my lead. That just shows that they were listening and appreciating what I can bring to the table, and that’s something I appreciated as well. So just having all these people that have done completely great things and way more things than I’ve done, to have actually listened to what I’ve had to say, and to want to know what I’m about, for them to take the back seat, when they were more than capable of leading the situation. And kind of left me to develop my own identity with my own project. I can’t do anything but be grateful to them for that.
On that, the style of Summertime ’06 is very different, very unique. For a debut album, it’s a classic – how do you follow up something like that?
Well that’s easy because we made a lot of mistakes with this album. So it’ll be very easy to follow up. I can only see everything getting better. We’ll just take our time with it, and make our music and no one can ever rob us of that. We are going to make what we want to make, because at the end of the day the product is what matters and nothing else. Money doesn’t matter, success doesn’t matter, the product is what matters. We’ll always be focused on making the best product. Because that’s something we’ve always cared about, I don’t think we can ever go too far away from that.
You’ve said in the past that Def Jam have given you the freedom to craft your own projects, has that been a good relationship, and something you can see having equal freedom in the future?
You define your own freedom. They know who you are coming into the situation, and we know who we are as well. So we will do whatever we have to do to get our music out there, whether it’s with or without them. And when I say without them, if there are certain things they may not understand at a certain point in time, we will just have to do what we have to do to make them understand. But fortunately they do believe in us and we won’t have any problems that I can foresee in the future. You never know, but I firmly believe that we will be able to execute anything possible there will be no reason for us to say ‘no’ – do you understand what I mean?
In 2015 everything is so interconnected – is there still validity to concepts like ‘West Coast’ or ‘Southern’ hip-hop?
Hip-hop is on the Internet, you know what I mean? We’re all in the same community if you think about it. You’re not discovering music walking down the street, you’re not discovering music going around outside to these different areas – you’re discovering almost everything on the Internet. So with that being said, there’s no limitations on what can and can’t influence you.
I read an article where they said you were the walking incarnation of the Mobb Deep lyric – “I’m only 19, but my mind is old” – you’re 22 now, how does it feel to have this image as being wise your years?
I don’t care. Everyone has an opinion. You can’t focus on the good ones or the bad ones. I just want it to be known that I cared about music, and the product I put out, and that I tried my best to put out the best product that I could. That’s what I care about. As long as that’s the opinion, I can be wise, I can be immature, I can be whatever you want me to be. Just let it be known that I worked very hard on my music.
Obviously Summertime ’06 tells a story about a very specific time and place, does it feel to have your music being appreciated somewhere as far away as Australia?
It means everything. Like I said before, the one thing in life we lack is just people understanding from where each other are coming from, and to understand each other’s background. The fact that people as far away as you guys – are trying to understand where I’m coming from and what my situation was and what the identity was of the place that I come from, it just shows that we’re moving forward as people in general.
Vince, what would you say to the Sprite drinkers of Australia?
I would like to let the Sprite drinkers of Australia know that I have your best interests at hand. And Sprite has your best interests at hand. It’s the only drink with lemon and lime. It’s a beautiful product of lime. And be positive. Sprite is the only lemon and lime beverage on the earth – that other company – there’s seven of them – if you have to try and go Up, seven times – what happens to the first six? That’s all I’m really saying. You know what you’re getting with Sprite.
Who has done more for the Sprite brand, you or Future?
Me. We’re marketing a positivity with our Sprite. We’re not marketing anything else. There are no mixtures being done with the Sprite. It’s already a mixture of lemon and lime. We don’t need to add anything else.
Vince Staples will be performing at St Jerome’s Laneway Festival on the Red Bull Music Academy/Future Classic Stage alongside two headline shows.
Friday 5 February: Harts Mill, Port Adelaide (16+)
Saturday 6 February: Brisbane Showgrounds, Brisbane (16+)
Sunday 7 February: Sydney College of the Arts, Sydney
Saturday 13 February: Footscray Community Arts Centre And The River’s Edge, Melbourne
Sunday 14 February: Esplanade Reserve and West End, Fremantle
Tuesday Feb 9: Max Watt’s, Sydney
Wednesday Feb 10: Max Watt’s Melbourne