REVIEW: Vince Staples Struggles With Fame On “Prima Donna”

Still basking in the praise deservedly heaped onto his 2015 release Summertime 06, there’s no doubt Vince Staples has been on everyone’s radar. Not only was his album one of the most gripping hip-hop releases of 2015, but he has quickly become known for his high-energy live shows, his cunning wit and wicked sense of humour, which have in turn made him something of a media darling.

Now that the spotlight is brighter than ever, Staples is using his platform to explore deeper subject matter, tougher themes and impressively experimental production, all exemplified on new seven-track EP Prima Donna. Delving into the issues of success and how they affect him, he goes on to cover topics as deep and diverse as relationships, mental illness, money and more.

Prima Donna opens with the sorrowful acapella, a forty second ballad, just Vince and you. Let It Shine isn’t the only time we see these chants, at the end of Smile, Loco and Prima Donna we hear crackly audio of the rapper covering a range of topics, each stripping back the track’s message further.

An André 3000 sample from ATLiens sets the scene for the first track War Ready, “Softly as if I played piano in the dark – Found a way to channel my anger now embark” Backed by a bold but simplistic beat from London producer James Blake, this is the first time we’ve officially heard the two together, and man is it worth the wait. A simplified but pulsing keyboard and piano based beat, the track simply uses two instruments, a light and fast keys alongside the gritty and low lying piano slam which runs alongside the thumping drums. Vince’s nasally vocals glide so easily over this track, and while his verses may be on the shorter side, they still pack a brutal punch of wordplay and lyricism.

The following track Smile adds to the addictively strong blend of flow and production, this time working with a more down tempo, rock-influenced instrumental. Delving into a theme which many artists cover, he begins to unravel about the guilt of success, about the shame he feels, having left his old life behind for one of wealth and fame. Vince continues to use his varying rhythmic flow to his advantage, crooning a refreshingly haunting chorus, which works smoothly over the dark guitar riffs below.

Journeying deeper into Vince Staples’ mind, Loco comes through just as the title suggests. Taking a crazy and wild turn both lyrically and instrumentally, it’s hard to ignore the raw aggression. Vince has really taken a step outside the box on the Kilo Kish collaboration. It’s bold, brash, and just plain loco, in all the right ways.

Title tack Prima Donna possesses a more conventional instrumental, anchored by organic yet booming drums. While the track does feature A$AP Rocky, it’s a minimal contribution, by way of a simple, repetitive hook. While the lacklustre feature may feel underwhelming, Vince nevertheless swoops in to save the day, once again delivering spitfire rhymes with a dynamic, engaging flow.

James Blake’s production talents bookend the entire release, now closing what he opened, with somewhat grimy influences from the mother country. A 140bpm beat with gritty, disorganised synths and rattling drums, it’s an interesting change to hear an American emcee over this kind of production. Not everyone could pull this off, but Vince matches the pace perfectly, concluding the EP with a frank discussing on gang life.

There’s no doubt Vince Staples really took the time out to make sure this follow up was something special. Not only did he delve deeper musically, but he’s taken a sharper look both at himself and the world around him, detailing his struggle and confusion about his increasing fame and wealth, which simultaneously pulls him further away from the life he grew up with. Sure, it’s a topic so many have tackled before him, but he does so with a unique twist that doesn’t for one second feel old or outdated.

Jumping on the visual album hype, Vince also released a ten minute short film which adds visual elements to a shortened version of the project. Check it out below, and be sure to listen to the full album here or beneath the video.

Vince will be visiting Australia once more this December, as main support on golden boy Flume’s mammoth stadium tour. Dates can also be found below.

Flume National Tour Dates

With support from Vince Staples and SOPHIE

Friday, 25 November: Perth Arena, Perth
Thursday, 1 December: Riverstage, Brisbane
Friday, 2 December: Riverstage, Brisbane
Saturday, 3 December: Spilt Milk Festival, Canberra
Friday, 9 December: Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
Saturday, 10 December: Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
Thursday, 15 December: Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne
Friday, 16 December: Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne
Saturday, 17 December: Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Hindmarsh

Tickets can be found here.

Read our interview with Vince Staples
Check out our photo gallery of Vince Staples live in Melbourne

Image: Facebook