Vince Staples doesn’t need rap. He enjoys doing it, he’s thankful for the opportunities and stability it provides, but Staples didn’t grow up with dreams of being a rap star. The 21-year-old rapper from Long Beach, California thought more about Allen Iverson and Ash Ketchum than gaudy rap dreams. But after popping up on early Odd Future mixtapes and receiving attention for his own solo projects, Staples’ secondary passion became his sole profession, and one he undertakes with unrivaled seriousness.
Last year, Staples put out two projects, Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 and Hell Can Wait, where he spoke to struggles of growing up (“Nate“), his father’s criminal past (“Screen Door“), and frustratingly timeless conflicts between black people and the police (“Hands Up“). In a couple weeks, he’ll release his debut double (!) album, Summertime ’06, on which Staples feels he’s made his next real artistic step forward. I talked to Staples about his upcoming project, falseness within rap music, how black artists can do better to represent their work, and why he has no desire to keep performing after 40. Staples also dropped a new song today, “Get Paid” (featuring Desi Mo), which you can hear below.
STEREOGUM: How are you feeling about Summertime ’06 right now?
STAPLES: I feel like we tried to do something new. [It’s] the first time we made a complete album trying to figure out the sound and everything within the time constraints of putting out a major-label release. I feel with all those things added in, we did a really good job staying true to what we wanted to do, and making sure it’s something that someone can enjoy and take something away from at the end of the day.
STEREOGUM: You usually don’t have guest verses from other rappers. Is there any particular reason you like to keep it just yourself?
STAPLES: It’s about the song and not the name. If a feature helps a song then I’m willing to do that 100%, but if it’s just a name being added to something, then I’d rather not do that. These songs aren’t based on what I feel will give me the most notoriety. These are things that are supposed to be [valuable to] the consumer — something they live with and helps them escape, or something that can help give them perspective. So if the [guest] feature doesn’t help from that perspective, then it isn’t necessary, no matter who it’s from. We have a couple features that definitely fit the perspective and help with the narrative of what we’re doing. We’re about delivering content to the consumer. That’s what it’s about at the end of the day, and that’s what it should be about.
STEREOGUM: Was there a particular song or moment that might’ve inspired the title Summertime ’06, or might’ve got you thinking about that theme?
STAPLES: I feel like it was everything: from the style of dress, to the way we interacted with each other, to the way we spoke, to the things we were listening to. It was a very specific time period in my life, because of the age I was at. It’s similar to this album being a coming-of-age or a shifting-of-the-guard reference in trying to create that moment. I had to think of a moment in myself that represented the same thing, and it really was the summer of that year. That’s what drove me to pick that title and the narrative. Because I feel it is very easily misunderstood — the music we all make — and if we’re going to be understood, then we have to be as accurate as possible and have the most exact depiction of where we all come from. And that’s exactly what I was trying to do with this project. So I feel like “summertime ’06” couldn’t have been a better muse for what I’m doing right now, because it was a time in my life where I started to realize different things. And that’s what I’m realizing right now, on a different scale, just because of the success of my music.
STEREOGUM: You were saying this music is “very easily misunderstood.” How do you feel that rap music — or maybe even broader black music — can be misunderstood by people?
STAPLES: It’s misunderstood by the people that deliver it more than the consumer, because it starts with us. Because we feel like to be successful we have to kill a million people, do a million drugs, be at every party, and have the most money. But in the sense of music itself, that’s never been the concept behind it. It’s never been about popularity. The most important artists in the history of mankind have been the most tortured fucking people and probably had the least amount of money, the least amount of happiness, the least amount of notoriety. They were speaking from pains and gains they experienced throughout their life. But in a sense, with us, I feel like there is a lot of depression and self-hatred within in the black community and communities of urban structure, so we have to be above where we come from instead of embracing it and affecting it. And we have to shit on people, especially in rap music. Every rapper is rich … which is not fucking true at all. We all know that; everybody who does this knows that. It’s not a lot of motherfuckers that are really making a lot of money. There aren’t a lot of motherfuckers who are the coolest person ever, but the majority of people on the face of this Earth aren’t that person either. Of course it’s easy to be misunderstood or not taken seriously, because we are not serious artists or serious people. We take the music and do it for selfish reasons and don’t think about how it’ll hurt the next person, hinder the next person. We forget it’s 10-year-old children listening to this music, because it’s on TV, in the video games, it’s LeBron James’ favorite song. We forget the shit that matters at the end of the day, because when I was growing up there were the 50 Cents and the Games — all that shit just made us want to perpetuate the violence, because we didn’t understand the latter half of it or where it started off. All we understood was that 50 Cent’s album is called Get Rich Or Die Tryin’; he’s rich now because we see him on TV, and his entire album is about injuring people, so we felt like we had to do that in order to succeed, and we don’t think that far as artists anymore.
STEREOGUM: When did you make that breakthrough in terms of understanding that a lot of what you’re seeing is a façade and isn’t real?
STAPLES: I always knew it wasn’t real. I’m from California, the West Coast, or whatever you want to call it, and we got all these tough so-called “gangster rappers,” but I’ve never seen these niggas a day in my life. So you’re this, you’re that, but your homies from the neighborhood don’t know you. And you’re riding around in low riders, khakis, and all this other bullshit, but when I walk outside of my door I never see that. I knew it wasn’t real, it just made me be like, “Oh fuck it, this shit doesn’t matter.” But instead of really understanding the voice they had, they could’ve really spoken for our community. The way that Snoop Dogg would have a fucking football league for youths all around Southern California, or the way that Dr. Dre would have Beats By Dre and give something back to the community and give us something to look forward to — in a sense, that could be me. A lot of artists from that time period didn’t use that voice. I’ve always known it was fake and I’ve seen it from a distance, because I saw the real thing every day in my house. So if the toughest dudes were probably fake, then the other dudes were probably fake, too. I never looked up to any rappers when I was growing up, as I could tell what was and what wasn’t.
STEREOGUM: Who were the people you were looking up to when you were younger?
STAPLES: We wanted to be like Allen Iverson, Terry Kennedy, Stone Cold Steve Austin, fucking Ash Ketchum from Pokemon, the black ranger [from Power Rangers] and shit like that. Music wasn’t what it is now where younger kids have favorite rappers. When I was growing up, skateboarding was big and basketball was big. I never partook in it, but niggas was trying to be dancers and shit because of Rize and fucking Stomp The Yard and fucking You Got Served and all that other bullshit. It was all new to me; it was more diverse. And now a lot of youth listen to music or a lot of youth do drugs, where there’s no one in the middle.
STEREOGUM: When you go to write a song, how do you go about it?
STAPLES: It depends. It either comes from the production or I have a song pre-written. It’s all about inspiration, because if you aren’t inspired by something and then you sit down like, “This song’s gonna be for the club; this song’s gonna be for the radio,” then personally I feel like you’re a fucking loser. So I never want to be one of those people that goes about this shit in that way. I try to go about this in the most natural way possible. Of course I revisit and I try to restructure it into the best song possible, because at this moment in my life, I feel I have to step up my shit in a certain sense. So that’s definitely something that I think about. But I think it’s all organic, man; it’s not really about the best song, because really, what’s the best song? The best song is what resonates with that one person the most. It’s why, if you ask a million people on the face of the Earth, they’re all gonna have different favorite songs, their own best song ever, because that’s the one that touched them the most. You can’t really overthink in sense of the process; you just gotta make sure the process comes from the heart and the mind and not anything that’s outside of how you personally feel. Because at the end of the day, they’re buying your perspective on life; they’re not buying the music, because at this point in time, the music is free.
STEREOGUM: I’ve noticed that you always have really memorable opening verses. Do you think about opening lines?
STAPLES: It’s like starting the paper. That’s how I look at it. If you’re writing a paper, then the first line is what really gets it going. Sometimes that can be the easiest thing to do, sometimes that can be the hardest thing to do, but it should be a focus — though I try to round out things better nowadays. But the first thing I said is usually a testament to what the song will be.
STEREOGUM: How do you enjoy the touring aspect of music that’s away from the studio and away from writing?
STAPLES: Touring helped me understand where I needed to be better in my music. Like, Schoolboy Q said I needed get some tempo in my music and be faster or it’s not going to resonate with the people, and I took that to heart. Mac Miller and his bodyguard Dave used to tell me all the time, “You walk out on stage and don’t say your name, these motherfuckers don’t know who you are.” And then I understood how to have a stronger connection to the people.
STEREOGUM: You seem really into connecting with people, and on your Twitter account, you do interact a lot with your fans. Do you think you have a good feel for fans of your work?
STAPLES: We’re all people, dude; no one’s fucking important or no one’s special. We’re regular people who are lucky enough to have people care about where we come from and care about who we are. We’re not better than a bum sitting playing with a guitar; we’re just on a higher scale. We’re sharing how we feel in a musical format, and people decide if they want to give [us] money or not. People can look at you and hear your music on the radio or the TV or whatever and be like, “I’m not going to pay $10 for this.” If they don’t pay that money, then these labels don’t make any money and they don’t invest in you [and] then you really don’t make any money. I feel you have to have humility with the things that you do when you interact with people, because you were once them. We’re not born stars as rappers and musicians. Our connection to humanity is what drove us to what we are — at least for the real artists, and there is a difference. And I consider myself to be a real artist and a real person because of that. I could care less about the radio or the TV or album sales. I want that connection with people because when I’m able to walk down the street, I want them to feel like I’ve done something for them and helped their life, because I’ve never felt that way about a musician.
STEREOGUM: I’ve read some interviews where you mention that you’ve been willing to step away from rap music. Do you feel you’re any closer to stepping away from this stuff?
STAPLES: I can’t do this forever. If I’m speaking for a generation and I’m trying to get my point across to the youth about what I’ve been through, then what does that mean when I’m 40 years old, 45 years old, and I haven’t done that already? Then I failed. Because I don’t want the fame, the attention, or the notoriety; I want to have an impact on where I come from. Of course in my youth — 20s and 30s, something like that — I can figure that out on a rap level, but I should be past that by the time I’m older. Not to say that I’m too good for it, but I won’t be able to resonate with younger people the way I can now when I’m 35 and up, 40 years old. They’re gonna be like, “Shut your old ass up,” which is how I would’ve been. So hopefully by then I can have made enough money or relationships to be able to reinvest that back into the community and back into the youth, into the people, so I won’t have to stand on the stage and rap anymore. I’ll be able to go to school and tell kids to stay inside of it and figure out a way to get these kids jobs. Because at home they fill out hundreds of job applications and never get hired. So there are things in this community that can be handled in other avenues, not through rap. I say that we’re all people because you shouldn’t limit yourself to one thing based on what people want from you.
Summertime ’06 is out 6/30 via Def Jam.