March 6, 2014

Jonah Bromwich is a minivan veteran.

“As a kid, all I wanted was to kill a man.  Cuz my daddy did it.”

The inverse of the Odd Future pillars, Tyler the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt, many of Vince Staples’ problems come from a close relationship with his father. That’s the irony explored on “Nate,” a new cut the slept-on rapper that will appear on his next project, Shyne Coldchain Vol. II. Producer Scoop De Ville’s well-chosen brass loops might catch your ear before anything else does—this is go-hard music, the most radio-worthy thing that I’ve heard from Staples thus far. But its the rapper keeps you coming back for more here with the no-nonsense truth about (and admiration for) a faulty male role model.

What’s important to note is that Staples doesn’t explicitly identify his father as a problem in his life—the political message here is buried within the story that he’s telling. When he raps “knew he was the villain, never been a fan of Superman, beating on my momma in the kitchen screaming ‘bitch you better listen when I speak my mind,’” there’s no Scarface-style PSA directly afterwards advising the listener that this sort of activity should be frowned on. Instead, there’s the subtlety of Staples’ following line: “Used to think he was unbreakable.” The past tense is key there, but it’s never so cut and dry as to say that Staples has abandoned his dad entirely.  Real life is more complicated, and sometimes far more ugly, than that.

Odd Future have always had an interesting relationship with gangster rap. Tyler and Earl prefer Eminem-like exaggerated tales of mass slaughter or grisly slasher-style murder over the more par-for-the-course gangbanging that animates many of the dying art form’s rappers. Even Staples’ visions of gangsterism contain some interesting deviations from the norm: his father’s friends using a minivan as a getaway car, his father telling him he loved him, and keeping him well-stocked in new J’s (which should remind some listeners of Schoolboy Q, also spoiled with the freshest kicks and tempted by the glamorous criminality of his male relatives.) You also hear the pride that accompanies that archetypical gangster, when Staples sketches a portrait of his father near the end of the song: “Catch him riding ‘round the city with the seat back.”

James Fauntleroy (of Cocaine 80’s) shows up near the end of the song to add some blissed-out vocals and adds some (facile, if dead-on) historical context to Staples’ perspective.  That’s a great role for the neo-neo-conscious singer to play, and it should lessen the load for those who might like to make this song out to be the typical disgusting scrap of villainy.  This is the truth of an enormous number of American families, with kids who grow up enamored of an ever-present element. Props to Staples for telling it.