Paul Thompson doesn’t need extra cheese on that Sicilian
You’re lying in bed, colorless. Liquor stores. Barbed wire. Jesus candles. There’s a pounding on the roof. It’s Vince Staples, sueded out and giving startlingly few fucks. Christmas comes in August, except the 19-year-old from Long Beach is jacking you for everything you own.
If it seems like we’re living in the midst of an L.A. street rap renaissance, it’s because we are. All year, trunks have been rattling under the weight of My Krazy Life, YG’s long-awaited Def Jam debut, wherein DJ Mustard reimagines Compton as the world’s most dangerous strip club. Madlib and Gary, Indiana transplant Freddie Gibbs ate chicken wings over your corpse on their dense, sweltering Pinata. J. Cole and Interscope swooped out West to snatch up Cozz, a nimble but vicious upstart from South Central. But a dozen or so miles down the 710, Vince Staples has been biding his time.
March of this year saw Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2, Staples’ fourth mixtape in as many years. But the teenager has been playing with the cheat codes for a while now; six of the tape’s ten tracks were produced by Chicago luminary Dion “No I.D.” Wilson. Last year, Staples signed to Def Jam and Wilson’s Artium imprint (Says the superproducer: “He can just rap really, really good. No matter what era you put him in, he would do well. He’s got a clear mind—he’s an incredible storyteller”). The relationship landed him on “Kingdom”, the lead single from labelmate Common’s Nobody’s Smiling. This, like Staples’ three guest spots on Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris, have vaulted him into the outskirts of the mainstream’s consciousness. Now, as he prepares his debut LP Hell Can Wait, he springs on us his best work yet: “Blue Suede.”
Producer Hagler Thomas may claim Toronto, but his soul has evidently been choked by Angeleno smog. “Blue Suede” plays like a G-Funk song that went on a bad acid trip and prayed the low end would save its soul. For his part, Staples is interested in no Faustian exchanges. Plaintive fatalism (“Hope I outlive them red roses”) gives way to reportage drenched in cynicism (“5-0 fucking with the yayo, too/LBPD get sprayed on, too”). Yet Staples’ greatest strength has been evident since the first Coldchain hit in 2011: He has a gravity that cuts through his monotone to convey an exuberance his voice won’t. There’s an energy, an urgency to “Blue Suede”, even if Staples’ babyface never betrays it.
The visuals, directed by C. Blacksmith, is a superbly shot day-in-the-life clip, equally menacing and cool from the moment Staples pulls on a shirt in the morning. Barbecues, dice, girls in Supreme shirts. Malt liquor, dominos, stacks of hundreds. It’s a perversely idyllic look at a drama-free LBC, with one twist: When you look up at the rooftops, there’s Vince Staples, looking down at the city. Young, grizzled, wise. And rapping.