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Vince Staples stares at the money mythology and affluent-affixed aesthetic of mainstream rap with disinterest. From the gritty concrete of Long Beach, he critiques the rapper’s throne, destroying it with his gunshot tongue. This “devotee of realism” finds no utopia in ass-clapping, chains or grills. His home is his voice, his piercing voice.
On Prima Donna Staples reinforces the subversive turn he near-perfected on Summertime ‘06. The accompanying short film begins with a plastic Vince Staples bobble-head unenthused by the twerking butts either side of him. The tableau is a neat visualisation of Staples’ articulated ennui, his frustration at the sex and power politics that predominate rap. The EP exemplifies this, structurally, sonically and linguistically.
Prima Donna begins with a deflated rendition of This Little Light of Mine, a well-worn gospel classic. He strains his vocal chords, squeezes out each phoneme as if he were choking on them. His stifled rasp pulls you in. A gunshot cracks, cuts short the song. Fuck me…the bang throws me off my beautifully patterned cityrail seat – my big-body thud shakes the fragile Sydney commuters. But, this is Staples’ way, he lulls you and hushes you with coy little word-pieces and then headshots you with ‘the real’.
Staples deviates from the uniform sonic that No I.D., Clams Casino, DJ Dahi and Mikky Ekko weaved for him on Summertime ‘06. Prima Donna is an exercise in experimentation. Smile feels like The Strokes cum Kanye West circa Graduation – there is a rock-ish bassline, a fuzzier-than-static guitar solo and Staples’ incisive rhymes. At the end, Staples’ repeats “sometimes I feel like giving up”, along with a few choice, evocative phrases. These rich, but dark spoken word pieces stipple the EP, lending further to its grimness. Even though these rhymes are almost hazy-lazy, Staples’ tonal incisiveness always confers them a characteristic sharpness. He is not mincing words when he says “sometimes I wanna kill myself”.
Noteworthy are collaborations with Kilo Kish and A$AP Rocky, on Loco and Prima Donna respectively. But, before I pop off, I must rave about James Blake’s a-bit-dense and a-bit-spacious hip-hop production, especially on War Ready. The song begins with a sample of the final bars Andre 3000 spits on ATLiens that sounds like it was chopped up and thrown into a bubbling bong. It then drops off, there is a sudden silence, and then it charges in again. When it segues to Staples’ turn, his words balance on a tight-rope beat – a minimal tip-tap and a single synth line. The alternating between Andre 3000’s maximalist bubble-storm and Staples’ less-solid-than-air soundscape creates a beautiful interplay of sonic tensions. War Ready is brill. Blake and Staples’ must continue their collaborative adventure.
And you must listen to Prima Donna. It is a fortuitous taste of what is to come.