Vince Staples, A Prima Donna

Vince Staples has quickly become one of my favorite rappers. The young virtuoso is not only capable of writing songs that are insanely intense on a visceral level but also ones that are staggeringly intelligent. The way Staples balances the personal and the public is second to none. On his debut double LP, Summertime ’06, Vince Staples grappled with his place in the world as a rapper, as someone from a broken home, as someone who is seen as disposable by America. From the album’s first lines to its conclusion, Staples looks at the intersection of fame and blackness in a complex and nuanced way.

In his latest release, Prima Donna, the Long Beach native shifts his focus from institutionalized racism and hip hop culture’s detrimental effects on his family and the communities he grew up in to fame’s toll on his life. That said, Vince Staples doesn’t lose his wise-beyond-his-age ability to analyze the situations of his songs with a self-awareness that never strays.

Prima Donna starts (after the spoken word intro track) with an Andre 3000 sample. Repeating “war ready” after Andre 3k says “the world is a stage and everybody plays their part,” acts as sort of a thesis for the EP–fame and being an entertainer is a type of battle, a lifelong battle between staying true to yourself and making art that is appealable to the masses.

One of things that seem stylistically different than Staples’ previous output is the mumbled spoken word interludes that appear at the end of tracks and as tracks themselves. Sounding dejected and defeated, Staples moves from nursery rhymes to suicidal confessions. At first, these interludes sound disjunctive and fragmented, but after a few listens, they seem to betray the inner monologue of Staples’ speaker–if the more traditionally structured songs represent the artistic output of the speaker, then the interludes show the disconnection of speaker’s inner attitudes.

At the center of the EP is the song “Loco.” “Loco” brings together the fractured consciousness of Prima Donna‘s speaker. Waxing lyrical in typical Staples fashion, the song bounces between paranoia and euphoria, between rationalizations and break downs. The constant shifting between extremes gives the song an inherent tension that explodes from whatever speaker it pours out of.

The Prima Donna EP is a testament to Vince Staples’ talent. Whereas some rappers ride trends to create quick and ephemeral success, Staples proves that he has not only a great ear for beats and penning subtle lines but also a finger to the pulse of this generation’s frustrations and grievances.

The EP ends with the song “Big Time.” The track is as close to Staples’ previous output as he gets on Prima Donna. That said, his voice sounds rawer, less produced. The juxtaposition between the production of the track and its obsession with being in the “big time” seems to betray the EP’s speaker’s fear–namely that no matter how successful he becomes he will never be able to transcends the traps of his childhood. Despite the track’s hooks and beats, “Big Time” is a song that is infested with fear and paranoia–something Staples is able to harness as a driving force behind his music.

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