As is often the case, the epicenter of the hip hop zeitgeist is LA these days. West Coast gangsta rap set the tone for many of the hits of the past two decades, and is what many consider LA hip hop. But an argument can be made that as the 90s progressed, rap mainstream lost sight of social consciousness that made early acts like N.W.A so groundbreaking. Themes of wealth and excess often overshadowing the politics and reality of living with poverty and violence. But in recent years we are seeing more threads of different types of music from down south, an example being emerging young artist Vince Staples. His style recognizes the hardship of street life, but is far more experiential than boastful (see modern gangsta rap).
Staples’ released Summertime ’06 in 2015 and opened up a lot of the critics’ eyes. The album is a two disc epic that captures the sprawling feeling of the Long Beach streets where he grew up. When he takes the stage Friday night for Noise Pop it will just be another step in his journey from those SoCal streets to an artist who is increasingly selling out venues across the world. Staples isn’t shy about his gang-banging past as a former Crip, it’s a part of who he is and where he got his start rapping (Check out Willamette Week for a great interview covering this). It’s these experiences, combined with his desire to make the best music possible that the audience connects with. His music is not just about entertainment or partying, these are the experiences that molded him. He has gotten pushback for not embracing the gangsta rap of the 90s that glorifies the life, but it’s not about disrespect, that’s just not part of his experience.
Unfortunately, many of today’s youth still grow up enduring the same violence and horrors as Staples, but his deep intelligence and unsettling honesty act as an uncommonly direct conduit for these experiences. He has the ability to bring you into his world, no matter the uncomfortable truths you may find there. In “Birds & Bees” you quickly realize this is not a song about love, but an intense, gritty look at life as he knows it. “Rounds up in that chamber/ I’m a gangsta like my daddy/ My mama caused another problem when she had me.” Over a simple bass line and drum break, Staples spits hard truths, taking his experiences and elevating them to art.
His versatility can also be heard in “Smoke & Retribution,” a collaboration with Australian producer Flume, delivering rhymes over an incredibly sparse electronic beat. It’s easy for these electronic/hip hop collaborations to devolve into parody, but the intensity and dynamism of his voice hold your attention and really carry what is otherwise a pretty basic song.
Noise Pop and Social Hall are in for a real treat Friday night, more details on the venue and event here.