by Karen Marks (Staff Writer)
On Thursday, September 1st, Vince Staples dropped the video for his second EP “Prima Donna,” which was released last week. Staples’s videos never lack artistic imagination, and Prima Donna is no exception. More short film than music video, Prima Donna doesn’t just feature one song from Staples’s new album – it samples the entire album, each set of bars grounded within the theme of Staples’s struggles to reconcile his roots with growing celebrity status.
It begins as a stereotypical rap video, featuring the rapper between two scantily clad models, which then is revealed to be a video within a video. Staples exits the recording studio with the intent of taking a cab home, and is instead transported into a fever dream after the cabbie greets him with the opening bars of “Smile” and a promise to take him somewhere to relax.
During the cab ride, images of women dancing around a fire, four teenagers piled onto a bike taking photos, and the cab driver himself, flash in and out before Staples’ eyes. Dazed, he arrives at the seedy Primadonna Hotel. While a bellboy helps him with a bag he never had on the way to the hotel, and a concierge gives him an inexplicable “set time” of 12:30, Staples takes all of this strangeness in stride, getting in an elevator with a beautiful woman who flickers in and out of existence as a few bars of “Primadonna” play. As Staples makes his way to his room, he is chased by fans and passes by incarnations of Amy Winehouse and Tupac Shakur also indulging in the Primadonna Hotel’s hospitality. By this point, it becomes clearer to both viewer and Staples where he is, and what a “set time” is. However, Staples still enters his room where he is immediately locked in.
Doors that seem to have appeared (and go nowhere) only have cheering fans behind them, and Staples desperately tries to find a way out of the room while singing “Born Ready.” Staples’ dream becomes even more frenzied as he finds himself being transported to an empty field for a few moments, then a stage, and faced with a mirror as the Primadonna Hotel room spins around him. He blacks out, and wakes up finally in the empty field where there is a brief moment of stability and peace as he sings “Loco” and then “This Little Light of Mind.” Then he shoots a mirror, his crowd applauds and Staples bleeds out in the empty field.
As Staples himself becomes more popular and attains more celebrity status, he is struggling to remain rooted to Long Beach. Prima Donna — the album, the short film, the single — serves as Staples’ warning to himself that money and fame could pull him in the same fatal direction of the specters of Amy Winehouse and Tupac Shakur. However, the bicycle that passes his cab and the women dancing around fire are his reminders of his Black heritage, Long Beach heritage, and Crip membership. As the frenzied screaming of fans is juxtaposed with the hook of “War Ready,” Staples acknowledges that Black youth are typically “born ready, war ready” for urban violence. As Staples’ Long Beach past and limelight future compete for screen time, the rapper has managed to chronicle the fragile present: his transition from unknown Long Beach gang member to celebrity, his fear of ending in his demise, but also the hope that he can hold onto community despite his rising fame.