by Yonas Takele
The 1990’s were an era marked by the proliferation of such phenomena as pagers, Bob Saget, and the reign of Michael Jordan. The 90’s also mark the beginning of a musical phenomena, gangsta rap. With the rise of such apostolic rap industry pioneers as Tupac, The Notorious BIG, and groups like N.W.A. and Wu-Tang Clan, this decade pushed the entire lyrical envelope.
Not only were artists expected to present their greatest triple-entendre’s, rappers were also expected to tell their truth on their records. Whether that truth was related to police brutality, the harsh realities of ghetto life, or the albeit-sometimes-exaggerated truths of their profound wealth, rappers from this decade were the first to elevate the platform of rap music towards this more cohesive story-telling.
For West Coast rappers specifically, this progression was all done with a backdrop of rolling bass lines and the characteristic California sound. Our entire conception of West Coast gangsta rap, as exemplified by such tracks Gin and Juice, Ambitionz az a Ridah, and It Was A Good Day, has been intimately linked to the 90’s proliferation of rap music.
However, with the rise of such artists like Vince Staples, I think it is time to re-think everything we thought we knew about the golden state’s rap portfolio.
Born Vincent Staples, this 22-year-old rapper hails from the Ramona Park neighborhood of Long Beach California. Having grown up around gang life all throughout his teen years, Vince has cultivated quite the nuanced view of his neighborhood and the world around him. Never having been a victim of gang violence himself and having spent a sizable portion of his younger years living in a safe neighborhood, his musical persona turns many of our pre-formed assumptions of West Coast rap on their head.
The first escape from convention in Vince’s discography stems from his production. The booming bass and clever sampling many of us are used to are replaced with muted bass lines overlaid under either shrill or subdued horn lines, a la Blue Suede and Norf Norf. Even the more commercially successful Señorita sports a similar gritty production style. This sound concoction produces an often disorienting effect quite unsimilar to the predictable rhythms of Staples’ predecessors.
Vince’s lyrical content, described in one word, is jarring. His Hell Can Wait and Summertime ‘06 tapes are a marathon tour-de-force. Whether he’s fabricating exploits as a California Crip or children becoming the collateral damage of gang warfare, his bars are delivered in a relentless stream. His flow displays absolutely no remorse. He delivers hooks like, “I ain’t never ran from nothing but the police,” or “Young graves get the bouquets… Hope I outlive them red roses” followed up quickly with stories of even greater ferocity and mania (i.e. Jump Off the Roof).
Vince Staples’ music is violent. This violence is not romanticized or placed in a production framing that distracts us from its true nature. It is spoken plainly. With the Yale Spring Fling Committee’s decision to bring Vince Staples to campus for the April concert, I question whether there are many on this campus who are ready for that.