Tell Long Beach rapper Vince Staples that he’s doing innovative things in hip-hop, and he’ll resist, name-dropping West Coast artists like Ronnie Hudson and Captain Rapp—guys who achieved the peak of their popularity in the ’80s—as precursors to the heavily electronic sound of last year’s Big Fish Theory.
The sophomore LP was among the most acclaimed rap albums of 2017 thanks, in part, to the futuristic beats by electronic producers du jour like Flume and Sophie. Staples is absolutely right that West Coast rap and electronic styles have commingled for decades, but nevertheless, no other contemporary rapper is doing quite what he’s doing—especially when you also factor in the 24-year-old Def Jam artist’s sharp Afrofuturism on the mic.
Ahead of his headlining show at First Avenue on Monday, City Pages spoke to Staples about his newly certified gold single (2015’s “Norf Norf”), appearing on Black Panther: The Album, the state of West Coast rap, and why he loves performing in Minneapolis.
CP: “Norf Norf” was recently certified as your first gold single. What does a gold single mean to you?
Vince Staples: I appreciate it. That’s not really my fight. You gotta pay for the plaque, though, which kinda sucks. They don’t just give it to you. You or the label gotta pay for it. Other than that, it’s less about whatever you get from it and more about the people listening to your stuff, to the point where it becomes that. So I appreciate that aspect of it a lot.
CP: I’ve talked to artists who dislike their most popular songs, at least initially; they feel they have better work elsewhere in their catalog. Where does “Norf Norf” stand for you?
VS: I don’t really rank my music one against the other. Everything kinda has a purpose, and that purpose was to be that song. If you don’t wanna do it or you don’t like it, you shouldn’t make it. That’s how I think about it nowadays.
CP: At least it’s not a case where you get tired of performing the song, right?
VS: Nah. You get paid. If you get tired of performing your song and what you receive—amounts of money in a night, where people working an entire year probably can’t scratch the surface of—then you kinda trippin’ in my opinion.
CP: You’re wrapping up your joint tour with Tyler, the Creator, and an unusual thing about the tour is that you’re both known for sobriety. With the drug-related deaths of Fredo Santana and Lil Peep, plus other rappers announcing their intentions to quit certain drugs, do you think there’s a substance abuse crisis within rap right now?
VS: It’s not just rap. It’s real-life people of that age—or our age—that are dealing with those problems, so it’s evident. It’s clear to see that it is something that people need to think about.
CP: You’re featured on Black Panther: The Album’s “Opps” with Kendrick Lamar and Yugen Blakroc. Was that special for you to be involved in?
VS: I just appreciate the opportunity to be a part of something that was destined for success, ’cause they could’ve chosen other people to be a part of these things with them. We have Black Panther, Marvel, Ryan Coogler, Kendrick Lamar—people that have proved they can pretty much do it on their own. Just the fact that I was able to be involved, I appreciate it.
CP: Between Black Panther, new albums by Nipsey Hussle and SOB X RBE, and other music, it seems like the West Coast is taking things to a new level right now. Does it feel that way to you?
VS: Yeah, it looks like it’s going in a positive direction. It’s a lot of people being able to shed light on what they create, so you always appreciate for the people to better their circumstances through being creative and not anything negative.
CP: One thing that tends to separate you from other West Coast rappers—or any other rappers—is your beat selection. Most recently, Big Fish Theory was heavily electronic-influenced. Do you think you’re continuing to gravitate that way in any new music you’re making?
VS: I don’t make music constantly; I think it’s destructive to a certain point. You don’t think of things that you could do outside of music, and it’s kinda stressful. So I don’t make music all the time.
CP: There’s a lot of bass and physicality in the production on Big Fish Theory; people must lose their minds to some of those beats. Have you noticed a difference in your live shows since you released the album?
VS: Yeah. Over time, I’ve learned more so how to create music that can help do a lot of the heavy lifting with a live show. But sometimes it can be a double-edged sword. People don’t really have the palette for certain things based on what they’re consuming, so people expect you to just have a DJ on stage and rap to a backing track, and jump around, and throw water, and all that other shit. But we try to do something different and interesting and worth the money when we come to the stage.
CP: You’re headlining First Avenue for the second time on Monday. The first time was almost exactly a year ago. Do you remember that show being a good experience?
VS: Yeah. [Minneapolis] is what some would call a “music city.” I don’t know how you guys refer to it, but I’ve heard that people do consider it to be a music city—somewhere that’s considered to be based on appreciating good music and really critiquing things with sensibilities. For them to come to your show and it to be sold out or even 50 percent full, that’s enough for me, because it’s a place that carries a reputation that’s not really here for bullshit on that stage. I appreciate the support from some people who are very aware of what they’re supporting.
With: Greg Grease
Where: First Avenue
When: 6 p.m. Monday, March 5
Tickets: $30/35; more info here