Vince Staples for Mayor
The 22-year-old Long Beach native speaks his mind on gangbanging culture, the political system, and his purpose.
Photo by Blacksmith
Vince Staples looks worn out. Fresh off performing at The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon the day before, he sleepily slumps on an aquamarine couch in the lobby of the SoHo Grand Hotel and reveals he’s sick. Declining an offer to table our interview until his health improves, Vince gathers his energy and sits upright for an interview that now seems insensitive. With his critically acclaimed major label debut, Summertime ’06, behind him, the Long Beach native now faces the arduous task of figuring out what’s next.
Although he’s only 22, Vince speaks with the conviction of a 45-year-old uncle. He quickly interrupts before you can finish a sentence, as if he knows the answer to your question before you’ve asked it. His responses are either quick and blunt, or a tumbling barrage of rapid-fire thoughts that seem grounded in studious research. His conviction is palpable, making his logic seem infallible. At the end of it all, you leave with more questions than answers.
Mass Appeal: You recently finished up a tour in Europe, correct?
Vince Staples: Yeah, I did a couple of festivals out there. I did two shows: I did a show in Copenhagen and a show in Paris, and we did a lot of European festivals.
How was that?
It was good man, you know. Those were interesting…to be on the other side of the world, have people be familiar with your music and have people not be familiar with your music. It just shows you where you have to be in certain places. In certain places, you’re starting from scratch. In certain place, you’ve been there for a long time carrying on. It’s a good experience to gauge where you’re at globally.
Did you have time to travel or see the sights while you were over there?
Of course not. Not when you doing shows. You don’t have time do nothing when you working. But you know, the performance is a site to see itself. It’s all good at the end of the day.
As far as performing, I see in a lot of your interview you talk about performing, recording, doing all these things as being work for you: Do you think about going to back to any of those place to travel for leisure?
Of course, one day. That’s the plan. For right now, when I get spare time I just gotta go to sleep. This touring and all this work is stressful, strenuous on your body and your mental state. I haven’t really had a chance to sit down and relax or anything.
When is the last time you were able to relax?
I don’t know, a couple years ago? I’ve been doing this for a long time.
What was going on at that time in your life?
I just wasn’t doing this. There’s a lot of free time when you don’t have enough work to do. But I appreciate the work. That’s what we’re all here for: we’re here to work. Here to get everything done.
Did you come into the music industry with that mindset?
Hell no. I didn’t give a fuck about this shit. I barely figured that out. Just putting yourself around good people who really care about what you can do, then you’ll be able to take it more seriously and have more of a drive behind the things that you do.
Where does that come from? Are the people around you giving you that drive, or are they helping you find it in yourself?
I guess you could say both. It’s pretty much the same thing, you know, just taking the good advice, ignoring the bad advice, and knowing the importance of the role that you have; within your family or just people in general. Things like that, you just have to understand the importance of the position that we’re given because a lot of people aren’t given this position. [I’m] just making the most of it, making the best of it.
What’s the current role for you?
As far as in music?
I’m not sure, man, to be honest. It’s hard to pinpoint something like that. My job is just to make my songs. Wherever they go, they go. Wherever they work, they work. Everybody doesn’t have to be the biggest thing in the world. Everybody doesn’t have to be the most underground thing in the world. It’s just about being who you’re supposed to be in the grand scheme of this thing because it’s all bigger than us. I’m just trying to play my part.
You had mentioned in the Microphone Check interview that making music for yourself…you said something to the effect of “as a way to stay sane.”
I just be talking shit. I mean…it’s a very hard job to do. That’s all that I can really say about that. It’s a very hard job to do, and a lot of people don’t understand that sacrifices that go into doing something like this.
Do you think that there’s anyway people can relate to you in that regard, or is it just something personal?
I’m pretty sure a lot of people feel that way. When you have professions such as these where you’re not as free to make human mistakes, human errors, have human emotions when you do this. If you don’t want to do this one day, then you’re ungrateful, you’re rude, you’re this, you’re that. You don’t want to take a picture with someone, you’re rude, you’re disrespectful. And that’s all a sacrifice, because everybody has bad days, but within this profession you’re not able to have a bad day, because that bad day fuck up things for you, forever. I’m pretty sure a lot of people can relate to that.
Going back to what you said about not being able to have a bad day, I feel like you’re pretty straightforward with what you want and what you expect outta certain things. So, when you do have a bad day, has there every been a circumstance in which you’re able to work things around that and take some time for yourself? Or is it just, “No, this is my job. This is what I’ve gotta do”?
I mean I definitely have to prioritize. And that’s all personal. Whatever your priorities are, I think you should always stay true to that and focus in on that. My priority happens to be work right now. I don’t get to do a lot of other things but this. I don’t get to go home—I would prefer to be there. But it’s not about me in a certain aspect. I have a job I have to do because…you never know what you do might mean to someone. I look at it in the sense of, I don’t know what my music means or what I could do to help someone else. I just try to look at it that way, that way it doesn’t bother [me] as much. When you think about what you do as an artist, these people take these words serious. A lot of people say, “This changed my life.” People be getting musicians and athletes and stuff tattooed on ‘em. As an entertainer, you hold a lot of weight.
Has that happened to you yet? Have you had that experience where somebody’s either gotten a tattoo of y—
Hell no. I hope not. I’d probably laugh at them. You got my ugly ass tattooed on you, trying to fuck your body up.
Not even a lyric or anything that you feel like people can relate to?
I mean, I haven’t seen that yet, but haven’t reached a level of pandemonium that requires such things.
Well, I feel like you’re still very aware of what people are saying. I’ve seen in other interviews you talk about reading interviews and the way people spin things. I want to see what your take is on your music, from Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1 to Summertime ’06. You’re making music, it’s a job to you, you’re not really sure what it means. But, somewhere along that journey, has there been any experience that shows you, “Okay, this is what my music means to a person.”
Anything before Hell Can Wait, I did not give a fuck about. That is a promise. And that’s just the answer. I didn’t care about Shyne Coldchain Vol.1 when I did it, I didn’t care about Winter In Prague, I didn’t care about Stolen Youth, I didn’t care about Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2—in the way that I should have. I wasn’t taking control over my situation and what I was doing with my music. I just decided to do that recently, and it’s worked out well. Everything happens for a reason. But yeah, I wasn’t taking it nearly as serious as I should have in the earlier stages.
Yeah, but you’ve mentioned that, so I’m wondering, knowing that and being very honest about that and your fans knowing that, when you look at how people have reacted to the music that you were putting out versus now, has there been anything in that time period that you’re like, “This is the importance of what I’ve done,” even if you disregard everything that’s happened before openly.
What does that mean? Are you saying does the appreciation of past work bother me?
No, I think it’s more of looking at the appreciation of your work over the course of your career.
Oh, no I do appreciate it. That’s the important part. If you don’t have appreciation for your work, you’ll stop doing it. That’s something I appreciate. But personally, that’s not something I would want to listen to. That was a different time in life. People don’t think about the outside influences when they think about your music. It’s just, “Oh, I like these songs.” That’s it. It was different times back then. A lot of things went into the way that music came out.
As far as outside influences to your music, or outside influences to them to what they’re listening to.
Outside influences as far as what you were going through when you made the music, which would be the reason why you don’t necessarily like it.
Got you. With regards to Summertime ’06, you mentioned that it was a different process than what most people would expect, because the songs were already done and then you just went and found the beats. Is that correct?
Yeah. For the most part, that’s kind of how everything worked out. It was time-consuming, but it was worth it at the end of the day.
So, what was the process like if you already had songs that existed? How do you record a project that’s so internal and then decide that you’re going to put it out as a double disc album, but you need all new beats for it? How do you match—
I mean, there were never beats to any of those songs, they were just written.
Oh, I got you.
It was more the process of just trying to find the beats, because you know the cadence of the rhythm in your head when you write it, so you just have to find something close to that or find something that connects you to it. Then you can build from there, then you can drawback from there, so it’s really just about finding a tone that you had thought about when you were writing the song. It’s hard, but once you get the swing of it, it gets easier.
Outside of music, what is your mind on? Not to dive too much into your personal life, but the different topics that get brought up in your interviews usually go back to the culture that you grew up in, whether that be the gangbanging culture, versus the socio-economic status of the neighborhood that you grew up in. But as far as where you’re at now in life, what are things that are important to you that my end up being translated into your music.
I mean, pretty much that. That’s not going nowhere, ever. That shit’ll never stop. Unless they start gentrifying something.
Which will never stop, your background?
None of that shit. It don’t have nothing to do with me. That shit was there before me, it’s going to be there when I’m dead. That’s always going to be a problem. That might be something I might speak on, but I don’t really know what I’m going to talk about next. I never really think about it honestly. I make my music. However it comes out, it just comes out. It’s a full world, and you never know what you’re going to see or what you’re going to run into. So, you never know what could inspire you to make something, inspire you to do something. I just try to keep an open mind when it comes to things like that. And, not allow anything that might influence my music to pass me by and go unnoticed.
Going back to the specific topic of gangbanging culture: How do you think it’s changed in the area you grew up and in California since the early days of your music.
It ain’t changed, it’s the same: people get put on, people go to jail, people die. Same shit. I ain’t go never change. More people been getting dropped lately—it’s the summer though, so that always happens. I don’t know man, shit is always gonna be like that. It ain’t changed since I was a little kid, just different hoods and different people. Every time somebody else has the upper hand…It’s a round table: sometimes we winning, sometimes they winning. It doesn’t go anywhere. It just stays there forever.
Do you think it’s less obvious now? When I grew up in California, when you went to L.A. you didn’t bring specific colors with you, and it seems like it’s less about that now—
It’s never been…It ain’t been that since the ‘80s. That’s dusty. I’m from Long Beach, bro. It ain’t never been like that. Niggas wear hats and stuff; it ain’t no colors. You can wear whatever you want. Gangbanging ain’t about to stop nobody from wearing no colors. That’s the police, bro. All that shit you hear about gangbanging is the police. Niggas ain’t walking around in all blue looking stupid. Unless it’s like a hood day or something, niggas ain’t walking around like that. ‘Cause for what? You gonna go to jail. You not about to walk around in all red, and then the police ask you where you from and you say, “Nowhere.” That’s what happened with me. When niggas get pulled over by the police, you say you not from nowhere. If you tell the police where you from, you are an idiot. We would get in trouble for that if the police like, “Where you from,” and you go, “I’m from here and here.”
The colors, that’s like some late ‘80s shit. But, ever since I’ve been alive…everybody got colors, things like that, but it ain’t no big deal. Nine times out of 10, if you hear somebody got shot walking down the street for this color, it’s just probably ‘cause they look like a certain nigga, or they had a hat on. And that’s rare. That barely ever happens, ‘cause you not about to just shoot a nigga you don’t know. That’ll start a new beef. Don’t nobody wanna do that. You get in trouble if you start a new beef. We did that shit before when we was little kids: we started some shit, and it was hell for like a good two months. All the old niggas wasn’t talking to us, they wasn’t fucking with us. Niggas was like, “Y’all gon’ handle ya own business since y’all think y’all grown.” That is what happens when you shoot at random people and hurt random people and do random things you’re not supposed to do.
They just say shit like that to scare people. Then when everybody look like they crazy…Of course people where certain colors, but if you went to the Middle East and you had on all army fatigue, you would probably get shot too, if it was the middle of war time. It’s just a uniform for what’s going on. That’s just how people are.
Violence is a human trait, not a gang trait. All the news things that happen—God bless they families—the Sandy Hook, the shootings in the movie theaters: shit like that ain’t never been no gangbanger. Ever. I don’t fall for that shit.
Even the #100Days100Nights shit that’s going on in L.A. right now, it’s not really no innocent, completely innocent people in the eyes of the police so they not really talking about it like, “Oh, a gang member gets killed, blah, blah, blah.” But at the end of the day, it’s all people. But, they don’t let you have your humanity when you’re part of a gang. They make up stories and make up all this other stuff that nobody’s really doing, so when people come visit, they expect low-riders and people standing outside on corners. That’s not real. People are just trying to take care of their kids; trying to take care of their kids and trying to find a job. Them is the gang members I know. I don’t know nobody that’s outside in all blue looking for niggas all day.
It’s funny that you say that because now, hearing your take on it, it’s interesting to see how people have adopted the culture—I wouldn’t say adopted it’s more of appropriation. When you go further away from Los Angeles up into Northern California, the people that were supposedly gangbanging had adopted wearing colors.
But, it’s because that’s what they saw. You gotta think, nobody up there—well, not nobody, but the majority of those kids didn’t come down and do no research. They wasn’t walking around niggas’ hoods looking at how people carried themselves.
The way you hear about those things is through the TV, all them fucking [news] specials—that’s what they show you on Gangland. I wish a nigga would try and come to Long Beach to do a Gangland. They tried to do some shit like that once and there was nobody from Long Beach in that shit. That shit was the motherfucking police. I promise you.
But, they learned it off the Internet and off the TV, so of course that’s how it is. It’s like they adopted stuff and they making they own rules. I don’t know, that shit is crazy man.
I just don’t get why people do that outside of where I come from. You go to the Bay and everybody has criminal enterprise-related gangs, or whatever you want to call it. Everybody has that, it’s not specific to us, but I’ve never understood why people adopt other people’s cultures. ‘Cause then you don’t know where it comes from, and if you don’t know where it’s coming from you just look stupid, to us.
Do you think it’s more of an ignorance thing, them not knowing that they’re taking someone else’s culture?
It’s the glorification.
Of the gang culture?
Yeah, it’s people in other states talking about they from whoop-whoop-Compton this, and Piru this, and all this other shit. Like, nigga how? How you from a street you never seen before. And you’re willing to die for that? That’s how they fuck you over, ‘cause I ain’t willing to die for no streets. I’ll die for the homies because I grew up with them and I knew ‘em, we just happened to be over here. As far as dying for a street sign? Fuck all that. That’s not really what happens. Nobody’s thinking like that, but if you watch the news and things like that, that’s what you’d think it was. “Oh, the blah-blah-bloody turf wars.”
What the fuck is a turf war? I know all that happened was he did something to him and now he died. He do something to them and now they gotta do something back to him. It’s petty. It’s a very personal thing.
Motherfuckers on Instagram be like, “Well, if you’re a Crip, why do you type with ‘ck’ and why do you say ‘bool’?” Because I can say whatever the fuck I want. Ain’t gon’ do nothing to me. The fact of the matter is, I’ve been doing this shit for a long time, bro. Before I was from anywhere—I was still 11 or 12 years old—I thought I was gangbanging, before I got put on, just because that’s my family’s culture. I can say whatever the fuck I want, and the fact that people think something bad gon’ actually happen to me, it’s like, “Really?” But that’s all off the TV. I could literally say whatever I want: I could say I’m a Blood all day. ‘Cause it’s not that serious at the end of the day bro, none of that shit matters. People like, “Oh fuck, how is he able to do these things?” Like, “Nigga, what’s gon’ happen to me?” Are they gonna come kill me? Like, “Ay bro, you said something on Instagram that the Crips don’t say.” What are the Crips? I’m not from the Crips. I’m from a specific area, in a specific place, with specific people. It ain’t no grand scheme, especially in Long Beach because everybody beef with everybody, so it’s not what people assume. When people from an outside perspective take it and ruin their life, I’ll never understand it. You want to be from somewhere you’ll never go. And you are willing to risk your life for a community that you’ve never been to and you don’t know the history, you don’t know why they beef with these people. It’s sad to me bro, honestly.
Me and [ScHoolboy] Q, we had a show in Seattle, and a nigga walked up and was like, “Oh yeah, I’m whoop-whoop-whoop from this-this-n-this,” and I just started laughing at the nigga. Q was like, “Oh yeah, what’s up nigga? What you want?” I’m like, “Are you serious my nigga? We’re in Seattle at a rap show. You gangbanging here, with all these white kids outside? That’s how you gon’ do it? That’s how you feel?” That shit is corny. Gangbanging already corny enough without outside people making us look dumber than we already make ourselves look, you know what I mean? ‘Cause after a minute, when you get older…You can get a couple years out of this shit. After you’ve had a couple years, your shit is, “Okay, I don’t want to play no more.” Then after that, it go like this: You either have done enough to the point that you don’t want to play no more, or you’ve done too much to the point that you’re never going to be able to stop. Or, you’ve done little to enough that niggas aren’t worried about you. But it’s all relative. You could be a nigga who never hurt nobody in they life, but your brother is somebody so they gon’ be like, “Oh fuck that nigga. We gon’ get that nigga.” Or you can be a nigga that never hurt nobody and they gon’ be like, “Oh, he’s a buster. Leave him alone.”
There’s niggas from the hood that live in they little apartment building and niggas don’t care; they leave them alone because they ain’t on that. They just happen to had grew up by the park so they happen to be from the set. We’re a lot more rational than people give us credit for. So, all this irrational stuff that happens because of the culture is crazy.
I’ll never get why someone would want to be a part of something they’ve never even seen. It’s like somebody walking to go get a personalized Lakers jersey in North Dakota, walking around with the full Lakers outfit but they not on the team. It’s like, why you wanna do that? You not on the team, bro.
I kinda get what you’re saying. That might be more about the appreciation for the team, but yeah. There’s a lot of stuff in your music that I would like to talk about, but pulling back from that, as a person that has a voice in their community, whether that be where you grew up, hip hop, or someone who is known, do you find any pressure to prove yourself to the people that are paying attention to what you’re saying?
As far as within my community? I already did. I don’t go to. I’m short, I’m skinny, I got a big-ass gap, and I’ve been doing this for a long time—don’t nobody question it, unless I did something to them. And that’s blessing to not walk around acting hard, but that ain’t ever been me. Niggas know me, bro. Everybody know. Sometimes things were bad, sometimes things were good. I was just blessed to have a good foundation, to know where I came from. I really had to do it though. That’s why I appreciate all of this [looks around]. I’m never going to bring that world over here. You ain’t never gon’ see me with no niggas from the hood. For what? Why I need to do that? You need to do that when you gotta pay somebody some money.
The one thing my homies always tell me is, “Always remember, you don’t owe nobody nothing. You got put on.” That’s your approval right there, when you get put on. You don’t have to do nothing else. I got a homie from the hood that’s in law school. Ain’t nobody ever told him to do nothing stupid. Niggas like, “Oh, you smart? Yeah my nigga, go in the house.” And I’m just blessed to come from that type of environment. Even if I had to prove something, I wouldn’t prove it. But luckily, I’m really from Long Beach. And they appreciate that, they appreciate the stuff I do for people, how I try to help people and things like that. Of course you’re always going to have problems with certain people, but that’s a product of really doing it. My dream and hope is that one day none of that shit will even matter.
What do you think it’s going to take to get there?
You gotta do enough for the city. Snoop Dogg really from Long Beach. Snoop really gangbang. But he did the Tha Eastsidaz and that stopped everybody from beefing, for a little bit. So, Snoop can go wherever he want, Warren G go wherever he want, Daz go wherever he want, ‘cause there’s so much respect for what they’ve done for the city and what they’ve brought to the city. Like if I ever seem them niggas, I’m not gonna think they from anywhere else. Oh, that’s Snoop Dogg, that’s Tray Deee, it’s become bigger than the negativity that you live your whole life.
There ain’t no fake niggas coming out of Long Beach, bro. You ain’t gon’ be able to do it. It’s gon’ be too hard.
We got big-mouth niggas, “Oh, this nigga’s a bitch. Fuck you. You ain’t shit. Yadada yada.” We got the Internet too; we can just find out when somebody’s lying. That’s why I don’t gotta prove nothing or try to act hard or none of that. At the end of the day, where I come from it means more than just gangbanging. When you do something more for the people in your community, they look at you as more than that. You don’t just belong to a couple of streets, you belong to the whole city. I just want to do enough to wear I can get that kind of appreciation.
Do you think there’s anybody outside of the community that can make that sort of impact on a national level, to where kids that are growing up in these underfunded, under-resourced ar—
Because we don’t care about that. When I was younger, I never gave a fuck. When Obama won, I didn’t give a fuck. I didn’t care about George Gush. I didn’t care about none of that stuff, because at the end of the day, that don’t have nothing to do with you. You’re on such a low part of the scale. Who cares about tax laws when you get your money back every year because you don’t make none. These kids are too focused on trying to remain and stay alive and stay out of trouble. They don’t have time to worry about [politicians]. Niggas is looking at them like, “You ain’t gotta be over here.”
That’s why it takes a Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr., Bunchy Carter; that’s why it takes them kinda people—Che Guevara—you gotta really be from [your community].
Well, what about someone like yourself? Let’s imagine a scenario in which you’re in office. You think they’re still not going to respect you on the same level?
They probably will because I come from there. You have to come from the people that you’re telling to relax. That’s why Cesar Chavez and all these other people [were successful], they came from where they were speaking about, so you knew they could relate. It’s all about familiarity bro. If somebody look unfamiliar, you don’t fuck with them. They would have to come from something.
Why you think Donald Trump gets so much burn? ‘Cause all them old white people with money, he’s familiar to them. Like, “Oh, I fuck wit you.”
That’s all politics are. The candidates want you to look and see as much of yourself in them as possible.