Photo: Zamar Velez
Vince Staples Talks New Self-Titled Album, Teases Upcoming Netflix Show & Graphic Novel
If the breezy, lo-fi sounds on Vince Staples’ new self-titled album draw you in, be warned: the Kenny Beats production might be perfect for a summer drive, but Staples’ reflective lyrics hint at a much darker reality. The follow-up to 2018’s FM! trades the EDM beats of Big Fish Theory (2017) and woozy, menacing basslines of Summertime ‘06 (2015) for minimal beats that allow listeners to zoom in on Staple’s narrative-driven lyrics about violence and survival.
On album standout "Sundown Town," the 28-year-old Long Beach, California rapper delivers verses about the paranoia he’s experienced both in his youth and as a celebrity. He echoes these sentiments throughout the album, including on "Take Me Home" featuring singer Fousheé, and "Lil Fade," in which he raps about the weapon he keeps for protection just in case he encounters trouble. For the interlude "Lakewood Mall," named after a mall the rapper grew up visiting, a friend recalls a story about a close encounter with police.
All these stories open Staples’ inner world.
"There is no one in the world who thinks or makes music the way Vince does," Beats told NPR. "Talking with him can feel like being face to face with your conscience." The producer previously collaborated with Staples on FM! and considers the rapper to be a personal friend.
To get a better understanding of his creative process, GRAMMY.com recently spoke with Staples about his new self-titled album, his forthcoming graphic novel geared towards kids and teens, and the show he’s developing for Netflix.
First off, I know you had a recent birthday. Happy belated. Were you able to do anything to celebrate this year in comparison to last year?
Oh, no. [I had] a lot of work stuff. That was an off day so basically, I just took a little break.
I know you try not to get too wrapped up in all of the responses to releases but do you have a ritual or routine that you normally stick to during release week?
Just making sure we do the things we need to do to reach the most people possible. That’s pretty much my focus. A lot of the other stuff is kind of antiquated in my opinion.
You’ve said before that when you make music you try and think about what message you’re trying to convey instead of thinking about the instrumentation or the lyrics individually. What message were you trying to express with this self-titled album?
A lot of that’s changed. Now, I’m just trying to pay attention to detail. The sonics of it. The mood of it. Making sure things are a perfect mesh. With this, I just wanted to make sure that everything made sense. I wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, make anything too deep or too difficult to understand. I just wanted it to be more enjoyable.
You’ve had a lot of friends in the industry for a while now and have gotten advice from a lot of different people, from SAINt JHN to the late Mac Miller. How do you know what feedback to take into account and which advice might not work for the career you want to have?
You gotta take everything with a grain of salt. People talk about that SAINt JHN thing and think about it more than I think about it. And, it was kind of taken out of context. People take it as if he was being mean and speaking specifically for me. He was speaking about the way that people digest music. People want music that relates to them, they're not necessarily thinking about you.
You worked with Kenny Beats on this project. What was it like working on this project and was it different than your previous collabs?
I’m just comfortable with Kenny. He’s my friend. He pays attention to a lot of detail. He studies while we’re working, looking at different things that he finds and the different things he hears me say, he tries to translate those into music. It’s always good working with the people that know you close.
You didn’t start off trying to make a full album, right?
Yeah, I think we just made some songs and it ended up being a project. I had kinda taken a break from creating and this came as a side thing. We just did eight sessions, two days a week for like a month. We just had something. Out of those 30 songs, we picked 10.
You have a song on the album called "Sundown Town" in which you flip the traditional definition of that phrase. Can you talk about that song and the inspiration for it?
It kind of speaks about fearfulness and things not necessarily being safe. That is kind of what those terms embodied. Things happen differently when the sun is down everywhere in the world.
What song on the album is currently getting a lot of play from you?
"The Shining" is one of my personal favorites. I like all of them to be honest. I listen to it straight through, but I think the placement on the tracklist and how it comes in...it’s a moment.
You’re putting out a Netflix show soon with Kenya Barris. What can you tell people about what they can expect from that show?
I honestly never thought I’d be able to do [a show]. It’s based on "The Vince Staples" show I put out a couple of years ago as vignettes [on YouTube]. [We’re] just trying to go off of those and turn them into a 30-minute show.
You’re also releasing a graphic novel, Limbo Beach, later this year. Was it difficult to do as someone who is used to creating music, not books?
When these opportunities show themselves we just try to make the most of it. If you can write a song, you can write a book.
If you had to tell fans what's different about your next album Ramona Parks Broke My Heart and Vince Staples, what would you say?
Vince Staples is the only one that’s done and out so we’ll have to circle back when the other one’s done and out and then we can go from there. They definitely won’t be similar. I don’t ever try to make two things that sound the same.