For the first time in his 22 years of life, Vince Staples is walking around on soil nearly 5,500 miles away from home and the most pressing thing on his mind is his unmet appetite. “I’m trying to eat,” the Long Beach, Calif. rapper said of his hunt for non-“trash” European food. “If there’s no ashy people in the restaurant, I’m not trying to go there. I’m not trying to go where it’s bougie and all that. $50 plate stuff ain’t worth it.”
After the applauded release of his first studio album Summertime 06 (Def Jam), an international debut at London’s New Look Wireless Festival right after and a consequent mini U.K. tour, the kid’s hunger—both literally and metaphorically—is evident.
In honor of a summer chock full of inaugural moments, Vince Staples chopped it up with VIBE about some of the most memorable “firsts” he can recall in his lifetime.
VIBE: How was your first time performing for a 100% foreign crowd at Wireless?
Vince Staples: Oh, this is easy. When it’s a lot of people it’s easy. You get like 15 people to do something and then 15 people behind them do it. It’s all about being cool. You gotta think about it, a lot of people are young and don’t really have a sense of self. It’s all about looking cool in this generation, so when it comes to shows a lot of people are afraid to have a good time. Just break some shells and you’ll be alright. It was easy.
How has reception to the album been? Do you even pay attention to it?
I never pay attention. I pay attention to things that are funny. I haven’t seen nothing bad, but you’re supposed to see stuff that’s bad. If you don’t see nothing that’s bad— and not on some Bankroll PJ stuff like, “You ain’t nobody if you don’t got haters”—but it’s not even that serious to me. If somebody’s really listening to your stuff enough to find out what’s wrong with it, then they’re supporting you. They might be right. You might need to fix a couple things. That’s just the way I look at it. It’s been good. We haven’t gotten any bad reviews. The press likes us right now and we’ve been in the position where we are very much so on the brighter end of things as far as the critical response goes.
Jumping to the beginning of your music career, can you recall your first attempt at putting together a verse?
No, but my sister said when I was in third grade we went camping and made people rap around the campfire. My sister is corny as hell. My sister’s fake bougie, like ghetto bougie. So she was like, I remember when you were six years old and it was tight and I knew you were going to be something. You’re lying out your goddamn teeth, but I guess that was my first time when we went camping.
Tell us a little more about this first camping trip.
That’s the same time we went camping and we saw a bear. It was outside the tent and I gave him a bag of barbecue chips. But he was hungry and going through the food, so I just gave him the chips. My mom was like, what the f**k are you doing? But I was bad when I was a little kid. I was into the animals when I was younger. I saw the bear and Jungle Book was my shit, so I was like he’s not gonna eat me because I’m a little kid like the dude off Jungle Book. I gave the bag of chips and my momma grabbed me and then he came back later for some chips. I told my uncle DeMarco to shoot him. He didn’t do it. But then they got mad at me like, why you saying something like that in front of the kids. That was my first time camping. It was a great trip. I got like four whoopings on that trip.
That’s very insane actually. Onto tamer topics, what was your first album purchased?
[Kanye West’s] The College Dropout. The first album I stole was Nas’ Nastradamus from my sister’s baby daddy. And from my mom, the first CD I got was Bow Wow’s Unleashed or one of those for Christmas. I almost cried, that was the best day of my life. I got the album, and that was when Like Mike just came out, so we were watching Like Mike all day and then my momma just gave my the album. That’s when I knew she loved me.
Would you work on a song with Bow Wow?
I would never work with Bow Wow because he’s not 12 no more. It’s gonna mess up the nostalgia. That’s the homie. I love Lil Bow Wow. He was the man, but it’s different. I could work with Lil Bow Wow. We might do a cop movie or something. I’ll tell him we should do a police movie with me and him. I got a vision.
What was your first industry wake up call?
When I started seeing how funny style people act and seeing people play fake rich with them fake loud a** chains on. I was like, man, we really are not black and proud in this business. People just be cutting each other’s throats. As far as the business aspect of it, I’m lucky I’m in a decent situation. Legal can be difficult sometimes because they gotta watch the company assets. When it comes to video and stuff like that, it’s hard to pay for some videos. I pay for all my videos out my pocket and then they reimburse it. That sh** is expensive. You’d be surprised. I be wanting to have a heart attack after that stuff. But yeah, just artist camaraderie and the way they treat each other is corny, man.
And your first “I told you so” moment?
See, I never really paid attention to that because I didn’t really put anything into that when I was younger. I got lucky. I was a dude who had a lot of opportunities growing up but didn’t take advantage of them.
School. Sports. I never got bad grades. I was valedictorian and had straight A’s, but I dropped out when I was in the 10th grade and did stupid stuff. Thinking about it now, I always wanted to go to college but I was getting caught up in circumstances. I never really took advantage of my situation when I was younger. And I did that with this [music] for a long time up until I met my DJ. Luckily they helped me focus. It was never really an “aha!” moment. I feel like when someone else supports you and doesn’t know who you are, it’s more about the person than it is you. We come from a point in time where a lot of people don’t value themselves or appreciate themselves, so it’s hard to look at somebody else and appreciate someone else. You gotta just use your music to get them out of that mindset.
“We shouldn’t be looking to artists to change our world. We should be looking at each other because that’s who’s always there.”
During your performance, you shared your frustrations about America with London. What was your first major disappointment in society and the way our country runs?
When I got arrested when I was 13-14 and I had three felony charges for some sh** I didn’t do. We went to Long Beach for it and they were about to wash me, trying to give me 3-5 years. Then they had to move courthouses and when I went to the court, the judge was like, these were all misdemeanor charges. I was like oh, that’s how we’re doing it. And I got kicked out of school on some other sh**. So being that young for it to be like that, they tried to give me five years. My mom was going to court with me every day and we had to switch courts because dude was like, these aren’t even felony charges. Go and get community service. And they were talking about jail time. That’s when I knew… I mean, I’ve seen worse things but I was young at that point in time. That’s why I stopped going to school and sh** because I got arrested at school for stealing somebody’s phone and I didn’t steal their phone. It wasn’t the kid’s phone. It was one of my friends and none of them were from my background. So the girl whose it was came and said, “This is my phone, it’s my boyfriend’s.” I was like that’s the homie, that’s not my phone. Principal came back and said, we think that you’re afraid to say what you did, so they called the police. They had me for threatening a witness, armed robbery, a bunch of crazy sh**. It was a wild couple of months. That’s when I was like, oh yeah, this whole thing is kinda messed up.
Your generation of music makers seems both socially aware and unafraid to speak out more as a whole. What does that say about today’s music and where hip-hop is going?
I don’t think it’s necessarily our generation, I just think we went through a bad time period. My man used to manage Black Star and De La Soul and stuff like that, so he saw a different side of it. We were talking about rappers and I was like, at the end of the day when I was growing up, we didn’t have literally one artist that gave a f**k about their listeners who are kids with the exception of Kanye West and when Nas did that one song. He was like, that can’t be true. I’m 21 and I was in the third grade when “In Da Club” came out. So from 50 Cent first coming out to right now, name somebody else. They were sitting in that room for like an hour and a half trying to figure it out because it wasn’t nobody. That’s important to me and it’s important to a lot of people in my generation because that’s something we didn’t have. Whether it’s the J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar or anyone you see using their voice. It’s something that they missed out and now they got to tell them they know the importance of it. I think we’re just in a good time period based on the gap because there were no Mos Def’s and De La Souls and Public Enemy’s or even Ice Cube or anything like that when we were younger.
Do you feel like artists should use their platform to speak on the issues affecting their listeners’ communities?
In two answers, yes they should but two, it’s not their responsibility. That’s a responsibility for people in general. If you’re alive, it’s your responsibility. Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King and Martin Luther and JFK. These people weren’t artists, but people who were active. These are people that changed the world and had a voice. In a sense, we shouldn’t limit it to that. We shouldn’t be looking to artists to change our world. We should be looking at each other because that’s who’s always there. Jesus wasn’t no f**king [artist]. Let’s be real. Whoever we look up to, all these people weren’t artists. The artists should [speak up] because that’s part of our human nature and as people we should want to change and want to help each other. But I don’t feel like it’s limited to that. Everybody has a voice and they’re all equal.
What lasting impact on music and the world do you want to have at your peak?
I don’t care what the impact is; I just want to have it. It doesn’t matter what the impact is. Because you gotta think about it, at the end of the day it’s much bigger than money and music and anything like that when someone dies. You never heard anyone say, oh yeah he was great, he had all this money, he sold all these albums. What impact did you have on this world? Because we’re talking about Biggie, Tupac, Michael Jackson, B.B. King. All these people may not have been the richest—well, they might have been the richest—but it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day most of these people here don’t know who the richest man in the world is. It’s more about what impact you have and how you can touch people and I’m not picky on that. I just want to be able to help somebody because I went through so much stuff in my life that I’ve done the opposite, so I’m all for that. Anything that can push anything forward just a lot or a little bit, I’m willing to do that.
Photo Credit: VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis