When Vince Staples made his initial introduction to rap listeners it was as a sixteen-year-old self-proclaimed Black Ted Bundy, grooming a teenage hippie girl ahead of a vicious sexual assault alongside his running partner Earl Sweatshirt. But like the Odd Future affiliate, Staples has done a lot of growing up since then, and five years later it’s actually surprising to revisit the verse from his teenage self. That’s not to say his output since has been any less scary. In fact, the situation presented on his debut album Summertime ’06 is a lot more unsettling than teenager quipping “It’s not rape if you like it,” and that’s because this tale is a whole lot realer.
Staples’ depiction of gang life on Long Beach’s Northside is framed in a way that’s more Larry Clark than John Singleton. The tale follows a reckless 13-year-old Vince, robbing kids at gunpoint for change and helping his father sell cocaine out of a Day’s Inn – not because he has some evil streak, but because it’s what he believes he’s supposed to do. As he puts it on ‘3230’ it’s “the deadly game of tag the older generations passed to us.” Staples is trapped in the system and there is no escape. Towards the end of the first disc, the industrial sounds begin to relent and a happier time seems to bleed through. Yet he isn’t keen to disclose the specifics. “It’s up for interpretation,” his muffled voice explains over the phone from a promo trip in New York City. “That’s one thing about my music, it’s always up for interpretation. I don’t want to tell anyone what any situation is, I want them to have their own opinion.”