Written by Maxwell Caveseno
In 2016, Barack Obama will have his last term as president concluded. On the very first track of Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2, Vince Staples snarls dismissively at our first black president, smearing him as a “house nigger” in a nasally “nyah nyah” of a voice that perfectly conveys the disrespect he wants the words to mean. It’s one of many drips of venom the Los Angeles native offers up on his latest offering.
For the past few years Vince Staples has been a slow-burning flame. Initially a generic hipster rapper, he showed promise and a cruel sense of humor that allowed him to fit well at home with his compatriots Earl Sweatshirt and Mike G on their early Odd Future mixtape debuts. However, his first tape, Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1 was a surprising departure from the rape fantasies and juvenilia of his former peers. Coinciding with the rise of the “trillwave” aesthetics’ fascination with 90s gangster rap, and aided immensely by the fluidic productions of Two-9 affiliate Snubnose Frankenstein; Staples began to be beholden to the ghosts of rap legends past, marrying his humor to the imagery of decades ago. A simple change of costume, abandoning post-Tyler crewnecks for Raider-cosplay flannel, but it made a world of difference.
Since then, Vince has maintained a significant presence with a guest verse on Earl’s “Hive,” and collaborating on whole projects with producers Michael Uzowaru and Mac Miller, under his “Larry Fisherman” alias. 2014 finds the next installment of his Shyne Coldchain series bolstered by production from No I.D., Evidence & DJ Babu and Scoop DeVille. Everything is in place for the young Staples to ascend and claim his rightful place in the spotlight, except for one significant flaw: he has no interest in trying to catching anyone’s attention.
Blame is not solely the fault of Staples. No I.D. produced some of the most uninspired, dull “hip-hop” beats in years. Polished and clean, they provide little more than retro-leaning pomp, offering little dynamic for Vince to toy with. Whereas whenever the other producers flex their work, you see a significant effort from Staples to negotiate much more delicate samples and sounds. Considering that I.D. handles a bulk of the production on this tape however, you’re left with massive gaps of draining, trench-crawling from our antagonist as he snipes away at the world.
This dynamic isn’t the worst thing in the world, as plenty of rappers have turned the “me against the world” mentality into a universal saga. But Staples lacks the charisma to carry this weight. He’s skilled at his evocative sadistic nature, describing people as “candles on the concrete” or muttering how ‘”church only makes you worse.” Yet his voice lacks dynamic or variation, turning into an irritating drone that needles at the listener. Staples has passed on inviting fellow rappers on his project, leaving the only deviations from his oppressive will in the form of the occasional breaching R&B singer (Jhene Aiko, James Fauntleroy). Surely Vince isn’t devoid of confidence, yet Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 seems hexed with a severe case of rapper’s ego, as he is uncommitted to anything but his own ever-insular world.
Vince Staples is at a curious position in the rap game: most of his peers as far as frequent association have already become phased out from their “next big thing” status, with few maintaining more than an underground audience. On this tape, his scope seems to be narrowing into a magnified sense of tunnel vision put on specific details, but unable to look beyond such a narrow frame. It’s an intense journey that he’s going on, but he isn’t concerned about helping anyone along his path.