Able to count Mac Miller and Earl Sweatshirt amongst his closest friends, Vince Staples thrives as an enigma whose low-key demeanor stands apart from Hip Hop’s current borderline obsession with image consciousness. A reluctant and unwitting star in the making, first appearances would assume he’s a court jester of sorts—giving reminders of Mad magazine’s mascot, Alfred E. Neuman all the way down to the trademark tooth gap. While his voice been used for shtick on songs and skits from New York socialite Kilo Kish, his verses speak of the harsh surroundings found in Los Angeles’ neighboring Long Beach.

Learning at an early age that life is far realer than any glamorous façade can present, Vince Staples has long scoffed at black music’s most celebrated culture, hesitant to even partake in reindeer games despite his glowing talent. After intentionally laying in the cut for some time, Vince has seized the moment with a show stealing verse on Earl’s new single “Hive,” coming on the heels of his own latest release, June’s Stolen Youth. Encouraged by notable friends including The Internet’s Syd The Kid to take his craft more serious, creative inspiration has given him the potential to garner much greater discussion as he continues making an impression. Though on the cusp of blowing up, Vince finds the trappings of fame to be futile at 19 years of age. It’s a rare, grounded approach many basking in the glow of limelight could stand to learn from.

Usually averse to interviews, Vince Staples recently graced HipHopDX with a chat that was at once introspective, humorous, candid, and engaging while on the “Space Migration Tour” with his friends. Topics ranged from Twitter Rap beef to emcees looking foolish making music for the wrong reasons and how his various well-connected affiliations have come to be. This journey through his mind proved he’s wise beyond his years and though his smart alek wit is often too cool for school (note: Vince is an actual high school dropout), he’s determined to have fun making something of himself while plotting his escape towards easier living.

Vince Staples Explains His Slow Start & Why Rap Is Stupid

HipHopDX: Your rise has been slow but noticeable. What factored into the perception that it took you a little while to break out on your own?

Vince Staples: I mean, I wasn’t really focused on it like that. I’m not thirsty; a lot of niggas that rap is thirsty, cuz. These niggas be on some, “I gotta do it now…I gotta make it now,” and all this other shit. But when you gotta deal with real life, that’s not gonna be the main thing that’s on your mind. You not gonna be tryin’ to rush that, because you got other shit that you gotta try to focus on first. I guess it worked in my favor to a certain extent, because I didn’t have to try to catch up with certain shit that was happening.

DX: What were you dealing with that took time away from your focus on kicking off a Rap career?

Vince Staples: Life, nigga! Niggas be out here living, I ain’t got nothing…my momma ain’t got no money, you feel me? I wish [it was different], but that’s how it is for a lot of niggas. They have the platform where they could be like “Momma, I’m about to be a rapper, I need a studio,” and all this other shit. That wasn’t really my case. I had to take care of my shit and get my shit together. I didn’t even graduate from fuckin’ high school, so at a younger age I had to try to find a way to make some money. Rap ain’t bringing niggas no money, and niggas with deals don’t even get money from Rap. So I wasn’t trying to really make that my end all, and that ain’t really nothing I ever strived to be when I was younger—it wasn’t like a dream of mine or some shit.

DX: You’ve gone on record saying, “Shit is stupid” regarding even being a rapper. Would you care to elaborate on this statement, and have your feelings changed as you continue to gain notoriety?

Vince Staples: I mean…no. I still feel the same way, because it’s a title you gotta voice to a certain extent, as far as [getting your point across] to the people who listen to you. Niggas use it to do the wrong thing. Niggas use it to solicit the wrong things and sell themselves as a brand instead of trying to make something out of somebody who is really listening to what they’re saying. So it is stupid because it’s a bunch of stupid niggas doing it. The fact that a lot of niggas now grow up and [have to figure out] what you gonna be, how you gonna make money and take care of your family, and niggas be like, “Oh I’ma rap,” that’s idiotic to me.

That shit sounds crazy, because when I was younger that wasn’t really the case for a lot of niggas. When I looked at rappers when I was younger, it was always niggas that I felt like did some shit or came from something. Not even no bad or crazy shit, but niggas that went through something and had an experience in life that made them want to rap about their experience and share their shit. Now it’s just niggas who want to be rappers, so they spend their whole life trying to be rappers, focused on Rap and ain’t got nothing to rap about but them trying to be a rapper. Of course niggas ain’t gonna be taken serious; a lot of niggas ain’t taken serious these days.

Vince Staples On Humble Beginnings Coming From Long Beach

DX: Aside from Crooked I with Slaughterhouse, we haven’t heard a new, big emcee out of Long Beach in a minute. Tell me about what it means to come from there representing this newer generation.

Vince Staples: I mean, ain’t even no disrespect to him, but niggas don’t even be on that shit like that. That’s some out of town shit, and niggas that really listen to Hip Hop appreciate him. The little Hip Hop backpack mothafuckas listen to that shit still, but to us there ain’t been nobody since Snoop Dogg. Niggas be on gangbanging shit in Long Beach heavy. It’s niggas from your hood that rap—you listen to that, and you listen to mainstream music—and that’s how it is for everybody. Niggas from over there listen to whoever it is from over there raps, and then you got your obvious shit like Drake, Kanye and all the shit that everybody listens to.

But it ain’t really about music in Long Beach, because niggas is on some gangbanging shit from sun up to sundown, and that really cultivated the culture. Niggas ain’t really looking for the next rapper, and a lot of niggas in the city that know me don’t even know what I be doing. Niggas still hit me up like, “I seen you on WorldStar; I didn’t know you was doing all that.” I don’t be on some put Long Beach on type shit, because Long Beach don’t take care of itself.

DX: Your verses are insightful, and you’ve also mentioned being an avid reader. Which rappers or even authors would you say inspired you to want to rap?

Vince Staples: I received an inspiration from myself. Of course, you always have inspiration on some subconscious shit, but nobody made me say, “I’m about to rap like this nigga and do what this nigga do.” I got good grades, I wasn’t no dumb nigga in school, and I’m well versed. Some niggas only got their point of view, but I understand shit from other points of view. I went to this private school in Compton called Optimal from fourth to eighth grade, and they always had us on some, “Don’t be a nigga” shit; they were always trying to have us on some smart black man shit. You already know how they be—a little black private school—it’s hard to find them, so they always having us on some, “Be smarter than what you expected to be” shit.
That schooling situation helped me a lot, and just my momma not wanting me to be no dumb nigga helped me a lot. But ain’t really no rappers I looked up to, because it wasn’t really my focus when I was younger. I listened to music because music is something that’s always going to be around you, but I wasn’t really looking for it until I got started doing it, if you get what I’m saying.

DX: Yeah, definitely. Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1 was your first major statement to the world, and it was a pretty hard introduction. Where were you coming from during the recording of that project?

Vince Staples: I was chilling. Me and my momma was getting into it, and I was staying at my girl’s house. [My girl] was on some, “What you gonna do?” shit. She was like, “You can’t just post up here and get in trouble, ‘cause niggas ain’t tryna see you go down or nothing like that.” So I just recorded that in a couple weeks with the homies, got whatever beats I could, and put it out on some “Why not?” shit. I hadn’t done nothing before then. That was the first time where it was me wanting to go record and taking initiative with my shit. I guess it was a hunger thing, and that’s why it came out the way it did. It’s like personal type shit when I listen to it now, and it sounds like niggas was in their feelings and shit. That’s the only shit I made that I actually listen to. The Mac Miller shit (Stolen Youth) is my favorite so far, but I listen to Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1 when I’m trying to get my shit together.

DX: Music seems to be something you stuck with and worked increasingly harder at. What has that whole process been like growing as an artist from when you didn’t take it as serious up to now?

Vince Staples: Just being around the right people—Syd from The Internet always had me on some, “You should focus and make some music” type of shit. I was listening, but she wasn’t really pushing it. And then, when Earl came back, he had me on some shit like that. My DJ, Westside Ty had me on some shit…just mothafuckas being around me and then meeting Mac. He was a nigga that had nothing to gain and wasn’t even really my homie like that at first. That’s one of my best friends now. He was a nigga I just met, he already had money, and was telling me I should focus on it and do some shit with it. That had me feeling like I should listen to these niggas. The more you do something, the more you gonna fuck with it, and that’s just really what it came down to. I was having the right people around and certain situations at home were getting worse, so I was feeling like I really needed to take initiative. If I was gonna do something, I wasn’t going to half ass it and waste my fuckin’ time. I wanted to really go in and master some shit.

How Competition With Earl Sweatshirt Helps Vince Staples

DX: You go back with Earl Sweatshirt for some time now. When you guys did “Epar” off of his free debut album, what hopes did you have for that song and/or a putting out a project of your own?

Vince Staples: It was always jokes; we was fucking around and not on no serious shit. Niggas was young, and we didn’t care about that song…still don’t to be real. It did a lot, but niggas wasn’t like, “We ‘bout to make this song about some goofy shit, we gonna get Lambos and sign to fuckin’ Interscope.” We wasn’t on no shit like that.

DX: Now everyone is buzzing about you stealing the show on his latest single “Hive.” Earl receives great respect and anticipation, and he considers you not only a friend but one of his favorite emcees. What has it meant to get a co-sign on that level?

Vince Staples: I mean, nothing really. That’s my nigga, that’s my homie, and that’s one of my best friends. Of course, he gonna think I’m tight. I think he tight. He ain’t shit—don’t get me wrong, but that nigga tight, and he got them bars. We with each other all the time, so you not supposed to think nobody better than you and the people you surround yourself with. If you do, then you need to get a regular job. I really don’t feel like it’s nobody better than me and the people I surround myself with, ‘cause niggas is fuckin’ corny. I got some of the last non-corny rappers that happen to actually be my friends. If you notice, this Rap shit is like high school, bro. The corny niggas all kick it, and then the non-corny niggas all kick it, because it’s easy to tell the difference, you know? So that’s just him being honest, and it ain’t on no other shit. He really feels that way.

Vince Staples On SpaceGhostPurrp’s Twitter Antics & LA Hip Hop

DX: On the outro to Stolen Youth you say, “Joey, that’s my brother so I’m part of all of Fatts beef.” That statement was more or less proven true, as you recently spoke up a bit when he had words with SpaceGhostPurrp. Tell me about your relationship with (Long Beach emcee) Joey Fatts as a member of the Cutthroat Boyz.

Vince Staples: Joey’s my cousin; niggas don’t know that’s my family. I done known that nigga my whole life. That’s my nigga, but that whole little altercation was stupid, and all them niggas looked stupid in that shit. Niggas be dumb with that Twitter shit. I just thought it was funny, because Joey can really beat them niggas up [laughs], on some regular shit. It’s happened before with a couple different people who I ain’t gonna put out there like that. But he’s socked a couple rappers in the face, and one of them cried, and his parents called asking [Joey] to leave him alone. This Rap beef shit is funny…niggas are corny, and it’s just something to do.

In 2013, why are you mad? The SpaceGhostPurrp shit was stupid, because niggas know Purrp ain’t all the way there, so Joey and Purrp having a disagreement was stupid to me. I fuck with Purrp—that’s my nigga. That was just me being on some, “You niggas need to calm down, because I know both you niggas, and you both look stupid.” It wasn’t really no taking sides type shit, but I will take Joey’s side if it ever gets to that level, because that’s my relative.

DX: As a part of California’s resurgence, your affiliations include Mac Miller, Odd Future, TDE, Cutthroat Boyz and Da$h & Retch to name others—none of whom sound the same. Having ties to the Fairfax district while speaking of being around housing projects, it’s safe to say you’re a pretty versatile individual. Tell me about how those very different atmospheres have shaped the experiences that you rap about.

Vince Staples: All that is a big ass misconception. Da$h & Retch ain’t from the West Coast, them niggas is from New Jersey. And Mac is from Pittsburgh; he just lives out here now, and he got the studio in his house that a lot of niggas be in. Mac, Dash & Retch are some of the most important parts of the LA music scene…it’s just niggas being around and making good music. Like I said before, the corny niggas kick it, and the niggas that’s not corny kick it, so it just happened to get attention now. It’s funny, because I don’t be on Fairfax. I never been on Fairfax for more than 30 minutes. I go there and get clothes, but I don’t be kicking it over there and shit. Niggas think I be on Fairfax hanging out, but that’s not my shit. I be in the house ‘cause, I live too far. I live like 45 minutes from that shit…fuck I’mma go out there for?

But the LA music scene is real good right now, and it ain’t nothing else happening. Niggas ain’t really doing nothing nowhere else unless you talking like Atlanta—but Atlanta is on some constant shit, because that’s how the South is. It’s always niggas from the South that know how to do some shit, and it’s too much out there for black music to not constantly be going on in the South. But the West Coast shit is cool—especially the LA shit. It’s just a lot of niggas, and people are paying attention right now. Niggas been doing what they doing out here; it’s just the spotlight is on. They see one nigga like, “Oh that’s Kendrick Lamar, who else is out there? That’s ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul, who else is out there?” and the shit just trickles down.

DX: Another thing you’re known for during interviews and through social media is your dry humor. It seems like you’re rather low key, letting your talent speak for itself rather than going out of your way to chase fame. There’s a perception that you prefer to let you talent speak for itself as opposed to doing a bunch of interviews. How do you balance the benefits of added recognition and possible success with the possible invasion of privacy and the overexposure we feel when a rapper is doing 10,000 interviews with every outlet?

Vince Stapes: See this is the whole thing…this is the problem: it’s not that serious to me. Niggas really be out here trying to figure out how to get famous, and it’s really not that fucking serious to me. The dry humor shit, I do that because niggas are corny. If you notice, I be talking shit, but don’t nobody be saying nothing to me, because they know I’m right. Niggas is corny, bro. I don’t feel the need to try and act like I’m a fucking superstar. For what? If you make music, you make music, and this shit is like a regular job. Niggas who work at Target don’t be bragging about their discounts [laughs], so what the fuck I’ma talk about some Rap shit for? Niggas do that because their music sucks, and a lot of the niggas whose music sucks are the niggas that talk the most. But you gotta understand it’s a full package. I understand that if your music’s not there, your persona gotta really be there. But if your music is there, you don’t gotta do too much. That’s why niggas that can rap really well don’t be wearing leather and shit on stage.

DX: You’ve done whole projects with Mac Miller and Michael Uzowuru and work with others including The Jet Age Of Tomorrow, Chuck Inglish and The Internet. Which producer would you say you’ve had the greatest chemistry with so far and why?

Vince Staples: All of them. I have good chemistry with every producer I’ve worked with because they’re my actual friends. I make music with people I know. All these niggas are actually my homies. They know what to do, what I’m gonna like and what I’m not gonna like, just because we know each other on a personal level. It’s never hard making music, especially with the people you named. All these people, I’ve known for some time. They’ll make some shit like, “This is something Vince would like,” so they play the beat, and it don’t take no time to make no songs. It’s always really easy, and I can’t really measure one against the other, because I’ve never had a hard time.

DX: With you being praised for some of your lyrics, who would you say inspires you to stay sharp whether during collaborations or someone you’re just a fan of that you haven’t worked with yet?

Vince Staples: Myself, because I gotta keep up with what I’m doing. I gotta keep my pace, you can’t get worse and we ain’t in the climate where niggas can slip up. So that’s my biggest shit, as far as what keeps me on my toes. Being around Earl, Mac, Ab-Soul and all these niggas that can actually rap their ass off, of course that’s gonna help a little bit. It’s a lot that really goes into wanting to be good at what you do, but most importantly, you’re who drives yourself at the end of the day. I’m a real self-determined type mothafucka. I can’t let myself down. I could give a fuck about letting another nigga down, because niggas forgive shit like that. But you’ll never be able to forgive yourself if you have a shot at something and you blow it, you know?

DX: Aside from skateboarding and rapping, what hobbies might your fans be surprised to learn you’re into?

Vince Staples: I don’t be skating; I’m just from Long Beach. Niggas have skateboards because Terry Kennedy was popping, and then everybody thought they was TK. I be chilling in the house, killin’ niggas off on this NBA 2K…playing video games with my fans because the homies don’t wanna play me no more, because I be taking niggas money. I be tryin’ to stay out of trouble, because I have strong ties with the bullshit that niggas are tryin’ to rise above. So I be tryin’ to chill and stay out the way. I’m really working on music to take care of my momma and shit; that’s all it really is. I’m old for a young nigga—if you get what I’m saying. Niggas make fun of me all the time, because I don’t drink, smoke, party or none of that. I be chilling in the house, and niggas will come to my house in the middle of the night out of nowhere just because they know I’m there. This nigga Earl will call me all the time on some, “Hey, I know you down the street, so come to the house” type shit, all the fucking time. I be on my old man shit.

DX: What would you say is the greatest lesson you’ve learned so far in the game?

Vince Staples: If you work hard at something—no matter who you are or how far you’ve come from it—you can become something with yourself. What I’ve also learned, not even on no negative shit, mothafuckas create a whole identity within this shit on some corny shit. I didn’t really know that before. I always knew niggas was somewhat full of shit, because there’s only so much cocaine in the world you can sell to niggas, but it’s just crazy how dynamic the shit is and how many different ins and outs it is. I used to just think niggas could rap, because we wanna hear you make songs and you get paid, but it’s real complex. This shit is a real business, and I think that’s crazy that this is something niggas from the ghetto created, and it’s become something so mainstream and pivotal within culture. I think that shit’s crazy, and I really like that part of the shit. Seeing where it came from and learning the ins and outs of it has been one of my favorite lessons within this shit.

DX: You’re presently on the “Space Migration Tour” with Mac Miller. What can people look forward to in the near future when that’s done?

Vince Staples: For one, this tour is cracking, and all the niggas on this tour is cracking. This shit is tight as fuck. This is the best tour that niggas gonna have in Rap for a really long time. We putting more music out, and we not gonna stop. I’ma keep doing the same shit ‘til it gets me rich, bruh. And if it don’t then it don’t, but I’m just working hard.

Image courtesy of Brock Fetch

RELATED:Vince Staples & Michael Uzowuru – “Matlock” [Video]