Vince Staples discusses his debut full-length Summertime ’06, giving people an understanding of where he’s coming from, telling both sides of the story, and wanting to have a legacy in music.
How’s the tour going so far?
The tour’s going good, man. It’s a great experience and everyone’s having fun. I’m glad to be a part of it.
I saw you played the Garden last night. That must have been pretty rad.
Yeah, it was cool, man. It was a very, very fun experience.
So the response to Summertime ’06 seems to have been overwhelmingly positive and one of the most acclaimed rap albums of the year so far. Was that something you were expecting at all, or did it totally take you by surprise?
I mean, I just make the music. I didn’t think about it. Success is always possible, music is impossible. We just wanted to make the best out of what we had, we just wanted to make the best music, and I think we did a decent job of doing that.
I know in interviews and in places on the album you express this concept of worrying about how much people can relate to you and understand where you’re coming from. Do you think this album and the response it’s had so far has had an impact on that?
It’s not something I worry about, it’s just something I like to shed light on and explain the dynamic of what the hip-hop fan base is nowadays in that manner. I feel like you can always be understood if people want to understand you. It’s not that much of a difference between any of this.
We all have the same basic ground level concepts. If someone wants to understand you, there’s no way they possibly can’t. They just got to be very much so mindful of each other’s situations and each other’s backgrounds, and I believe that we’ll be to understand each other.
I think that’s what we experienced with this album, was people really paying attention and putting effort into understanding what the message was behind it.
It’s a loose concept album about that year, 2005 to 2006, in your life. Was that an idea that you’ve had in the back of your mind for a while or did that just kind of happen? How did you end up structuring the album around that?
I mean, when I started the album, your first album is shifting, like a turning point in your career, looking for a reference or turning point in life that brings into the mindset of the creative process. It was something I’ve said before and I just kind of ran with it a little bit. I’ve always thought it sounded like a good title or something like that, and I had things that I could tie into.
I really get into the album mode, as far as being written, so it was something that kind of already had legs and we just rounded it out. I had help from all the producers and the people that had a hand in this project, and I think it turned out pretty good. It was the idea. I didn’t really have another idea except that, and we just had to carry it out.
Around the album release, you made that Instagram post where you talked more about the concept. You said how it was about the beginning of everything you thought you knew, and it might not make much sense because none of it does. And then you opened and ended with quoting Joy Division, who I know you’re a big fan of. Can you talk about that and the things you were trying to accomplish there?
I was just trying to answer some questions that I didn’t want to answer later on down the line. That’s all that was. You got to give people an understanding of where you’re coming from. The music captures a certain mood or a certain feeling to me, and that will explain some events loosely that were going on at that time period to help better correlate with the mood of the album.
It was getting people connecting more, because people appreciate it who like the music. I just want to give people the best opportunity that I can to really get a full grasp of who I am and where I’m coming from with each project. There’s no easy way of doing that without fucking going through the press or something like that. I just like to directly relay that to them.
This is technically a double album, which is pretty ambitious to do on your first full-length, but it has a really nice flow to it and never overstays its welcome. Was that a challenge to include 20 songs, yet still make it compact in that way?
Nah, cause I didn’t care. The music is the music, man. The worst thing that can happen with music is someone not liking it. It’s not that big of a deal. The whole point of music to me is that an album is not necessarily supposed to be good. It’s not necessarily supposed to be bad. It’s supposed to be existing of the time period and the person that you were.
Some bands have horrible albums, but they mean a lot in the timeline of what their career was. There’s some things that I absolutely hate, but they might mean a lot in the timeline of a band or an artist I care about.
I never care about shit like that. My whole thing is make the music what it’s supposed to be right now, and live with it, because it’s much deeper than that one project for all of us. It’s much deeper than that one moment, especially if we consider ourselves to be someone that wants to be around for a long time.
I want a legacy in music. I don’t want to be a hot rapper, because with all this shit that’s happening now, no one’s going to remember this shit in 10 years, man, in five. You know what I mean? No one’s going to remember these things. I want to be someone who can be remembered.
One of the things I really respect about you, and one of the things that will probably help you being remembered, is how open and honest you are about your past, your upbringing and what you’ve been through. Do you ever worry that you’re sharing too much? How do you decide what things to write and talk about and what things not to?
I don’t feel like I’m sharing too much. The sense of putting myself in harm’s way, the people that can do something to me for it already know [laughs]. As far as being shy about certain things, I feel like the only way to really help people, for lack of a better word, the only way to give people a better understanding is to be completely honest.
The problem is not enough people are telling the truth, you know what I mean? If you’re a fighter, everyone’s been beat up before. If you’re an athlete, everyone’s lost a game. We choose to not tell that side of the story, and that doesn’t help someone pass if they’re following in your footsteps. I have to tell both sides of the story.
When I was younger, every rapper was in a super-duper thug drug war that had everybody feeling like they could do that, and then a lot of people lost their lives and got in trouble based on it. We’ve been making these films and these video games, these artists and things like that, and that’s not right.
The way you chose to end the album I thought was really interesting. The last real song is “Like It Is,” which is one of the more powerful songs on the album, and then the last song cuts off 48 seconds into it, right in the middle. What were you aiming for with that?
I mean, it ends with, you know, “Next time on Poppy Street.” I guess that’s a preview of things that are to come later on.
In general, what does your writing process look like? Do you usually come up with lines in the studio? Are you constantly writing stuff down?
I’ve made songs every way possible, so I always learn from them. As far as the basics, I’ve written songs beforehand, I’ve written songs in the studio. I’ve done pretty much it all. It really just depends on the mood, or whatever the song is or whatever the concept is behind the record.
Are you the type of person who is constantly getting inspiration day-to-day, or do you set apart a specific time to work on stuff?
Not really every day. If I get some ideas, I’ll get a couple at a time and write them all down. I don’t know, man. If I have ideas, I’ll be overflowing for a minute, and then I won’t have anything for a couple weeks. I have a very weird process of making music.
Two of my favorite videos of the year, and two that I’ve found to be the most striking, are the ones for “Señorita” and “Norf Norf.” What kind of response and reaction have you gotten from those?
A lot of people have told me they’re good in passing. I don’t really pay much attention to things like that, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about them. A lot of people say they like my videos, and I appreciate that because we spend a lot of time and effort and fucking money into those shoots. I’m very, very grateful that people take things away from them.
It’s really cool that you’ve been able to use different media to give a little bit of a different perspective on the songs, which is like a double bonus, too.
Yeah, man. A video can give a whole other perspective on a song. That’s the best chance we’ll get at getting your explanation out there, because once it’s out there and once one person has it, that song belongs to them.
You don’t buy an article of clothing or a movie and say, “Oh, these shoes belong to Nike because Nike made them.” No, that belongs to you because they’re your shoes, you know what I mean? That’s how I feel with music. Once it’s purchased and this person has it, it’s their interpretation. A video is your way of getting your interpretation across.
I understand you didn’t grow up wanting to be a rapper and this was something you more or less fell into. What’s that journey been like, from where you started to where you are now?
It’s funny when I really think about that and all the shit I did. I’m glad it worked, because I have no idea what I’d done.
Another thing I find refreshing about you is you’re never afraid to speak your mind and just tell it like you see it. Is that something where you’ve always been that way? Has it ever gotten you in trouble?
I mean, yeah. I have very stern parents. My parents are very strong people in a sense. My own thing is, why would I lie? What are you going to do? It’s not that serious, man. You should always be able to speak your mind.
It’s gotten me in trouble in certain situations, but nothing I couldn’t handle, you know? I’ve been lucky enough to be able to be here and learn from it. Don’t lie to these kids. It’s kids watching these interviews. It’s not grown adults with rational thinking. That’s not the majority of people watching, so I’d rather tell the truth.
You’ve said you’re not after having a mainstream radio hit or fame necessarily. What does success then look like for you? What is your ultimate goal that you want to get out of music?
I don’t know. Own a house or something. Being able to take care of my family. That’s what I care about.