IDK and Vince Staples Are Still Paying for Their Pasts

A number of music releases came out in July, but by far the most interesting was IDK’s Usee4yourself and Vince Staples’ ‘Vince Staples’.  Both artists, after years of putting out solid releases and being consistent, just seem like their stars are aligning to get them to that next tier of the rap world.  They are rappers that already have fervent fan bases and have heralded projects but have not garnered the mainstream support that they probably should.  

While both artists’ recent music releases have two different approaches to getting their points across they both intersect at the same common theme: their pasts still affect the decisions they make in their current rap lives, for both the good and the bad.  

IDK started off with this message for his fans regarding his album: 

From this point, he obviously talks about the vulnerabilities but he also talks about how some of these vulnerabilities have been exploited for good and bad throughout the course of his album.  You have some tracks like “Shoot my shot” and “Peloton” that are obvious attempts to get the mainstream rap listeners’ ear while not completely selling out his style. For example, his  second verse on “Peloton” seems shallow but actually has real depth:

“Like, what would you think?

Would you be in shock or not even blink?

Would you expect anything?

All ’cause I’m a man and that’s what it bring?

To my unborn girl, yeah, you know you my world

If you fuck with any nigga, I’ma need a referral

And if you know you got a role, better play your part

‘Cause that’s karma for me if he break your heart”

In an interview with LA Leakers, IDK talked about the different elements he wanted to bring to “Red”, a song with a 5 second authentic MF Doom part that was surprisingly approved by the masked villain before his passing in December 2020.  IDK also gets an amazing feature from Young Thug on the sparse but hypnotizing beat of “Pradabang” it seems like the perfect Young Thug feature because I don’t know (pun intended) who could hop in and catch the groove of this beat and make a satisfyingly syrupy chorus like only Thugger can. The album is broken up with precisely placed skits such as the 48-second track, “Jelly,” where world-class DJdj, Acyde (@prettyvacyande ) talks about the inner workings of women trying to make him “Jelly”(jealous) from Instagram pictures.  This skit plays as a preface to one of the themes of the album, namely how what we consume specifically as black males affects our interaction with women and how we view them, whether that comes from IG posts or just the hip hop culture at large.  But one of the true standouts of the album is the song “Auntie,” where IDK reveals in a surprised gasp of a lyric that he had been molested by his Aunt: 

“They don’t really care what I become or be (hey auntie)

As long as I live happily while livin’ comfortably

No hangin’ with thugs or livin’ reckless (hey auntie)

Love was in this movie, my auntie the one directin’

Never felt this feelin’ and now I’m feelin’ neglected (hey auntie)

Wishin’ we got to bond but instead, I got molest-”

Tying this in with IDK’s rollout message for this album is similar to a great movie trailer, but in this case the movie actually meets the expectation of the trailer.  The album closes out with an insightful and touching phone message that he leaves his mom and says something that most people wish they could say to a parent.

While IDK uses a variety of musical and songwriting tactics to get his across a poignant and personal album, Vince Staples took the opposite route with his self-titled album. Unlike some of his previous albums Big Fish Theory and FM!, he took a step back from creating a conceptual album and just creating an album that was simply him.  He spoke on this in multiple interviews, saying that for Big Fish Theory he was catering toward the festival crowd where he would be opening up for James Blake, then with the album FM! He was creating it in mind for his songs to get syncs ( the act of getting your song placed in commercials) but instead relied on simply who he is and what he claims so strongly, his love for his hometown, Long Beach, California.  Vince is able to make his most in-depth album but uses sparseness as a weapon, adding by subtracting, creating a sparse musical landscape that encapsulates Long Beach as not just a place but a mentality. On track #4, “The Shining” he is able to convey small subtleties of a person that is trying to figure it out through life as a teenager coming from an environment that doesn’t always love him back (“we either die broke or die from broken hearts”).  Another standout is “MHM,” the last track on the album, which acts as a weirdly triumphant conclusion to the end of the album and has one of the most memorable verses: “snitching n**gas even got the water tapped”.  A lot of the beats on this project remind me of a 1960s tv advertisement spot played backward that happened to be accompanied by Kenny Beats 808s.  Speaking of Kenny Beats, he is the main producer of the album and handles the overall sonic direction of the project, bringing elements of minimalism within the drums and conciseness to Vince’s album that hits you over the head and doesn’t let you go.  

IDK and Vince’s albums give us outlines of how to deal with our past and make sense of all the wild shit we have seen (especially when you are a black man).  Through these projects, they show us how to navigate the confines of these environments and take the positive out of them while expanding your reach while not letting the negative aspects of these environments affect your trajectory.