Release Date: Aug 26, 2016
Record label: Def Jam
2016 has featured two rap projects that begin with a reference to the gospel staple “This Little Light of Mine.” On Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo the song was quoted by Chance the Rapper, setting the mood for a wayward album about using faith to reckon with temptation. On Vince Staples’ Prima Donna, the song is quoted as a final reckoning: stretching out the words, a quasi-fictional rapper sings the song right before blowing his brains out. The first song on Summertime ‘06, Staples’ ambitious debut album, also ended with a gunshot, but the targets were varied.
The second EP from Long Beach rapper Vince Staples, Prima Donna is a concise and intense ride that follows his 2015 breakout album, Summertime '06. Featuring appearances from A$AP Rocky and Kilo Kish, Prima Donna combines Staples' uncomfortably honest inner ruminations with wider social issues relevant to being a black man in America. As he declares on the second track, reality is so dire, one has to be "War Ready." Immediately following on "Smile," he repeats "sometimes I feel like giving up," the psychological toll of life pushing him to the point of "sometimes I wanna kill myself." It's a sobering slice of vulnerability from the young rapper.
The opening scene of the 10-minute short film that accompanies Vince Staples's Prima Donna features the rapper on the set of a music video, surrounded by twerking women. He looks disinterested and morose, suggesting he's tired of the clichés that plague contemporary hip-hop. The EP itself is set up as a binary opposition to last year's Summertime '06, juxtaposing the confessional autobiography of that album with a narrative that's more abstract.
Lest you worry that critical acclaim and fame have brightened his outlook, Vince Staples opens the Prima Donna EP with a grainy recording of him singing “This Little Light of Mine,” cut short by the sound of a gunshot. Staples barely mumbles the song under his breath, making you lean in close to the speaker; the gunshot that punctuates the track might make you jump out of your seat. This intro provides a handy metaphor for how Staples operates as an artist: He draws you in with vital music, then hits you with the ugly reality.
On his critically acclaimed debut Summertime '06, Vince Staples put his history of gangbanging and street activity to tape in vivid fashion. But even with the success that accompanied his major label effort, things haven't gotten easier. "Feelin' like a pop star, music drive a n***a crazy," he raps on Prima Donna's title track, alluding to new stresses that his career and rising stock have saddled him with.Staples approaches the latest chapters of his story on Prima Donna in bleak fashion, his pen and delivery both as sharp as ever.
Vince Staples records feel like transmissions. On early mixtapes like Stolen Youth and his Shyne Coldchain series, they were the raw, unfiltered diary entries of a teenager on the cusp of adulthood. Last year’s official double-LP debut, Summertime ’06, was a two-disc missive that looked back on the summer of turning 13, when Staples said he felt his life beginning to turn — yet it also dealt with being in his early 20s and measuring the distance he had traveled since losing his innocence.
Intentionally avoiding limelight and excess notoriety, Vince Staples has surpassed early expectations matching his charming personality with a continuous stream of progressive releases. Known by many to be a jokester online, his biting sense of humor could be taken as either a defense mechanism against the nihilism of losing friends to tragedies not limited to violence and drug abuse; or perhaps his wit intends to disarm the hesitations of those who could otherwise overlook his sophisticated emceeing. Steadily building a brand around crafting art for art’s sake, with Prima Donna, Vince Staples throws Hip Hop yet another unorthodox curveball.
Midway through the 21 minutes of this seven song EP, Vince Staples sits in a hotel room beset by Kurt Cobain dreams, looking at a loaded .44 and thinking about making Van Gogh patterns on the wall with his brains. Then housekeeping knocks on the door. "Tryin' to get my head straight," he raps with lazy breathlessness. "She tryin' to get the bed straight." Staples is a third-generation Long Beach gangbanger who turned to hip-hop as safe space.
Check out this lesson I just learned the hard way: Almost every Vince Staples outing—regardless of length, distribution, or cover art—must be treated with an almost universal amount of caution. This was as true with 2014’s Hell Can Wait, Staples’ heavy-hitting major-label debut, as it was with Summertime ‘06, his groundbreaking inaugural LP that dropped last year. For reasons that span miles in every direction, there’s almost nothing about Staples craft that is light, airy or even remotely relatable to a mass audience.
Vince Staples's second EP opens with the Long Beach rapper lethargically singing a snippet from gospel tune This Little Light Of Mine (titled Let It Shine). It's eerie, like something from a horror movie, but the unease it inspires quickly become less abstract as a gunshot explodes and Andre 3000's final verse from ATLiens bursts through on War Ready. Over stark, heavily percussive production from English musician James Blake, Staples confronts the racist America contributing to his unravelling.
Vince Staples’ Summertime ’06 was one of the best rap albums to drop in 2015 — bar none. The Long Beach, Calif. native succeeded at crafting his most cohesively compelling project to date. This album not only solidified the 2015 XXL Freshman’s position in the game but also proved that his fan base (made up of much of the younger generation) still cares about bars.