In an interview with the Daily, Long Beach rapper, Vince Staples, has confirmed his just announced project “Bagbak,” set for Friday, will be a single.
“A song, nothing too crazy,” he said.
But Staples also hinted at more to come, teasing that fans “should always be expecting something.”
“Especially now in the space we’re working in, I think it’s time to start releasing music again,” he said.
At this point, Staples has practically wiped his online presence clean. The once prolific Tweeter (and Twitter-arguer) has been increasingly quiet on the site, hardly posting save for the occasional release update or tour announcement. The last refuge of his presence — a few aesthetic photos of Michael Jackson on his Instagram, and some shots with friends — has now been entirely scrubbed, leaving just five pictures, all related to official releases. It could be compared to the Beyoncé approach to the Internet: Be there, but barely.
For Staples, social media has become a distraction, particularly for artists. His increasing disappearance online, he says, isn’t a move away from the music scene, but rather toward it:
“The crazy thing about it is that the songs are now a replacement for social media," Staples said. "You know a lot of people are doing it the other way around. To me, that’s against the point.”
The problem, he says, is not with the existence of social media. It’s with the level of intense influence that these mediums are increasingly having and the realignment of priorities at the hands of Twitter and Instagram.
“We’ve gotten to a lifestyle where people aren’t really buying and investigating music, they’re buying and investigating, you know, the people who make the music, their lifestyle, their ‘culture,’” he said. “I hate that word, but it’s just the truth of it. So it’s easy to lose sight of what we’re supposed to be doing. We create music, so that’s what we’re going to do.”
It’s an interesting take, particularly in a world cluttered with self-generated content, curation and connection. With rappers now using Twitter and Instagram as one of the ultimate methods — if not the ultimate — of publicity and fan outreach, the move is a break from the norm.
When asked about the direction of his new single, and pressed on a possible new project, Staples gave a strong, but cryptic vision:
“I guess you could say we’re doing the same direction — we’re trying to do as much as we can to make, you know, as big an impact as we can,” he said.
He explained impact, whether good or bad, is what’s most important to him. It’s the feeling, the change from before exposure to after exposure, that he strives for.
“We want to try to alter their life for the better, or for the worse. Just have an effect on people,” he said.
The Life Aquatic Tour, featuring opener Kilo Kish, comes to Detroit’s Majestic Theatre on March 23. It will be Staples’s first to headline, and it will ride the success of his EP Prima Donna, released August 2016 and his acclaimed debut album Summertime ’06, released June 2015.
Staples laid out his vision for the tour, emphasizing the familial and intimate.
“I want it to be where they can bring their moms out, and their moms will have a good time. Whether it be their grandmothers, their kids — someone who has no understanding of the music — and make a good show,” he said.
He used the film industry as an analogy, seeing his show like a movie:
“When you look at films, you don’t know anything about a film but a trailer," Staples said. "So it’s up to the quality of the work to impress you and make you come away with something that you feel like is amazing. There’s a part in a movie when you see it in the theatre where you’re like, woah, I love this thing, it’s a new experience. And I want to bring that theatrical element. It’s walking in blindly, and walking out fulfilled.”
Staples has oft been grouped into the vague category of “activist” rappers, on account of his bleak, hyper-realistic lens of the world as a Black man (“Niggas battle with the judge like the gavel got a grudge,” from his track “Pimp Hand”), and for his biting, sharp critique of systematic oppression in his community. In an interlude on “Like It Is,” from Staples’s powerful Summertime ’06, he ruminates: “At the end of the day I feel like the problem is the people that control it don't really come from here, so they can't do nothing but look down on us.”
But Staples is less an activist than a storyteller. His goal isn’t to actively assert himself in the conversation, but to create awareness.
“Me, I’m not an activist at all," Staples said. "I don’t, you know, know what I’m fighting for. I don’t know of a point once where I’ve ever really stood up and said, like, ‘this is what I’m fighting for, these are the rights I’m concerned about.’”
From this, he makes a latent public bias clear. He doesn’t see his observations and storytelling as political, but rather simple human morality. The idea that rapping is largely political is one that he questions with racial overtones and puts back to the public. The reason it’s interpreted as so, he says, isn’t on his hands, but those who read it that way.
“I feel like whenever you’re an artist or a musician, specifically a Black male from the urban structure, people are surprised by the fact that you have morals sometimes, and that’s just how they differentiate," he said. "By you having morals, that puts you in the box of being an activist, or a ‘positive’ rapper, a ‘conscious’ rapper or things like that. That just shows what we’re meant to example.”
This, he said, creates a skewed understanding by the public.
“People have a false sense of reality," Staples said. "If we have an irregularity in where we come from, people see that and they’re like ‘oh that’s probably for a cause, or they’re highlighting things, so they’re an activist.’”
Staples doesn’t see his personal explorations of Blackness and oppression as a form of “activism” or “conscientiousness.” That, he says, requires active work:
“Martin Luther King was an activist. I’m not that at all," he said. "People were out there campaigning, or changing the election. Even Colin Kapernick — people donating money and starting classes and workshops. You know, like Black Lives Matter, these are activists. I haven’t done those things, so I’m not worthy of that title.”
It’s an important bias to point out, that discussing poverty, Blackness, etc. automatically makes us assume a political agenda. Even in the most progressive, tolerant communities, we often refer to rappers as hyper-political or radical. But many, like Staples, are simple observers of their own experience as Black individuals in impoverished neighborhoods. Is this actually political, or are we forging that narrative? Why should human rights be progressive and politicized at all?
Staples’s point is a powerful one. If he tells a story of a friend shot on the block, pointing out that insanity, it seems strange that we must divide ourselves into sides on the issue. Blackness, Staples makes clear, has been politicized and sensationalized, and not necessarily through its own agency.
But he doesn’t excuse himself from this epidemic.
“I’ve had a lot of things that, I’ve had a lot music that I consider to be hurtful to who I am as a person, to my home overall,” he said.
These are the musings of what might be known as a kind of “inward” rap; a stronger focus on the expression of personal experience — and the feelings — of the Black condition. The comparison to Earl Sweatshirt, whom Staples is constantly associated with, sheds further light on this. They both possess a similarly pensive, dark style and rather than use their platform to emulate the braggadocio tradition of ’90s rap (Reasonable Doubt, The Chronic), they look within, discussing depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts with a hopeless-addled drawl.
These are personal reflections of a systematic problem. While rapping has nearly always done this to some extent, and even more so after the floodgate-opening that was Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak, this new class, including the likes of Isaiah Rashad and Kendrick Lamar, still feels like a particular movement with its explicit references to mental health and the struggles accompanying.
So when asked about his progression, and ultimately his end goal, Staples was characteristically inward:
“I didn’t imagine anything, so I’m fine with anything.”