West Coast gangsta rap has enjoyed a lasting revival in the wake of Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, with albums by Schoolboy Q, YG, DJ Mustard and others following its lead in advancing the quality and chart traction of narrative-intensive gang-life dispatches. good kid’s unblinking austerity went missing, though, as the infectious levity of Mustard’s airtight party anthems went national, inspiring even Kendrick to inch over to the sunny side with his studiously motivational comeback single “i”. The lesson of good kid—that you could make radio without catering to it—seems lost as L.A. revels in a renewed commercial relevance.
Long Beach rapper Vince Staples is sick of cheery street rap. “If you listen to shit about niggas being in a position where they have no hope, there should be nothing at peace about that,” he said in a recent interview with Pitchfork. “There’s a way to do it where it’s listenable and likable, but it shouldn’t just be some happy stuff.” Staples’ own body of work rests on a nervous axis between expressive, imagistic wordplay and somber cynicism. There’s pessimism in the opportunism. There’s stress in the joy. At his peppiest—the chorus of “Feelin’ the Love”, perhaps, the closer on his just-released retail debut Hell Can Wait—he’s still waving at death: “Is you feelin’ amazing? Yeah I’m feelin’ the love/ Hope I get to take it with me when my living is done.”
Hell Can Wait is a reminder that living is another word for cheating death. It’s bleak and maybe exasperating, but the reality of the street is that babies gotta eat, jobs are scarce, and some people have to resort to tactics that risk death and imprisonment to make it through the day. There’s no wide-eyed good kid narrating the disorder in Staples’ city, just a realist making do with the available options. “Niggas from my home ain’t enrolled in the colleges/ Fuck a class, junkies hitting glass, get the money long,” Vince snarls on “65 Hunnid”. On “Screen Door” he balks at the popularity of imaginary gangsters, asserting that his own home was rawer than any Hollywood adaptation: “Bobby Johnson ain’t my OG/ This ain’t no movie role/ Pops was off the OE/ Tripping, getting his Tookie on.”
In the middle of the EP Staples’ ire sharpens into an icepick. “Hands Up” protests LAPD’s use of excessive force (“They expect respect and nonviolence/ I refuse the right to be silent”) in a diatribe Staples swears isn’t about Ferguson. But in a climate where surveillance cam and cell phone footage have revealed law enforcement bullying and violence against black bodies for a near-daily operation, “Hands Up”’s volatile objection to “Paying taxes for some fucking clowns to ride around whooping niggas’ asses” hits hard from coast to coast. Lead single “Blue Suede” is a curt rejoinder about gang violence being deadly too; the terse chorus—“New shoes with the blue suede/ Young graves get the bouquets”—folds a lifetime of adversity into just a few words, a series of damning images cataloguing the disintegration of hope.
That economy is Hell Can Wait’s guiding principle. Staples never wastes a word in exhibiting a hustler’s hard-won resilience, and he’s abetted by producers that buoy his stories without overwhelming them. Leading the charge is Toronto producer Hagler (best known for a co-producer credit on Drake’s “Trophies”). Hagler gifts “Screen Door” and “Limos” their hypnotic poise, but he truly shines on “Blue Suede”, which sounds like a trap artist’s rendering of the moment Dr. Dre thought to slap high pitched Moog lines over breaks, the resulting menace tracing a line of ancestry between L.A.’s riots and Raiders era and today. Elsewhere Lil Wayne associate Infamous effects a Nawlins death march for “65 Hunnid”, and Staples’ mentor and label head No I.D. outfits “Hands Up” with a guttural low end fitting of a song that could be considered a spiritual successor to “Fuck tha Police”.
Hell Can Wait is a debut for Staples, but it’s really a refinement, the end result of a years long search for the right producer that spawned a string of good but not always great mixtapes and loosies. Even a casual listener could hear the spark—Staples’ first fame came from getting the best of known mic terrorist Earl Sweatshirt—but his production values have finally caught up enough to push him past the scrappy sidekick division into the big leagues. In an era where signing to a major label can mean artistic regression, Vince Staples’ jump to Def Jam is a case study in the enduring merit of good old-fashioned artist development. The machine still works sometimes.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1vpqFYx