St Jerome's Laneway Festival, Sydney 7th February 2016
Vince Staples may be a lot of things, but a liar he is not. The rapper from Long Beach, California tells the truth, the brutally honest truth, and he does it with a ferocity I’ve personally never seen in a hip hop artist. Reminiscent to N.W.A’s, ‘Straight Outta Compton’, Staples’ art lies in his ability to force the uncomfortable honesty of racism and struggling African-American experience right into the face of his listeners, whether they like it or not. That’s not to mention his ridiculous strength as a rapper or his ability to use his flow as an instrument, binding beats together singlehandedly.
Standing at the Red Bull stage, the atmosphere was palpable. Thundercat had just finished his brilliant set and the crowd was ready for more. This was the smallest stage at Laneway but my favourite, easily. With everyone crammed together, the energy of the audience was mounting. Vince entered the stage to the intro of his track, ‘Lift Me Up’ and over the roar from his fans, he spit, “I’m just a n**** until I fill my pockets, and then I’m Mr. N****, they follow me while shoppin’”. There’s subtlety to this line; he contrasts the grind many African American’s face day to day with the wealth of upper class negroes, however the root of it all still perceives the white man to be the dominant being. This is what drives Vince Staples. It is this still existing disparity that lights a fire in him, and that fire was on full display. Gripping the microphone as if it were necessary for survival, Staples’ looked like he was about to burst. His face was red with veins protruding up his neck and on his forehead. Stomping around the stage and swinging his arms like he was on a mission, his passion quickly transferred on to the crowd.
I’m just going to get this out of the way now – I have never seen a hip hop audience as wild as this. Circle pits were opening, bodies were being launched over groups of people, if you escaped with your nose and feet still intact, you were a lucky patron. Even through this all, Vince was not satisfied. A quick word from security meant that the rapper had to deliver their public service announcement to the onlookers, which he begrudgingly did. Quoting his, “dear, dear friend, Malcolm X”, he made the crowd chant, “Love your neighbour!” until we could promise no one would get hurt. Somehow I feel like this only served to further fire up Vince because this is the point where he really stepped up the anti-authority movement.
Finally getting to see him live, it’s now easy to see how he flows with so many brilliant lines. He is a really funny guy! The whole show between songs he would talk to the audience and his friends on stage, joking around providing some very solid wit to break up the intensity of his tracks. He’s a very confident man, and a gifted leader, which brought out the absolute best in his audience. Just before playing his standout track, ‘Norf Norf’, he incited a, “F*** the police”, chant which he demanded was not loud enough until everyone in attendance was yelling at the top of their lungs. Once the beat drop, everyone went ballistic. The chorus was one of the most memorable moments of the entire festival for me. Vince stood dead centre of the stage and stared into the crowd as we chanted, “I ain’t never ran from nothin’ but the police”, demanding “louder! louder!” He didn’t even need to rap along; we took care of that for him.
Before his last track, ‘Blue Suede’, he took to his conversational skills once again telling the audience that he expected us to go crazy when the beat dropped. There was ferociousness in his eyes and a severity in his voice. We all knew he wasn’t joking around, and even before anything happened, you could feel the need to brace yourself. Once it dropped it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I saw sunglasses get shattered into oblivion, people get swallowed into pockets of destruction, and a loose smart phone being unknowingly stomped on. I dived down to pick one up and the owner hugged me and looked right into my eyes, “I love you.” He told me.
Going into Vince Staples, I’ll be honest, I was expecting a good show. I’ve been a fan of his for years now and knowing his music, there was very little chance that this was going to be a boring performance. I did not however, expect anything that was to come. Vince Staples is an exceptionally talented rapper, one of the very best in the world at the moment, and he is not nearly done yet. If anything, the California native is just getting started. I can only imagine where his ability is going to eventually lead. My proposition is to definitely keep your eyes on him; you do not want to miss whatever he’s going to do next.
Vince Staples is playing a sideshow at Max Watts this Tuesday night, the 9th of February. If you missed his Laneway show, or even want a second helping, I cannot recommend this enough.
Josh Di Matteo
see more photos here