Vince Staples


Prima Donna

2016

Genre: Hip Hop

Style: Conscious, Gangsta Rap

Label: Def Jam Recordings

Review snippets taken from Tom Briehen’s review over at Stereo Gum

Prima Donna opens with Vince Staples, his voice craggy and distorted, mumble-singing “This Little Light Of Mine.” He gets a few seconds in when a loud gunshot interrupts his voice. It’s a genuinely shocking moment. Staples also ends many of his songs with quiet little spoken-word poems, many of them about how close he is to giving up on everything. On the chorus of the noisy, stomping, guitar-laced “Smile,” Staples croons, “I feel my life is in danger every night when I lay / So can you do something for me? Smile for me.” Prima Donna is an EP with layers. I got my promo copy a few days ago, so even though it’s only six songs long, I’m still unpacking it. But it seems to be about the way personal and political can be the same thing, especially when you feel targeted, when you feel like there’s some societal bad faith in the air — about how, when you look at the world around you, depression feels inevitable.

Futility is a big theme for Staples. It’s what makes him too smart to work as a full-on rap star. There’s no transcendence in his music. He’s capable of glittering, badass one-liners, and there are plenty of them on Prima Donna: “I write the James Joyce, don’t need the Rolls Royce”; “I’m in a black Benz speeding with my black skin gleaming.” And there’s exhilaration to be found on Prima Donna. But where some of the best rappers make you feel powerful when you listen to them, Staples does the opposite. He makes you feel powerless, and that’s what makes him such a compelling writer.