Inquiring Minds

"The Most Interesting Man in Rap" Is a Hefty Title, and Vince Staples Owns It

To Vince Staples, the most interesting thing about being in an airport is picking out the perfect set of headphones.

This past Sunday was a travel day for Staples in the midst of his Circa ’06 tour, which hits Houston's Warehouse Live tonight. To him, touring the country and meeting new fans are the perks of the job; rapping just happens to be the vehicle to get there. Over the course of the past four years, give or take, Staples has emerged as one of the best, if not more poignant, voices from the West Coast. He’s charming online and in interviews, owner of one of the more authentic Twitter accounts in music and if not anything, the owner of the ubiquitous title “The Most Interesting Man in Rap."

He makes mention of a select pair of headphones during our brief phone conversation, but he’s always paying attention to his surroundings, even when thinking about blocking things out. A loud blare comes over the intercom, a woman trying to hurry passengers to their correct spots, and Staples apologizes. It’s beyond his control, but still something he knows can get in the way of a good conversation.

“I’m appreciative,” Staples says of fan support in regards to the tour. “Appreciative of the people. Not a lot of people get that when they do shows. Especially with music, noticing the connection they have with people. Some don’t get that a lot, and luckily, I’m able to understand.”

To say Staples came of age in the era of DIY rap would be an understatement. His first introduction came via West Coast prodigy and Odd Future favorite Earl Sweatshirt’s EARL mixtape some six years ago, before Earl was marooned to Samoa and missed Odd Future’s initial wave of success. But at 17, Staples may have had the most breathtaking yet darkest verse on an album filled with them. Four more mixtapes, including Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2, brought him to the steps of Def Jam. His debut album, Summertime ’06, was released almost a year ago as an audacious double album that narrated life for a kid from Long Beach whom nobody understood.

Staples's perspective on things has also made him one of the more visible acts online. For someone who never wanted to be famous, everything he says now turns into headlines. It’s a double-edged sword. Staples proclaimed that the ’90s, a halcyon period for certain rap fans, were overrated. People were pissed. He challenged Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul to “get these buckets” on an episode of ESPN’s Highly Questionable, and people laughed and retweeted it. To him, it’s nothing more than the attention of some leading the wrong way.

“People are desperate for things to say,” he responds. “Worried about the wrong things. There’s so much going on in the world, and yeah, we’re selfish to a fault about what we want to read about and enjoy. Publications that proclaim to be urban but don’t do anything or care to represent the community. Like, where you are now. There’s been massive floods in Houston, but people don’t care for long. They move on to the next thing.”

The PA overhead blares loudly once again, and both of us brush it off to continue chatting, even though Staples can barely speak before he has to jump on the plane to the next city, next show, next memory. Days ago, he tweeted about doing a Paul Wall tribute at Warehouse, but now he laughs it off.

“I wish I could, man. Everybody loves Paul Wall. Nobody has anything bad to say about him,” he says about the sadly nixed idea. “I got love for everybody down there — Slim Thug, Paul — but can you think of anybody talking bad about Paul? Nobody.”

It’s awkward to realize that Staples came of age right as “Still Tippin” was making its global rounds and Paul Wall moved beyond being a Swishahouse favorite and one-half of the team behind one of Houston’s greatest debut discs, Get Ya Mind Correct. But Vince has always been an outlier. His “Baretta Scott King” track, with Michael Uzowuru in 2011, is proof. Southern California is supposed to be the Land of Lakerdom, yet Staples is a proud Clippers fan, Chris Paul beef withstanding.

Even asking about the Clippers seems funny, especially considering that a year ago, the Clippers were on the verge of making the Western Conference Finals but fourth quarter, Game 6 happened. Staples, unlike most diehards, can appreciate the human nature of the game and how breaks don't normally go your way. Especially if you’re a Clippers fan.

“Injuries are a real situation,” he said. “If we had Chris and Blake [Griffin] healthy, then who’s to say? Now, I got my own opinions of Doc Rivers, but it’s like this: When you’re both the coach and the team president and you can’t get fired? There’s not too much pressure on you.”

The comm lady blares again, meaning it's time for us to wrap. Staples says he and his team are being patient with releasing new music, but “they got ideas” as to what to do next. Vince Staples may give you a moment of clarity, or even a moment of brevity to lighten up your day.

And occasionally be one of the more sterling rappers on the planet.

Vince Staples performs tonight at Warehouse Live's Studio room, 813 St. Emanuel. Doors open at 7 p.m.

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Brandon Caldwell has been writing about music and news for the Houston Press since 2011. His work has also appeared in Complex, Noisey, the Village Voice & more.
Contact: Brandon Caldwell