Vince Staples is the best rapper alive. He has done what so many other rappers can’t do, put out thought provoking content through interesting storytelling and the use of characters. I was reminded by just how much better Staples is than the majority of rappers out. His latest project Prima Donna stands as a testament to not only his lyrical ability and great ear for beats, but stakes his claim as the best rapper alive.
The subject matter of Prima Donna is extremely dark and heavy. "Prima Donna" starts with Vince killing himself while singing “This Little Light of Mine”. The rest of the album then tells the story of how he got to that point. On “War Ready” he says “A wise man once said that a black man better off dead … Turned the African into a nigga then they hung him.” Or the multiple mentions he makes to shooting himself in the head. “Ace hotel shoulda stayed at the Soho. Housekeeping keep knocking on my door though. Don't she know I'm staring in the mirror with a .44,” on “Loco.” Or “Buy a million dollar home and blow my dome to paint the kitchen,” on “Prima Donna."
The thing that is most impressive to me is that his voice changes from the beginning to the end of the album and even within the songs to the tape recorder outros. From “War Ready” to “Big Time” his voice gets thinner and higher showing the passage of time. While on the outros, that in reverse order start with “Prima Donna” he grows wearier and wearier going from “fed up with the gun violence. Fed up with the old rules. Fed up with the youth dyin'”. To ”don't say you feel my pain cause I don't even feel myself. Blood rushing through my brain, sometimes I wanna kill myself”.
The thing that is so spectacular about this album is how cohesive and intricate the storytelling is. On “Big Time” and “Pimp Hand” he is doing what most popular rappers do, rapping about money, women, and drugs. Then as time progresses he starts to ask if anything about his art or life is actually real. He crawls deeper down the hole of depression and suicidal thoughts on “Loco”. Which has this beat that will have you feeling paranoid and insane. The outro on it is different from the others because we can hear things from the outside. Birds, wind, and some girls screaming can be heard, though that quickly fades into them just talking. “Loco” is the turning point of the album since it is in the middle and it is the turn from sane to crazy. Side note I want a Vince Staples and Kilo Kish project, since everything they do together is fantastic. On “Smile” he talks racism, being dissatisfied, leaving people behind for dreams, and suicide with one of the best verses on the album.
“I know they wanna see me fall I know the fraudulent I know.
I know they hoping that it's right back to the ghettos I go.
I know my pigment is not that of a businessmen.
I know they think
I'm ignorant I'm fucking up my privilege.
I know that money come and go so money not my motive no mo’.
I made enough to know Ill never make enough for my soul.
I turned my back on my friends.
I turned my back on my home.
I left the street where I've grown.
To chase the yellow brick road.
I heard they paved it with gold I turned around and seen they pissed on it.
Just like me”.
“War Ready” has another schizo beat, that sounds like the exorcist. That sees Vince ready to die until the Lord takes him home. He talks about the prison state and how much like slavery it is, “County jail bus, slave ship, same shit”.
In Wisconsin the majority of black communities (31 out of 56), are actually prisons and in fact the Federal Bureau of Prisons was created only a few years after the 13th amendment. Mass incarceration, the war on drugs, three strikes laws, and unbalanced sentencing largely contributes to the phenomenon that Vince is speaking on.
The depth and breadth of Vince’s content is what sets him apart from almost all others. The only person that challenges Vince’s title is Kendrick Lamar. Who as an artist is far above most, but he has reached a level where he is not solely a rapper anymore. To Pimp A Butterfly solidified him more as an artist than a rapper. His recent feature on “Really Doe” was lackluster. Earl Sweatshirt takes over and makes you forget the rest of the song happened. His verse on Beyonce’s “Freedom” while good never reaches the level that it should. His feature on “Holy Key” seems like it was repurposed from the TPAB sessions. It may be that he needs sometime to recharge from To Pimp A Butterfly or whatever it is he seems off from what we know. Other than Kendrick there aren’t any established threats to his crown.
Vince Staples is the best rapper alive, his last three projects have all been exceptional. Prima Donna realizes the potential that he is shown from some of his first songs. His content and lyricism is unparalleled and to say that he is anything less than one of the best rappers alive would be a disservice to his ability as a rapper.
by Addison Garry (@addisonagarry)