Chris Schulz is the deputy head of entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

Vince Staples: Rapper's words live from the streets

Chris Schulz meets Vince Staples, whose tales of real life warfare have struck a chord in the world of hip-hop.
Long Beach rapper Vince Staples, the biggest hip-hop drawcard at Laneway, is known for his hard-hitting tales of crime. Photo / Supplied
Long Beach rapper Vince Staples, the biggest hip-hop drawcard at Laneway, is known for his hard-hitting tales of crime. Photo / Supplied

"I've done a lot of things that got me in trouble," says Vince Staples. "And I don't necessarily care."

It's a stark admission but you wouldn't expect anything less from Staples, the Long Beach rapper who performs as the biggest hip-hop drawcard on today's Laneway Music Festival bill in Auckland.

Staples, 22, is known for his hard-hitting tales of crime thanks to last year's double album debut Summertime '06, a grisly tour of his home suburb Ramona Park in 2006 where, at the age of just 13, he started "gang banging".

"They found another dead body in the alleyway," Staples raps on the bleak Birds & Bees, the album's heaviest song that includes grim lines like, "The sun come down and guns come out," and, "My mama caused another problem when she had me".

Staples, a refreshingly frank interview subject who rattles off his answers in a quickfire monotone, says everything he talks about on Summertime '06 really happened.

"To me, that's the story. It's the best version of my truth. I never wanted to get out of that lifestyle. There was nothing wrong with my upbringing. There was something wrong with the choices [that I made]," he says.

"I'm trying to do my best, tell an appropriate, accurate story, because there are people in that situation who need help getting out of it."

After years of braggadocio from MCs who may have not lived that life, Staples' stories could be considered hip-hop cliches.

But his upbringing - at one point, he raps: "I'm a gangster like my daddy" - means Staples' words carry plenty of weight.

And he has some harsh things to say about rappers who say the same things about drugs, crime and murder, but haven't lived that lifestyle.

"I think they're ignorant. There's nothing wrong with being creative [but] the thing we do in hip-hop is we try to pass off our word as if it's fact, all of the time," he says.

"I never listened to Eminem as if he really had his wife's body in the car. There was a playfulness, a certain tone to it. That line has been blurred over the years and it's not fair to the listener because when I was younger I know that stuff affected me and how I looked at the world.

"We need to be more responsible with our words."

Those words have been heeded. Summertime '06 was widely considered to be the second best rap album of 2015, just behind Kendrick Lamar's masterpiece To Pimp A Butterfly.

And while Staples no longer lives in Ramona Park, he visits regularly. And he's happy to report it's changed - for the better.

"There are police cameras that feed live to the station, so it's pretty quiet. Thank god a lot of younger kids aren't really starting to gang bang no more ... there are soccer games, a lot of kids running around."

Even so, Staples says his words are being heard in neighbourhoods that haven't seen that improvement.

"I've got friends in places like that who are never getting out, but they call me and say [the album] lifts up their spirits.

"That's definitely something I aimed for.

Event info

What: St Jerome's Laneway Music Festival
Where and when: Kicks off today at Silo Park
Gates: Open from 11.30am
Bands: Headlining acts include Grimes, Courtney Barnett, Chvrches, Health, Purity Ring, Hemitude and Flume.
Other activities: Along with a range of food trucks and eateries, shade space at the venue has been doubled, more toilets have been added and the Cactus Cat Stage has better lighting and improved sound.
Weather: The MetService is predicting a fine day with a high of 26C.

- NZ Herald

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