Monday, August 29, 2016

Vince Staples - Prima Donna Review

From the peak of the mainstream to the forever bubbling underground, there is no other dominion in Hip-Hop excelling with a breadth of creativity post-2010 than the West Coast. You have TDE, composed primarily of the street-savvy Black Hippy collective, the now-defunct but still flourishing Odd Future group, the artsy Hellfyre Club, and the hodgepodge of Gangsta Rap linchpins maintaining 'real Hip-Hop' values. Even on the R&B side of things, the trifecta of Frank Ocean, Miguel, and Anderson .Paak all unite under the Los Angeles umbrella. And yet, there is no other artist that can be connected to every single one of these scenes with fewer strings than Vince Staples. Simultaneously acting alone despite conforming to each collective, Staples, still only 23 years old, might have the widest range when it comes to rising potential. To maintain fan interest without relying upon a group that'll forever include him in discussions, Staples has dropped Prima Donna, a seven-track EP composed of fiery, combustible bombshells. For a short pitstop, Prima Donna works wonderfully as grade A bump in the whip material. Unfortunately, obvious structural issues and a persistence on dated and misogynistic lyrics keeps Prima Donna from attaining a higher level of praise.

When Summertime '06 dropped a little over a year ago I initially took no more than a faint glance at it, not expecting much. At the time, Staples was the sly feature artist appearing as the grimy Gangsta side of Earl Sweatshirt. His verses were always memorable, but the lyrics never drew me in. His appeal screamed of the Jay Rock curse; intriguing for moments elsewhere but never enough on his own. Well, a year later and Summertime '06 still falls in my top five of 2015, alongside some seriously strong company. On Prima Donna, talent-wise, Staples hasn't stumbled, executing his eclectic crip walk flows, best seen on 'Loco' and 'Big Time.' Production on the EP is wild and suffocating, with James Blake, of all people, revealing he can get hyphy on 'War Ready' and 'Big Time,' while West Coast banger creator DJ Dahi reveals that his scraps for EP's are better than many producer's top-tier material. Staples still acts as the West Coast harbinger, promoting a sleeker, more refined Gangsta Rap palate that yearns on the side of polished creativity. Just imagine a 90's emcee beginning their EP with a rendition of a children's nursery rhyme, something Staples does here on 'Let It Shine.'

However, it's that same mumble-core sing-a-long that stagnates Prima Donna endlessly. At the end of every song, besides 'War Ready' and 'Pimp Hand,' we find Staples half-heartedly singing his inner-thoughts with no instrumental accompaniment. Conceptually it's sound, as the emotional quips act as inner-demons pulling the prima donna back to reality, if only for a moment. They're just not well executed, and will really diminish replay value in the long run. I've already been skipping 'Let It Shine' for the same reasons. I appreciate the decision from a creative standpoint, it is unique, but maybe underutilized by others by design. What I can't appreciate though, is a regression to dated Gangsta Rap tropes, something even pillars like The Game and YG have shied away from in recent times. On songs like 'Pimp Hand' and 'Big Time,' Staples speaks with a clenched fist, citing physical abuse on the former, and employing castigating power on the latter, all as a means to seem more boastful and in control. A tactic that's tasteless and not something to showboat. At the very least, the album title fits the bill. 

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