Vince Staples puts on a hell of a show. The Long Beach native hit the stage at the Fonda Theater in Hollywood last night for the final hometown show of his Life Aquatic Tour with Kilo Kish, with backwards video clips from the movie of the same title in tow. While the crowd in attendance seemed worlds away from the fatalistic, gang-banging content of his songs, they were certainly in tune with the energy he conveyed as he played hits from Summertime 06, recently-released Prima Donna EP, and his signature jam “Blue Suede.”
At all of 23 years old, Staples missed the heyday of West Coast gangsta rap by a good decade — he was only five months old when his spiritual forebear, Long Beach’s own Snoop Dogg released his seminal debut album, Doggystyle. Despite this age discrepancy, Staples carries himself with all of the smooth bravado and nihilistic composure of his city’s “Doggfather” of rap in his prime. Vince growls “f*ck your dead homies” as convincingly as any mid-nineties flag-waving set-repper at the height of gangsta rap media hysteria over doomsday-sounding drums and bass provided by Chicago production legend No I.D.
It was No I.D. who first brought Staples to the attention of Def Jam records, where the duo have an unconventional arrangement that allows Vince almost unparalleled artistic control in comparison to the usual major label record deal. It was this deal that allowed the two to quickstrike-release a six-song EP between full-length albums, the second of which is to be released later this year.
Nowhere are the benefits of the Def Jam arrangement more evident than in the control Vince exerts over both his touring schedule, and his live performance itself. Only Vince Staples could organize a tour off the strength of a one-and-a-half album deep catalog with such polished, streetwise efficiency. He shines like an artist beyond his years onstage, which accounts for his ability to flawlessly reel off descriptive tales of life spent on the edge in one of the most notorious neighborhoods in Los Angeles County. After a wildly avant-garde opening performance in which Kilo Kish destroyed a briefcase and chucked a perfectly good cell phone into the crowd, Vince took the stage rocking a characteristically low-key outfit consisting of a plain, crewneck sweatshirt and jeans to raucous applause.
One cool thing about Vince is that he’s one of those artists who seems totally uninterested in the trappings of “entertainment,” but cares very much about his artistic vision when it comes to presenting his product for public consumption. That’s a semi-fancy way of saying that the stage design was very, very dope. It was minimal, mostly dominated by three giant LCD screens that displayed panoramic images of goldfish swimming in bowls, spooky skulls that added to the overall dark vibe of Vince’s lyrical content, and the aforementioned backwards-running clips of Bill Murray doing Bill Murray things in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.
Speaking of those menacing lyrics: Vince is great at live delivery. Seriously. Evoking the energy of a caged, hungry tiger as he prowled the stage, he was just as effective at juicing the crowd standing stock still at the mic stand with his hands in his pockets and his shoulders hunched like a cold wind was biting at him at through a T-shirt in autumn.
In fact, that was about when the mosh pit broke out towards the front of the crowd (which I gave a very wide berth, thank you very much — knees aren’t what they used to be, you know?). The set finished under a digitally illuminated banner of the words “Long Beach” displayed across all three screens as Vince rapped off a quick, two-song encore that left the audience buzzing, even as they filed out of the transplanted piece of Long Beach into the Hollywood night.