Vince Staples got me all fucked up, mane. He should call himself Vince Cellulose, 'cause he hard to process! I wasn't really checkin for his shit since Odd Future jumped the shark, 'round the time Tyler dropped Goblin and everyone realized he was less teen RZA than new-wave Bam Margera. Maybe when a decade passes, and Jasper Dolphin appears on a Celebrity Rehab/Fit Club crossover swagged out like W.A.S.P.'s guitarist in Decline Of Western Civilization: Part II, his raft sinking beneath the flab of countless late-night Taco Bell runs, we will all be able to acknowledge that Odd Future were the Insane Clown Posse for ppl who hate poor white trash. Until then, let's all forget how earnestly we shat our drawers in 2010. When I die, I'll have to account for all the time I spent listening to Hodgy Beats.
As a historical curiosity, Vince is the most intriguing artist to come up under the OF umbrella. Earl is straightforward. He's a smart kid making weird music, and rap history is riddled with weird nerds. In a subtle way, Vince is doing something new. Notwithstanding cursory nods to Doom and Madlib, Earl's music is ahistorical. No matter how popular it gets, it's niche music following a generic template of underground rap. You hear it and think, "Oh, that's underground rap," but you couldn't say if he's from L.A. or New York or Detroit. Vince's music is tethered to a geographically specific rap tradition that was culturally and commercially significant - L.A. gangsta rap - which means he has a broader base of references to quote and subvert. But he's also not being ironic. He's the first (kill me now) post-postmodern gangsta rapper.
I been peripherally aware of Vince's subsequent work, mainly cause the cover for Hell Can Wait reminded me of the one for Suffer. That's the kinda historical continuity I likes to see in my SoCal subcultures, and it seems that Vince is of the same mind. Like YG and Kendrick, he's conscious of his place in L.A.'s gangsta rap tradition. Kendrick never goes further than weaving G-funk signifiers into his Boyz N The Hood meets Fences drama-club raps. YG updates the genre while working within it. Vince, on the other hand, straddles gangsta and backpacker rap without committing to either. He engages both, but never fully.
YG's persona is more convincing more than Vince, and not just cause he was (supposedly) a gangbanger. Gangsta-rap is the unique genre where the authenticity of a persona really matters, and as far as I know, Vince grew up hard knock. This is where the OF association works against him. Gangsta rap requires a suspension of disbelief if it's going to work. It's a relationship between the artist and listener: you gotta be willing to give in to the fantasy, but the artist has to do his job and convince you. (Paradoxically, that's why Straight Out Of Compton is more compelling than Bangin' On Wax). The price of Vince's come-up is he'll always have some association with the Fairfax kids lined up for the limited Supreme shoetree.
Why should it matter? Wayne Perry was a gangsta. I read his profile in Don Diva and felt sick to my stomach. From the comfort of his TriBeCa loft, Jay-Z celebrates an unrepentant psychopath who murdered more black men than the cracker in Ferguson ever will. We all believe De Niro as Jimmy Conway even tho his artist parents both fucked this man, and what is gangsta-rap if it ain't the most lucrative form of performance art?
It shouldn't matter, but it does. Jay can't rap about hustlin no more. Cube went from AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted to nostalgia act in the time it took to make Are We There Yet? (dope movie). Rick Ross only lives cause no one believed him in the first place. But Vince is fashioning a a new kind of persona, one centering on the tension between gangsta and backpacker. YG is far and away the better artist right now, but he's limited himself to being a pitch-perfect formalist. And there's nothing wrong with that. The solution is simple: judge them not on the color of their bandana, but the way they fold it.