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A Show to Remember: Vince Staples at the 9:30 Club

Photo from Vince Staples' Instagram.

Photo from Vince Staples' Instagram.

Shannon Durazo

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Recording artist Vince Staples has come a long way since his humble beginnings in Ramona Park, Long Beach, California. The standout rapper is a cynical, compelling figure who has achieved complete creative control over his craft, and whose tweets get as much press as his singles. He has a big mouth, an even bigger brand, and knows how to crank out bangers that are commercially successful yet underground approved. And on Friday and Saturday night he made the 9:30 club his personal playground for the “Smile! You’re on Camera” tour.

I admittedly am a bit hesitant to shell out a whole $35 for a rap concert, as time and time again my experience is of the featured artist shouting out an occasional lyric while the bass-boosted backing track does most of the work. But with an enigmatic figure like Staples, a mic is simply all he needs. As a showman, he was as socially aware and poignant as he was comical, just like his music suggests. Although I’ve seen him perform once before, I was particularly excited to see Staples promote his newest project, FM!, my personal favorite release since the Hell Can Wait EP. While championed as a master of genre-bending, on FM! Staples gets back to his roots with core production and minimalistic hooks arranged in the style of a Long Beach radio special, fit with features from fellow west coast heavy-hitters like Jay Rock and E-40.

Staples came out swinging in his set; eerie televisions visuals were cued up as his lone stage-mate as he charged straight into FM! opener “Feels Like Summer.” From there he rapid-fired through 21 tracks, and touched on most of his discography, from classics like “Blue Suede,” to crowd favorites like “Norf Norf” and “Yeah Right.” The majority of the set was dedicated to his most recent projects, but having all of Staples’ music randomly arranged showcased just how versatile of an artist he is. One moment he was mourning gang violence on the haunting “Tweakin’”, and the next he switched gears to berate stardom over a club beat on “Big Fish.” The show’s turbulent climax was felt through the infectious bassline of “FUN!”, an upbeat FM! number with Neptunes-esque production and some of Staples’ most satirical lyrics to date.

No matter how much his production and subject matter transforms, Vince Staples always stays true to his Long Beach roots. One of my favorite anecdotes from the show was how the DC crowd so enthusiastically shouted “North Side, Long Beach!” from the track “Norf Norf” with just as much vigor as any SoCal native. As the final notes of show closer “Yeah Right” faded out, Staples, confident up until that point, almost sheepishly mumbled into the mike “my name is Vince Staples and I’m from Long Beach, California,” then disappeared into the hazy backdrop. It was as if he was saying despite all he has accomplished and become, at the end of the day that’s just all Vince Staples really is.

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A Show to Remember: Vince Staples at the 9:30 Club