Long Beach hasn't birthed a rap superstar since Snoop Dogg came out in 1992. While Snoop has held it down for over two decades, he's now making reggae albums as Snoop Lion. Nate Dogg sadly passed away (RIP), Warren G and Daz have faded into irrelevance, and Knock-turn'al and Crooked I have held the city down in underground circles. Contrast this with Compton, where artists like The Game have been repping the city for years and now Kendrick Lamar is holding it down.
However, there are some new artists from Long Beach on the rise. At the front of the pack is Vince Staples. In 2011, Staples released first mixtape, Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1, and the following year, he released a collaborative mixtape with Michael Uzowuru titled Winter In Prague. This past year, Staples collaborated with Mac Miller (under the moniker Larry Fisherman) on Stolen Youth. This was followed up by three appearances on Earl's highly anticipated Doris album, including a standout verse on "Hive."
Staples has put all of his talent on the table, and signed a deal with Def Jam Records. His guest appearances and collaborative projects show Staples isn't just rapping about having sex, getting high, or drinking. His music is borderline depressing. He focuses his rhymes on the realities of growing up and surviving in Long Beach. TDE's Ab-Soul summed Vince's rhymes up best on the song "Killin Y'all," rapping, "Vince knows what I know now when I'm 26."
His wisdom and humility that stood out when Complex spoke with Staples about gang banging, his upcoming project, Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2, and his relationship with Mac Miller. Find out Who Is Vince Staples?
As told to Dharmic X (@dharmicX)
Growing Up In Long Beach
Vince Staples: "My parents are from [Compton]. They moved to Long Beach to get out of the way. Long Beach is like the next step to getting out of the ghetto. I spent a lot of time at my grandparents' house, which is in Compton, when I was younger. I went to school out there up until high school.
"People are too focused on gang banging in Long Beach. Niggas think that's some old shit but not out here. Long Beach, Compton, and this whole area—not necessarily Los Angeles but the places that Los Angeles likes to leave out. That's what it is out here, niggas either grow up gang banging, get old and start gang banging, or they have a regular ass job. It's not a place a lot of people leave.
My parents were always trying to live, they didn't really have time to worry about us. You had to take care of yourself. My mom did an amazing job raising all the kids by herself while my dad was incarcerated.
"My parents have been through all that [gangbanging] bullshit, so they didn't want me to go through it. But niggas got to learn on their own. It was not that nice of a neighborhood but it's kind of a suburb in the way that it's set up. Everybody knows everybody and it's not too fast paced. It's a decent place to grow up, it just all depends on how niggas want to live their life once they get older.
"My parents were always trying to live. They didn't really have time to worry about us. You had to take care of yourself. My mom did an amazing job raising all the kids by herself while my dad was incarcerated. My parents weren't around because they couldn't be. It wasn't a, 'I'm just going to be lazy and not take care of my kids,' thing. They had to take care of themselves and we had to make do best we could.
"I've got two sisters, two brothers, and one of my sisters has a different dad. It's different out here because your family doesn't really have anything to do with blood because everyone is so separated. I was always really close to my sisters, but my brother went through some shit when we were younger so he wasn't really around. I have a lot of siblings but I am the youngest so I was always off to myself.
My friends have been getting killed since I was 14 or 15 and there ain't no prayers or nothing that can help. If a ni**a gets shot and stays in a coma for two days, he's probably going to die. All the prayers in the world can't prevent that.
"My dad used to go to jail. My sister's dad died when she was a baby so after that my mom tried to get her shit together. You know how black people get, she started being really religious and shit. Just regretting all the shit she had done and she had to do. I don't care about any of that. The second you see a nigga die you know it's bullshit, because they don't go anywhere. You sit there and see a motherfucker die and say, 'He's gone.'
"My friends have been getting killed since I was 14 or 15 and there ain't no prayers or nothing that can help. If a nigga gets shot and stays in a coma for two days, he's probably going to die. All the prayers in the world can't prevent that. Motherfuckers use religion as an excuse, which why I don't like it. They look at it as an excuse to not do something or not want to work hard, like saying 'God got me,' when that's not the case. That's not how life works."
Going to Atlanta and Dropping Out of High School
Vince Staples: "l went to a school called Optimal Christian Academy. It was on Palmer and Long Beach Blvd. right by the fire station in Compton, and it was K through 8th grade. Once you get to 6th grade there wasn't any more room inside and we had our classes in bungalows in the back. I don't even think there were 30 people in my graduating class. That was all I needed.
"After I got out of that school, I didn't really fuck with school. I was taught right from wrong, I was taught how to be a person. When you have schools like that, the teachers are obviously really more committed than a lot of others are. So going to that school I really learned, not necessarily who I'm supposed to be, but I learned that nobody can make your choices for you. I went there from 4th grade to 8th grade and I met most of my friends there. That school was a special type of place. People that went to that school either ended up all the way good or all the way bad. I was on the way to being all the way bad, but I just ended up getting lucky.
People that went to that school either ended up all the way good or all the way bad and I was on the way to being all the way bad, but I just ended up getting lucky.
"I went to Atlanta for a while to stay at my sister's house. I was only out there for eight months at the most, but it made me not want to go to school anymore. I was over that shit. I used to do dumb shit, but seeing black ignorance on a large scale, seeing that in school all day really had me analyzing myself like, 'How the fuck do I carry myself?'
"My mom always told me there wasn't anything wrong with being smart. I would get straight A's and beat niggas up. I just felt like I wanted to be a better person after moving there because I saw the most extreme ends of the spectrum. It really got to the point where I understood racism. I understood why people don't like niggas. Atlanta had me not fucking with people or the system. That's why I'll be on my black power shit sometimes because I was really on that for a long time after coming from Atlanta. I would say, 'I ain't having people looking at me like I look at these niggas.' Then I was like, 'Why don't people look at me like they are looking at the smarter motherfuckers?'
"I went to a gang of schools. I moved back from Atlanta and I was staying at my aunt's house and I was going to school out there in La Palma. It's a city right off the 405 right near Long Beach. I went to Jordan High in Long Beach, I went to Mayfair High in Bellflower, which is like one city over. I went to Opportunity School, which is like some home schooling shit. I went to Esperanza High in Anaheim and I went to Kennedy when I first got back. I went to six or seven schools in two years.
I just felt like I wanted to be a better person after moving to Atlanta because I saw the most extreme ends of the spectrum. It really got to the point where I understood racism. I understood why people don't like ni**as.
"I wasn't going to class though. I was always late, and when I wasn't late I was getting in trouble for fighting or something. The first school I went to was Mayfair. I was going to play football and basketball at the time but my mom moved further away from school so I had to walk and I would be late. When I wasn't late, I would have to deal with the fucking Mexicans all alone, and just a bunch of bullshit.
"Eventually, I stopped going to school because I didn't feel like dealing with that. It became a headache. It went from getting used to knowing everybody at your school and having no problems—like a real family environment—to being around a bunch of people I had never met before. It was a hard transition to make.
"Also, going to a school where you learn Algebra in 7th grade and then taking that again in 9th grade, you feel like, 'Alght, these are a bunch of stupid niggas. I'm wasting my time and I'm not learning shit.' I stopped going around 10th or 11th grade. I didn't graduate. I got some other shit called a CHS. It's a test you can take. Everybody makes dumb ass decisions, and those [decisions] combined with my home life not being the most stable basically did it."
Vince Staples: "Everybody was gang banging. Literally everybody, like every single person. Even square niggas. That's the big misconception. Niggas think you have to be a baggy pants type nigga, but niggas get shot by the squarest niggas because those are the ones that are scared. Everybody did that shit. I did it, my daddy did it, my momma did that shit, and all my brothers did it.
"My little brother just got 13 years a couple months ago. He's been in and out of jail since he was 15. It's really the culture. I don't try to push that with my music because it's nothing I feel like anybody needs to be pushing. I'm from here so that's corny to me. There's a story behind that shit, there's a way to rap about it and niggas don't do it right. You won't last six months in this before you see a nigga die or go to jail. After that, it gets old real fast.
I would tell my mom, 'These ni**as over here are tripping,' she would say, 'Go get them then.' She would drive me to go fight and all of that. She didn't want me to be soft. She grew up in it too, and she grew up when it was worse.
"I never did anything really stupid and got caught. I never hid anything from my mom. She's been through it all and she knows more than I know about that shit. I would tell my mom, 'These niggas over here are tripping,' and she would say, 'Go get them then.' She would drive me to go fight and all of that. She didn't want me to be soft. My mom always knew what I was doing at all times. My mom went to court with me after some bullshit happened at school. My mom was in court, and knew exactly what to say because she understood it. She grew up in it too, and she grew up when it was worse, so she knows that I wasn't a troublemaker.
"I was never a troublemaker, but I'm loyal to where I come from. A lot of people don't understand that it's more of, 'I live over here I have to deal with this. These are the only niggas that care about me so of course I'm going to be a part of this shit.' It isn't about being cool or wearing colors or nothing, it's about where you live at and having respect for that neighborhood.
"People know where you're from because they know your face, they know where you live, and they know your homies so you can wear whatever you want. The only thing niggas still do is hats with logos. And now niggas don't even wear hats, they get that tatted on their face."
Musical Influences and Learning More About Rap
Vince Staples: "Music was not really that important, to be real. Rappers give you that bullshit like, 'Since I was three I've been rapping' and you know it ain't true. The only music I heard was in movies and on TV. Lil' Bow Wow was hot when I was a kid. I'm not going to pretend I was into Biggie and Nas and Pac and all that, I really didn't give a fuck about music. Music was something you heard in church or on the radio. It was always around me but it was not one of my focuses.
"The first rapper I can think about was like Lil' Bow Wow or Lil' Romeo. They were little kids and they were the rappers for little kids. When you grow up you get more into it but that's it. The first time I can really remember a rapper being famous is 50 Cent. I was in 4th or 5th grade when 50 came out, and I was like, 'Wow, this nigga's crazy.' 50 came out when Vice City was out, and everyone was like, 'This is the shit,' just being little bad kids.
Lil' Bow Wow was hot when I was a kid. I'm not going to pretend I was into Biggie and Nas and Pac and all that, I really didn't give a f**k about music.
"People knew about Snoop but Snoop is from the other side, so niggas weren't really on it like that. But, 'Drop It Like It's Hot,' that's when Snoop was big. There's a lot of pride within in the city. Snoop and Nate Dogg were from Long Beach, so we could always say that we've had a rapper.
"I don't really have influences, but Michael Uzowuru told me, 'You should probably listen to more rap to figure out where you wanna go with it because everybody needs some type of inspiration.' I started listening to more rap, I downloaded a bunch of shit on my computer, and just really started listening and having an appreciation for it. I can't really name anybody specific but I listened to almost everything. I just really got into the music, learning about the art, and having more appreciation for it. I listened to everything from UGK to DJ Quik to Wu-Tang. Everything. I had to follow music so I would know what to do and not be afraid to speak about myself and my life.
"People will think I'm crazy but really my favorite rapper is Young Dro. I was into old Gucci Mane back when he was young and really rapping his ass off. I'm also into DJ Quik, Pimp C, and Andre 3000."
Learning How to Rap
Vince Staples: "It's funny, there was this kid named Lavi$h who goes by Dijon Samo now, and he used to live around the corner from me. When I came back from Atlanta, I wasn't trying to get in trouble and so I was just kicking it with him and his friends because they didn't get in trouble. He asked if I wanted to spit. I had gotten on songs previously but it was just some hanging out with friends being goofy shit. They'd go to Syd's house to record, and me and Syd clicked automatically. He stopped coming around and then me and Syd started getting real close.
I didn't really have any music out like that so Mike G and Matt Martians were telling me, 'You don't have anything else to do. You're out here all the time and you're not going to school so just make some music.' So I started making music.
"Me and John weren't cool for a minute, so I was basically at Syd's house everyday. Then me and Earl got cool, and I did that verse on Earl's project ["epaR"]. When Earl went away, people started looking for Earl's music, and I'm one of the only features on his tape so of course people came looking for me. But I didn't really have any music out like that. So Mike G and Matt Martians were telling me, 'You don't have anything else to do. You're out here all the time and you're not going to school so just make some music.' So I started making music.
"I never started out with just five people downloading my song, I didn't really have to go through that. I was just trying to figure out what people wanted me to do and what songs people wanted me to make. I wasn't really fucking with it like that though because I was still living through all the bullshit.
"My DJ, West Side Ty, hit me up. I met him through Syd too because he was DJing for Speak at the time. He told me, 'You shouldn't waste this opportunity.' I made my first mixtape in the next couple weeks and it got a really good reception, more than I thought it was going to get. So I thought, I might as well stick with it."
Relationship With Odd Future and Features on "Doris"
Vince Staples: "Earl was just a funny nigga, so me and him got along. He was a fan of my music. I didn't record in front of anybody and I didn't play anybody my songs. He went out of his way. He saw it, he starting listening to it, and then he was like, 'We should do a song.' We made a little song and that's what it was. We did a lot more after that but that's just how we met.
I didn't know Odd Future when I was a kid, we didn't grow up in the same area or have the same life. I think there's a big misconception with their music, ni**as don't really take the time to listen to it because people always want you to be what they see you as.
"I've always been on my own, I didn't feel the need to join Odd Future. I'm not a big fan of a lot of people being in one group, because then people are trying to figure who's the leader. I'm not saying that's what happens within their situation because I don't know what happens. I'm just speaking from personal experience. Everybody wants to be the leader, starts disagreeing, and I have no reason to have disagreements with my homies. It just wasn't what I was looking for at the time and they were more serious about music than I was.
"I would say their reality is based off what they've gone through and where they're at. I didn't know them when I was a kid. We didn't grow up in the same area or have the same life. I think there's a big misconception with their music because niggas don't really take the time to listen to it. People always want you to be what they see you as. It's hard for a lot of people to pay attention and listen but I don't really give people the choice. I just rap, there isn't anything else to it."
Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1 and Winter in Prague
Working With Mac Miller and Stolen Youth
Vince Staples: "I met Mac Miller when Earl came back because Earl was trying to give him some beats for his album. I introduced myself and he asked why I don't rap like that, and I told him, 'I don't get beats like that.' He told me he made some beats and that I should come over to make some shit. So we did, and that was that. The project had been done for a minute, but we were just trying to put it out around a tour.
A lot of what happens at Mac's studio is organic. The TDE artists are up there. Mac's artists are there a lot. There's actually a lot of people at Mac's house, Big Pooh, Michael Rapaport, some pop stars. I met Macklemore at Mac's house.
"It was really a joint project. After making the beats it was like, 'I like this one.' 'Alright, rap on it.' Boom, we got a song. And we did that until we had 10 of them. Putting too much crazy thought into my shit is how you fuck it up.
"Mac's the homie. He's one of my closest friends. I don't have a lot of friend, so it's funny that I met him last and that's become one of my best friends within in music.
"Everybody comes from the same type of shit. He's just from the other side of the county, Pittsburgh, but everybody goes through the same shit. Everybody thinks he's privileged, which is funny to me after getting to know him. He's not that type of nigga at all. He's a real person. No gimmicks or nothing.
"A lot of people just record at Mac's studio because that's the homie. You can hang out with your friends and record a song, what's better than that? I record other places but there are a certain number of people who come to Mac's. A lot of what happens at Mac's studio is organic. The TDE niggas are up there. Mac's artists are there a lot. There's actually a lot of people at Mac's house, like Big Pooh, Michael Rapaport, and some pop stars. I met Macklemore at Mac's house. The craziest person I've met there is Jimmy, Mac's homie. He jumped off the roof into the pool for no reason, and he did it again today."
The Space Migration Tour
Vince Staples: "It was the first time I've been on tour and probably like my 10th show at the most. I've done shows all the time but never had my own set. I'd be put on the bill with a couple headliners and share a set, but I would only do like five songs. I learned how to perform. Being around Mac and his security and everybody that was on the tour, I learned how to really be a performer. They looked out for me on that tour and I appreciate them forever for that.
Ni**as who think Digable Planet's show is boring are going to have fun at the Mac Miller show.
"Mac has a routine where he falls down and pretends to collapse during every show. It was just that these people in Arizona were shocked about it, but it's part of the show. I saw the headlines say that drugs were getting the best of Mac Miller, but he does that every show. There's like 10 videos on YouTube of him pretending he collapsed during that show.
"Since Mac is white, it's easy to give him the 'white people fuck with him' type shit. But that's who is really at the shows. It's a majority white crowd because Mac has made friendlier music throughout his career. Niggas who think the Digable Planet's show is boring are going to have fun at the Mac Miller show. That's just the reality of it."