This feature was originally published on August 1, 2017.
At 23 years old, Vince Staples has already had career full of surprises. After becoming known for his loose affiliation with the Odd Future pranksters, mixtapes, and song-stealing guest verses, the West Coast rapper (and Complex cover star) found wide acclaim with his debut album, Summertime ‘06, a haunting meditation on a summer that changed his life growing up in Long Beach, California. Then he veered again with last year’s electronic- and rock-influenced Prima Donna, a conceptual EP that imagines him descending into madness. It wasn’t a hit, but it was one of the most original hip-hop projects of the year.
Like Danny Brown, Staples has no loyalty to genre and instead possesses the uncanny ability to bend any beat to his purpose. (“I’m a gangsta Crip, fuck gangsta rap,” he says on “Norf Norf,” the single that’s become his calling card.) He’s described his journey to rap stardom as basically a happy accident. If so, he’s making the most of it. On his upcoming second studio album Big Fish Theory, he boasts of his success with help from Juicy J (“Big Fish”) and lashes out at the systems that hold down black people over a beat you could play at a rave (“BagBak”). What ties it all together is Staples himself, whose acerbic wit and clarity about the heaviest subject matter should at least put him in the running for realest rapper alive. Of his latest era, Staples has said, “We making future music.” For the sake of the future, I hope he’s right.
Here are Vince Staples’ best songs so far, ranked.