Vince Staples Spoke at the MCA … And the Conversation Isn’t Over

Image courtesy vince

On the ground floor auditorium at the Museum of Contemporary Art, people shuffled into seats at 6:06pm—the result of a sold-out show and respective waitlist. At 6:09 Vince Staples slouched into a gray armchair, clad in a supremely coordinated yellow-accented sweatshirt and puffer jacket, iced coffee in hand.

Matthew Schnipper, Pitchfork’s managing editor, sat across from Staples and called him out for not eating his quinoa at lunch. Their demeanor was friendly; Staples often referenced their friendship throughout the hour: “Me and you, we’re friends. I don’t know the rest of these people,” he said looking into the crowd.

Food was a recurring topic and the references housed some of Staples’ best wit of the night. He talked about hitting up Waffle House on tour, calling pancakes “tacky” as they “lacked construction.” He answered “What makes you happy?” and “What is your ideal romantic date?” with a goofy entrée: chili cheese fries. He even delved into the consequences of being a successful, young black man via a sandwich: “I’ll go to Gucci for a buffalo chicken sandwich,” he said referencing the idea that in those places people refer to him as Mr. Staples and he gets a kick out of it.

Another food reference had the audience nodding heads and agreeing out loud. He talked about a little girl wearing a sash and buttons, “a Girl Scout,” Schnipper chimed in. “Yeah, yeah,” Staples continued. He talked about Girl Scouts selling cookies to support a cause you support, and then he tied in his take on Eminem’s recent freestyle in-support of Colin Kaepernick: “You need to be honest about the cookie. You can support the cause and still not like the cookie,” he said, affirming his take that Eminem’s track took on a worthy cause but the lyrics are “trash.”

The format of the discussion was supposed to build off of snippets of songs Schnipper had selected beforehand. You could tell from the first five minutes that the conversation was going to be hard to keep structured—they had barely made it through one song after the first 30 minutes.

“Trigga Witta Heart” was the first song Schnipper selected, playing a quick sound bite for audience reference. Staples gave a brief response to the selection, “I wrote all those songs in five minutes.” He continuously gave short responses to questions throughout the night, but once the initial thought stirred he’d elaborate, seemingly as an after-thought.

In regards to “Trigga Witta Heart” and his early career he mentioned his “thuggin’ baby pics” and close relationship with his mom, both grew up in Long Beach, California.

Staples also referenced another mom in the Q&A session: the YouTube mom who got upset at his song “Norf Norf” and its implications for young listeners. He admitted that the video was probably what he is most known for. He also admitted that if his nephew ever sang the lyrics to “Norf Norf” he’d make him start listening to Jason Derulo.

If the upset mom video is one of the biggest reasons people are aware of him, his Sprite sponsorship is a close second. When Schnipper questioned him about his Sprite allegiance, Staples responded with the reasons why it’s his favorite beverage without hesitation: “It’s caffeine-free, it’s vegan, they don’t test on animals.” He also mentioned that the entire Sprite Twitter account was modeled to look like his own feed and that he’s “proud to help the company moving forward.”

A Sprite sponsorship seems reasonably lucrative compared to the streaming statistics he rattled off. “’Big Fish Theory’ got five million streams the first day, that’s about $12,000. There’s a glass ceiling [in the industry], everything is free now.”

He continued to broaden the spectrum to all artistry, “All artists are broke and die at 30 … Tupac got f—-d over. Even Jesus got f—-d over!” He claimed to hate the word artist but in response to Schnipper asking if he is one he said, “Of course. Have you heard my music? … I be on my bulls—t sometimes.”

Fittingly, as the talk was held in the basement of a visual arts building, Staples stressed the importance of album artwork. He said he worked on the Summertime ‘06 artwork longer than the songs.

Throughout the talk’s duration Staples frequently referred to his manager, Corey Smyth, when answering questions. “I do whatever Corey tells me to do,” Staples said. “How’s that working out for you?” Schnipper questioned. “S—t we at the Pitchfork right now…” he responded.

Staples said Smyth started giving him rides home after studio sessions so he could stop carrying a gun on the dangerous commute. “Someone went to jail with that gun … Matter of fact I don’t know about that gun,” Staples said realizing he had a listening audience.

“It’s pretty hard to keep things off the record in a room full of people,” Schnipper joked. “At least we’re in a different state,” Staples quipped right back.

Staples didn’t make light of all things though, stressing that even though most of his 24-year-old friends don’t have bank accounts, rappers have to look like they have money to get people to listen to them.

“You don’t get to pick what you say and who you say it to at the beginning … When you have money you have more freedom.”

He talked about the makeup of his shows being approximately 80 percent white male college students, 4 percent female and 4 percent black. He said it is stressful to watch people in the crowd who don’t understand what you’re singing about.

“[You can be] in France and no one knows anything about you, all they know is that you shot someone in 10th grade.”

He continued to stress that most rappers don’t have millions, and that he needs money to help his friends through JPay and funding funeral services.

A few minutes before 7pm the event’s organizer announced, over six raised hands, that there was time for two more questions.

“This museum is closed – everyone gets a question,” Staples responded. The organizer obliged and the following 40-minute discussion session ranged from his new approach to music, “I’m limiting conjunctions, adjectives and fillers,” to gun control “Guns are cheaper than the iPhone… Guns are cheaper than MetroPCS! Until we get rid of guns people will keep dying.”

The already extensive hour and 45-minute conversation carried over to Twitter afterwards: Staples backed up his stance on the Eminem track and called out Pitchfork for taking it out of context because they’re “thirsty.”

Staples is perpetuating conversations we need to have through his music and commentary. He extended the conversation on Friday to answer all of the audience’s questions, he took to Twitter after the discussion to make his voice heard to people who weren’t in the audience. In this political climate it makes sense that Friday’s discussion is not yet finished.

Erin McAuliffe
Erin McAuliffe