Vince Staples has returned with his new EP “Prima Donna” once again proving that he’s one of the most individual and exciting voices in music today.
As someone who often shines the light on the darker and grimier parts of society, Vince continues further with this theme, this time telling the story of a rap star’s struggle as he comes to terms with his new found fame. With production from NoID, James Blake, and DJ Dahi, Vince redefines the normal expectations of the album formula, creating a piece that works sequentially both front to back and back to front.
It’s a concept that’s both alternative and intriguing and is why Vince is an artist who is so highly revered within the genre today, simply because he really does think differently from too many other artists. Often it seems like he’s trolling the stereotypes and expectations of a typical hip-hop artist but whether you like or dislike what he says, he always provides a genuine and deeply thought out response to any answer he gives.
Which translates into the music he makes, the production Vince chooses in “Prima Donna” is meticulously thought out to replicate the narrative he’s trying to tell. Often erratic and aggressive, it is as important as the lyrics in this album to paint the sonic story he is trying to tell. Which is something you’d expect from someone who says it takes him 3-4 months to write one of his tracks.
Beginning with the opener (or closer if you’re listening to the narrative back to front) “Let It Shine”. When you plug in an album you want to be gripped from the get go and Vince knows this, but instead of grabbing your attention with a heavy hitter, the song opens with Vince murmuring the words to the gospel track “This Little Light of Mine”. It grips you for sure, but it isn’t what you expect, putting the listener at ease until you hear the fire of a gunshot, which immediately puts you on edge.
Which takes you straight into the James Blake produced track “War Ready” that samples the Outkast classic “ATLiens”. A true gem from the album, Vince is often rewarded for his lyrical prowess which again is on show here but it’s his flow, with a similar bounce to that of “Norf Norf”, which is on point and clearly shows a real understanding with Blake as a producer. It’s a collaboration nobody properly saw coming but one that needs to continue in the future.
Each track from then on is a standalone banger. I say that “War Ready” is a gem but the rap/rock fusion of “Smile” to the bounce of “Loco” with Kilo Kish and the EP title track “Prima Donna” alongside A$AP Rocky, could all easily gain a press on the repeat button.
But it’s the cohesiveness of this album as a whole that is where its true strengths lie. As the narrative grows in reverse from Vince’s breakdown and suicide at the start, to the braggadocio of hitting the “Big Time” at the end, it makes it difficult to pull out an individual track to play. A play on a single track feels more like you’re picking up from that part in the narrative.
Vince has an ability that few others do to immerse you in the mind-set of the character he portrays and it’s a style that we haven’t heard done well for a while. “Summertime ’06” showed what Vince was capable of but in “Primma Donna”, he has asserted himself as one of the best if not the best new storyteller in rap today. In a time where it seems like quantity of content will get you to the top of the rap mountain, Vince shows that quality will always shine through, even from the darkest of content.