Vince Staples’ “Prima Donna” is aggressively experimental

Long Beach’s finest rapper furthers his fiery assault with heavy subject matter and minimalist production.

Kyle Kohner, Writer

Despite maintaining a low profile, Staples’ skill as a rapper is undeniable, constantly churning out some of the most confrontational and bodacious bangers in the game. With “Prima Donna,” Staples dishes out the grimiest beats and a strikingly experimental sound.

A Monumental Force

Vince Staples developed into a monumental force with his double LP debut of “Summertime ‘06” in 2015. The Long Beach native returns with a seven track EP which will surely further his stardom.

Picking up where “Summer ’06” left off, “Prima Donna” is cold and dark. Jittery and restive percussion weaves through each song, allowing distorted basslines to drone through Staples’ fiery bars for a heavy, nebulous sound as a result of the stellar production from James Blake. With his second release under the Def Jam label, Staples caters simple and accessible lyrics, yet they pack a weightier message than most would anticipate. Themes of gang violence in North Long Beach make this EP an emotional investment with sparks of controversy. Nevertheless, these are the type of transparent conversations needed when all elation has been reduced to ashes by one of the most gang-ridden places in the nation.

Somber Mood

The EP’s narrative begins with “Let It Shine,” Staples’ rendition of the famous Sunday school song, which introduces this album’s eerie tone. In the 42-second intro, Staples slides in a cassette to record the little hymn only to abruptly end it with an apparent fatal, self-inflicted gunshot. Immediately, a somber mood entrenches the album in despair, depicting the tragic process of losing innocence.

After the abrupt gunshot, a sample of Andre 3000’s verse from Outkast’s “ATLiens” cuts in on an industrial loop in the sonic “War Ready.” Despite the slow tempo of Staples’ flow, the thunderous base provides an incredible dynamic for the song.

Experimental and Ominous

The electric guitar driven “Smile” chimes in after “War Ready” with Staples’ most experimental and ominous sound yet. Staples’ fleshes out his alluring vocals exceptionally in this genre-crossing track. At the 2:48 mark, “Smile” suddenly transitions into another cryptic cassette tape recording of Staples’ murmuring about depression, “Sometime I feel like giving up/ Sometimes I want to kill myself.” Staples’ constant self-examination exuding from these early tracks are reminiscent of the poem Kendrick Lamar elaborates upon in “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Staples appears to be pushing a character gradually falling into depression; so far it is effective.

In “Loco,” Staples veers away from the lazy flow in the previous track in favor of parading fiery bars. Staples and Kilo Kish display energetic chemistry in the midst of the heavy claps with an oddball techno loop.

Despite the unnecessary A$AP Rocky bridge, the title track shows exactly why he is one of the most underrated rappers in the game. Staples’ delivery is simple but extremely effective. His fast chops provide contrasting energy for the elongated and lackluster bridge while maintaining coherent lyrics as they are delivered.

“Pimp hand” is much of the same from the title track, yet Staples goes with a simple trap beat this time around.

Big Time” is a deflating ending for an album of great lyrics, for which the lush and atmospheric production compensates. Blake meshes in more of the jittery drumlines with buzzing synths to produce a whirring, minimalist sound to accompany Staples’ passionate flow.

Despite the small number of tracks, Staples has shown his willingness to experiment, giving no compromise in his unique sound. Although there is a lack of radio-friendly material on “Prima Donna,” the strong musicianship on this EP looks towards the future of Staples’ ever-evolving style.


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