There’s a fine line between exhaustion-induced lethargy and apathy – especially when trying to assess the raw, often unmasked demeanour of Vince Staples. It’s been over three years since the LA-based rapper made waves with his debut EP ‘Hell Can Wait’, and even longer since most people would’ve stumbled upon him via Earl Sweatshirt‘s acclaimed 2013 effort ‘Doris’. Rapping’s what he does, but it’s not all he does. Late last year, when asked whether he was more famous for his work with Sprite or rapping, Staples was quick to respond. “Interviews. I’m more famous for interviews than either one…” Why is all of this important? Because it paints the picture of an artist who is extremely self-aware and in control of his star-studded ride through fame.
At Sydney’s Enmore Theatre, smoke billows from the stage, masking the large LED screen that will soon provide the backdrop for Staples’ performance. Dark orange lights shootout over the crowd as rhythmic repeated chants build amongst the crowd. “Aye! Aye! Aye! Aye!”, we chant, calling Staples out to prove to us what he’s got. The remnants of his sombre intro track rinse out into the crowd’s welcoming cheers, making way for the jittery “Homage” as his unmistakable silhouette swaggers to centre stage. It’s in this first part of the show that Staples opts to flaunt his unorthodox flow, backing up “Homage” with “BagBak” and “Ascension”, his recent Gorillaz feature.
“So, ya’ll having a good time, right!?” he calls out before injecting another quick-fire burst of energy into the crowd with “Party People” and “Big Fish”. A short intermission follows, brought to a close by the soothing voice of Ty Dolla Sign on “Rain Come Down”, one of the more sobering moments on ‘Big Fish Theory’. Whether intentional or unintentional, it also symbolises the momentary end of ‘Big Fish Theory’, as Staples pays respect to some of his longer-standing fans with a string of certified bangers from his debut breakthrough record ‘Summertime ’06’.
Arriving as a stark reminder of just how much his sound has shifted in a very short amount of time, “Señorita”, “Lift Me Up” and “3230” follow swiftly, inciting frenzied moshpits and enthused chanting. After a brief pause, it’s time to dive straight back into ‘Big Fish Theory’, with “Love Can Be…” leading the charge. It’s at this point where Staples’ lethargy seems most apparent; with shoulders hunched and head hung low, he drags his sluggish body back and forth across the stage in the moments where his voice wasn’t needed. “Little Bit Of This” and Major Lazer‘s remix of “Ghost” lead us subtly into another intermission, with both cuts forcing Staples and the crowd to step up the energy.
The final third of the set sees Staples deliver a string of sly one-two combinations and haymakers. “745” leads the attack, heralding an out and out singalong with the audience. The mellow mood succeeded by “Lemme Know” and “Birds and the Bees” is eventually broken by “Big Time”, which is strangely the only cut from ‘Prima Donna’ to feature on the set. A one-two punch follows in the form of “Blue Suede” and “Yeah Right”. “My name is Vince Staples,” he calmly announces, before unleashing one final haymaker in “Norf Norf”. A solemn bow and a peace sign in the air concludes the night; Staples strolls off the stage with no plan to return.
Vince Staples definitely knows how to put on a good show. However, it must be said: he knows how to play both characters so well – the apathetic gangsta rapper and the dynamic entertainer, musician and performer – making it extremely difficult to be sure exactly which one made their way onto the Enmore Theatre stage on Saturday night. Regardless, with his high-energy and sobering flows, unique ability to write bars over just about any beat, and raw interview antics at hand, Staples’ long-term success as an artist seems almost certain at this point.
Photos by Jayden Gocher.