For those not keyed into rap's latest come-ups, we present a series introducing the most notable 90s babies of the moment.
90s Babies Rap by Christopher Alley
90s Babies Rap: Vince Staples
Lil’ Bow Wow died for our sins. Whenever you turn on “106 and Park”, spill out a little Capri Sun out for young Shad, the ghost of a kid once slated to be the preteen Snoop, then the teenage T.I, then the male Lil’ Mama. Rechristened simply “Bow Wow”, he probably didn’t expect to see his career plateau as one of the many charisma vacuums populating video countdown shows. Those Viacom checks are nothing to sneeze at, but the eternally lil’ homie was probably hoping to at least reach loftier heights than Nick Cannon or the legion of adorable boxcar tramps that Jermaine Dupri banked on before him.
The music industry is much more forgiving for child stars than the film and TV industries have been. But for young rappers, there’s still the ever-looming fear of dreams deferred and a career that never surpasses mediocrity. LL Cool J was 17 when he blew up. Biggie, Nas, Pac, Snoop, Common, and Big L were all around 20. But for the most part their youth wasn’t the focal point. When is the last time you thought of Biggie being a young dude fresh out his teens? But he was. It’s all in the presentation: appearing young and being young are two different things. This is why Lil’ Wayne, who popped at 17, doesn’t feel like a 32-year-old man while Snoop has seemed 40 since Tha Doggfather.
How to be a successful young rapper? Don’t give the impression of being young. Ain’t no growing pains if you’re already grown. Don’t get locked up. Don’t get shot. Don’t compromise. Don’t be average.
And don’t talk to Jermaine Dupri.
Cheap technology’s got us lousy with promising MCs barely over the drinking age. For those not keyed into rap’s latest come-ups, we present this weekly series of the most notable 90s babies of the moment.
Vince Staples – (21) Long Beach, California
The no-nonsense menace of Freddie Gibbs in a cynical Crip package. An Odd Future affiliation. A breakout verse that’s being hailed as one of the greatest in years (from Earl’s 2013 single “Hive”). If not one of the most gripping, lucid writers in this current crop, he’s definitely one of the most easily championed.
Recent interviews on VladTV and with Pitchfork paint him as the kind of gangsta rapper for people with – given that you can differentiate people based on their consumption of violent entertainment – a more mature understanding of the environments and lives portrayed in the now almost 30(!)-year-old subgenre. Being cold about selling crack to indigent people and murdering enemies, women, families, babies, and so on became an arms race of fiction ridiculousness pretty early on in gangsta rap. Straight-up writing about things they hadn’t experienced, at times even removing all radical/prescriptive elements from rap. Dumb people loved that shit. White fans, often with no sense of obligation to the communities that they endlessly dispossess of stability with their prosperity and privilege, loved that shit. But at some point you need a balance, a moral, a respite.
In his Pitchfork profile, Staples calls out the rappers and fans who are complicit in what basically amounts to a glorification of death and poverty. To wit, Staples said:
...that’s my problem with fucking trap music: People are rapping about killing niggas and selling fucking drugs all day, but it sounds happy — that’s bullshit. That shit’s stressful: You’re not going to make no fucking money, somebody’s going to end up dead, and you’re not going to be able to pay for his funeral because his mom probably don’t fuck with him like that, and he don’t got health insurance. So now you have to do a fucking car wash to pay for somebody’s funeral and bury him in some cheap shit. Where’s that song? If you listen to shit about niggas being in a position where they have no hope, there should be nothing at peace about that. There’s a way to do it to where it’s listenable and likable, but it shouldn’t just be some happy stuff.
It’s refreshing, it’s no bullshit, and it’s just a sample of a four-paragraph diatribe that should be screen-printed on a fucking shirt somewhere. It’s real talk. Where is that song? Early East Coast rap was full of it. Southern rap was always rich in the details of suffering. West Coast rap played both sides of the coin, but for the most part there’s was always an aim in it. Deifying an artist for philosophical position alone is dangerous, if not selling them short. Luckily, that dedication to “realness” comes out in his music, which contains some of the smartest, most urgent tracks around right now.
He just released his first official EP: Hell Can Wait. Go check it.