A couple days after Vince Staples’ sold out show at the 9:30 Club, a good friend of mine asked me a perplexing question worthy of discussion: How does Vince Staples only have 703K followers on Instagram? If you actually think about it, that question really does tap into something unique about Staples, something that continues to carry this singular talent outside of the rulebook of popularity not just in the opus of modern hip hop, but of modern music. See the thing about Vince Staples is that he doesn’t really give a fuck about followers, about “outreach,” about anything you’d find in a “how-to” manual for maintaining stardom. In Staples’ world, the things that matter are things most artists pay tribute to out of obligation; things like honesty, authenticity, and a creative reckless hunger more often found in an upstart than someone selling out venerable venues with ease.
All of this creates an aura around Staples that this dude, who came out swinging with 2014’s Hell Can Wait and has followed up every year with EPs and LPs pushing him even farther into a singular category of hip hop, is serious. His performance at 9:30 Club was isolated by design, with only himself on stage supported by a massive digital screen behind him. Staples forces you to keep your attention glued on him; he forces you to remember that while you’re bouncing to classics like “NORF NORF,” lyrics like “Ridin’ ’round wit’ the same shotgun that shot Ricky” are real and allude to something deep in Staples’ memories growing up in North Long Beach, CA. But that’s the beauty of Staples. He has no curtain, no facade. The man you see gracing every inch of 9:30’s stage is the same man you’d see if you ran into him out in the real world. His energy is that of an artist who has made countless songs tapping into sonic influences spanning west coast hip hop, electronic house, and something you’d hear in a Berlin nightclub where everyone is wearing jean jackets with “fuck Nazis” patches. To call it eclectic is to do so for the sake of summation, but it’s just Vince Staples.
Of the two opening acts, praise must be reserved for Buddy, a 25-year old Compton rapper whose performance served as an introduction to many in the crowd. And while Buddy’s performance was more in line with what you’d expect from a “traditional” hip hop show (i.e. DJ on stage, very minimal, shirt off, etc.), the content of his words points to a razor’s edge befitting of a young man who came up under the guidance of Pharrell Williams. As he ran through songs like “Black” and “Trouble on Central” (both off of his polished 2019 debut Harlan & Alondra), you began to see his appeal to a demographic that respects the raw biographical social commentary of a Kendrick Lamar but prefers the more universal stylings of a Schoolboy Q. Much like Vince Staples, Buddy has no veneer shielding the showman from the audience; he is who he is without apology, without minced words.
Vince Staples and Buddy are two artists who admittedly or not look at the parameters of fame and recognition and, in their own voices, say “nah.” Their live performances could not have been more different, but their lyrics and personas stem from the same undercurrent not quantifiable by double tapping a screen.