Vince Staples is not one to be outdone by a beat. Vince Staples also always seems to be rapping over the most vicious beat imaginable. On his new EP Prima Donna, Staples follows up his expansive breakout album Summertime ’06 with a quick-hitting collection of verse heavy songs, the occasional catchy hook adding another element to the bouncy electronic atmosphere. Again, Staples presents fantastic lyricism, depicting an introspective glance at his life and come up in the rap game. The tape does fall into some of the typical follow-up EP traps. The 20 minutes are filled to the brim with fast moving bangers and the sound aesthetic is only a shade more developed than Staples’ last project, however, it is nice to hear from him again and it is clear that he has a long career in front of him.
One of the additions to Staples’ sound is small vocal interludes, in which he lazily repeats phrases from his songs. Although it is nice to hear something to contrast his usual aggressive style, admittedly these instances are a bit annoying. The choice to begin the tape in this manner is also a bit questionable. We first hear the dramatic click of a recording device then we hear Vince drone out the chorus from “This Little Light of Mine” for a long 42 seconds. Luckily, we are immediately thrust into Staples’ typical deliciously produced sonic landscape with a brief verse from Andre 3000 on “War Ready.” The impact is effortless yet powerful on this tune. In retrospect there are really only like 3 or 4 tracks happening, but the bouncing keyboard melody fits into the minimalist drum set-up perfectly. Next comes the catchiest tune on the EP. Pulling a lot of sounds from alternative rock, “Smile” thrives on the combination of infectious guitar playing and a crunchy electronic vocal effect. My only criticism of this song is how quick it flashes by. Although the track is over four minutes long, it seems like Staples has exhausted all of his ideas by about 2:50, before dragging the listener through another vocal interlude. The rest of the EP continues in a similar fashion. “Loco” features Staples unloading an impressive amount of words without even taking a breath, Kilo Kish adding a ghostly element to the dark overall texture. A$AP Rocky has a similar effect on “Prima Donna,” with plenty of fierce verses to go around on the last two songs.
In accordance with Staples’ long form video for this work, the main subject material on this EP is fame. On “War Ready,” the first verse makes connections between the black experience in America and situations of war, but the second touches upon how the rap game operates in a similar cutthroat manner. Lines like “They only fucking with the rapper if the rapper rich/Or got a platinum hit” and “the music interchangeable” criticize the emphasis on short-lived, catchy songs rather than more well thought out lyrical pieces. “Loco” provides an introspective narrative about what sounds like a slight breakdown at some point in Vince’s life. First highlighting a sexual encounter with a fan of his music, Staples gets to the point of “staring in the mirror with a 44…having Kurt Cobain dreams,” implying suicidal tendencies. Although certain aspects of his life have yielded him success, Vince clearly still finds himself wondering if he should keep going. Perhaps a coincidence, Staples uses a similar lyrical device to Kendrick Lamar from his breakdown on To Pimp a Butterfly’s “U.” Both songs feature a spanish-speaking female voice as a “housekeeper” knocking on the door as their episodes ensue. Vince does not seem to be the one to intentionally steal an idea, but it’s hard for me to not draw comparison.
The EP certainly doesn’t lack artistry, but it’s hard to see a real separation between these songs and those of last year. The hooks don’t make for a lot of replay value, verses are impressive, but lack newness, and the short vocal interludes add nothing more than length. Big fans of Vince will certainly not be disappointed by Prima Donna as the production value and wordplay do remain strong, but it is certainly not a project that will be remembered for years to come.
Nice to hear from Vince again but I don’t think this will be remembered as one of his best efforts.