On Monday night at a small venue above Austin’s liquor drenched Sixth Street, artist Vince Staples came on stage in a hoodie emblazoned with the name of his hometown and white wash jeans. The 22-year-old rapper, out of Long Beach, California, spoke into the mic with his mouth too close, blurring his words as the packed room buzzed. Staples then broke into verse, in his element and clearly in control, each word suddenly crisp and resonant.
This show was part of the “Circa ’06” tour, a two-part nationwide tour following the release Staples’ debut LP, Summertime ’06. The album itself is a specific but still accessible tribute to growing up and to the dull pain that often accompanies the experience of waking life. During the set Staples often tells the crowd to bounce, to put their hands up, to move with him, and they do all of this unabashedly. He is dynamic and has the room with him from the start of the set. There is a vibe in the shadowy room that we are in the presence of an artist who is able to create a meeting between dark and light.
Live, Vince Staples is affable and sincere. On stage he appears full of a joy that beats mercifully against the fear and ache that his lyrics convey. His performance of “Lift Me Up” serves as musical catharsis as the crowd raps along with him, “And my pain is never over, pills and potions fix me up / I just want to live it up, can a motherfucker breathe? / Life ain’t always what it seems, so please just lift me up / Lift me up, lift me up, lift me up, lift me up, lift me up.”
Vince Staples’ first EP, titled Hell Can Wait, is a short and menacing debut. Released in 2014, Hell Can Wait is a powerful testimony of youth and of blackness in contemporary America. On “Hands Up” Staples echoes dialogue familiar and polarizing, confronting the cruelty of institutionalized racism and police violence in society. In a salient moment Staples articulates the heart of cries for justice, “Shoot him first without warning / And they expect respect and non-violence / I refuse the right to be silent.”
The live set is composed mainly of tracks from the namesake of the tour, Summertime ’06, but Staples ends the show with a track from the Hell Can Wait EP. He says thank you, his humility tempering his fire, and then he cuts into this final piece. It feels as though the crowd’s energy could crush the room itself. He is rapping about Jordans and longing on “Blue Suede” and he is so fucking alive. As his voice envelopes all of us I am left thinking of Elvis, of all the rides on the C train into Ralph Avenue with this song on repeat, of the inevitability of death that people always talk about but how they don’t ever mention the inevitability of life. Vince Staples repeats again, “Hope I outlive them red roses.”