Long Beach, California-based rapper Vince Staples has always been an outlier, for me anyway. From his first appearance in the music industry via California-based alternative hip hop collective Odd Future to working with the late Mac Miller to his unapologetic stance about the dark side of the business, he has always been charting the unbeaten path.  While his music is a hit-and-miss, for me, I did enjoy more than a handful of his past songs and for a short while, I sometimes get him mixed up with Vic Mensa for some weird reason. Both did appear in the annual XXL Freshman class, Vic appeared in 2014 and Vince a year later. Nevertheless, Vince has never shied away from being blunt, straying from the norm and just doing things his way. Speaking of blunt, Vince did get a lot of flack for some of his comments regarding 90s hip-hop music and its influence which he admittedly is not fond of. He is entitled to his opinion like everyone else but on the other hand, he sometimes jumps the gun when it comes to statements like this especially when he is passionate about his stance. However, this piece is not exactly about Vince Staples’ music per se of his random outburst but rather his new foray into filmmaking.


When I heard Vince was developing a TV Show on Netflix, I was somewhat enthused by the idea going by his past and albeit brief appearances on flicks like Dope!, the new White Men Can’t Jump and a handful of voice acting gigs. It wasn’t like Vince stood out in those films but his mannerisms and laidback unassuming demeanour in interviews always had me wondering if he is genuine or not. He often comes across as a down-to-earth person who is not blinded by the wealth and fame he has accrued for himself. He doesn’t wear gaudy outfits, bedazzled diamond chains or designer suits and for the most part, he appears to carry himself like every other young man trying to make something out of nothing. With that being said, I finally watched the 5 episode Netflix release of the eponymous show and it begs a lot of questions that don’t need answering but I would ask them anyway.


Let us start from the beginning, what is this show about? It comes across as a way of portraying Vince Staples as a struggling artist of some sort. Struggling in the sense that, he achieved some form of “fame and notoriety” without any major benefits. Don’t get me wrong, the show’s take on his music career is light or almost nonexistent but he doesn’t come across as being broke either so sometimes I’m wondering, does he have it or not? It’s akin to the defunct Black Jesus show where the titular character performs acts of wonder implicitly. It’s never shown on screen but things always go his way someway somehow. Well, as for Vince Staples, it’s similar as he finds himself in a weird unexplainable bind but in the end, things get resolved but most times with underlining consequences.




Now, let’s look at the who. Who is he in the show? It’s obvious he plays a fictionalized version of himself but besides that, we don’t get a deep backstory besides a few glimpses into his extended family during a gathering that ended tragically. The family dynamics are skewed and the use of non-linear narration allows the show producers to push the envelope as opposed to doing the same things over and over. Regarding his love life, it’s a mixed bag with some trope elements but we must recognize Andrea Ellsworth for playing the hell out of the Deja role. Her presence is commanding and the screen time she got truly showed her acting chops as she carried the character with such poise and emotion. The chemistry between Deja and Vince is convincing and the differences between their character traits are akin to a hot knife through butter as seen in the episode where Vince takes her and her nephews out to a fictional resort/theme park called Surf City where they all get into all manners of shenanigans. I was hoping we get to see more of Deja and Vince but instead, she was more vested in the welfare of the kids while Vince showed no interest in being there at all and even continued to berate the older kid who looked up to him.  To make things worse, Vince gets caught up in a wild goose chase to purchase fast food from a secret spot in the resort and ends up witnessing an off-kilter magic show before being chased and pummelled by a group of Surf City mascots for an earlier disrespectful treatment Vince meted out to one of them. The entire segment is surreal, hilarious and goofy because ain’t no way a mascot is secretly a highly skilled martial artist. My boy Vince had no chance of winning that fight and he got beat up so badly but on the flip side, maybe he deserved it because he truly was being a dick to the kids and his girlfriend.  Also, the short segment involving Deja and Vince’s mum played by Vanessa Bell Calloway is an electrifying segway into the mother and potential daughter-in-law bonding and also a hilarious and highly dramatic take on dysfunctional family activities.


The how question will let us look at how the stories are told, and how the characters’ lives are woven together. Once again, the show uses an interesting but not-so-novel approach to storytelling. That is not to say the narratives and recurring motifs are boring or mundane but rather, they use frames that have been done before and revamp them in ingenious ways. The cookout scene is atypical and it focuses on certain characters besides Vince himself, matter of fact he plays a side character in this episode and viewers get to see how others view him. The final scene where Vince is being chased by Whiteboy is reminiscent of Paper Boy being robbed and almost losing his mind in the woods. The lead-up to Whiteboy and Vince’s altercation started on a light note when Vince goes to his former high school to talk to the kids but unfortunately, no one knows who he is (this is a running gag throughout the series) and worse, they don’t seem interested in what he has to say. On the flip side, Whiteboy’s son was in attendance and he accosts Vince after he finished his speech. Their brief encounter ended with the kid explicitly stating that his dad doesn’t like Vince. To the audience, we still don’t know the extent of the animosity between these two men till they finally meet in the parking lot and a shootout occurs. That is not even the craziest part as White Boy used the rest of the episode to haunt Vince with his kid in the back seat. In my head, I am thinking, Whiteboy can’t be carrying a decade-old grudge just to risk his life or freedom to kill an unknown rapper but the writers decide to leave out the true backstory so it’s just left for us to fill that in. A nice touch added by the writers was a flashback scene that chronicles Vince’s childhood in a few minutes where we finally see his father and the aftermath of him going to jail and how it changed Vince’s life forever. Not one to give out spoilers but the final episode uses a not-so-subtle but brilliant callback to the first episode where we see Vince and Deja together on the couch to good effect and helps tie the 5 part season together seamlessly. I must add, the how is the strongest element the writers and producers have. The use of subtle motifs, foreshadowing and dark humour to drive the story forward is impeccable but unfortunately, it will be compared to Atlanta.


The why question is still boggling me. Why should we care for Vince Staples? According to the show, he is hood famous but not famous enough to be mugged on the streets by fans. A few cops are enamoured by his songs but not enough to give him a free pass. Most of the characters he meets don’t even acknowledge his success besides a handful ranging from his girl, mum, uncles and maybe that obnoxious fan he met in the first episode. For most of the season, Vince walks around with an aloof demeanour like he is just trying to make it through the day and doesn’t have any other purpose. He is not anchored by his musical endeavours, or the little money he made (seems to be the breadwinner to some degree) and he mostly floats freely through life while finding ways to get himself into weird surreal situations. He has been beaten up by lifesize puppets, racially profiled by overzealous cops, threatened by irrational thugs, and almost killed by a high school mate but yet he comes out unscathed and ready to move on like it’s nothing. This could be a metaphor for his true life resilience but for me, it leaves me asking for more.

Food for thought, do the dishes.



I have plans on fully revisiting his entire catalogue shortly but in the meantime, you can watch it on Netflix and let me know what you think.

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