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Vince Staples’ ‘Prima Donna’ shows listener artist’s inner struggles

Vince Staples, a Def Jam recording artist and 2015 XXL freshman cover man, released a seven-track EP on Aug. 26, titled “Prima Donna.” This is Staples’ first project since his debut studio album “Summertime ‘06” that dropped in 2015 to widespread critical acclaim.

The 23-year-old rapper from Long Beach, California is very different from the everyday, mainstream rapper. He is known for his dark lyrics and even darker subject matter.

Staples keeps to his reputation with “Prima Donna.” This concept project constantly revolves around the subject of self-doubt. He also touches on other issues, such as racism, gang violence, poverty and government corruption.

When artists release a short album, they always put themselves at risk of a smaller margin of error. “Prima Donna,” as a whole, is about a 20 to 25-minute listen, so Staples needed to be very direct with the message that he wanted to convey to the listener, which he successfully accomplished in his EP.

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The concept of the album is shown in the intro track, “Let it Shine,” where it is Staples singing the children’s gospel song, “This Little Light of Mine.” Staples creatively flips this inspirational song into a dark experience with his extremely gritty tone. After Vince sings the song to himself, a gunshot goes off and it is presumed that he has just killed himself.

This conceptual tale of self-doubt is then progressively told in reverse. At the end of almost every song, there is a short snippet of the artist talking to himself, and the listener is taken step by step backward to Staples’ initial moments of suicidal thoughts.

The songs have very non-traditional hip-hop beats, and Staples’ flow may come off as incoherent. This EP should not be played as background music. Staples’ intent is to have the listener sit down and focus on what he is saying. This album is complex; it definitely needs to be listened to more than a single time. The listener will pick up more and more of what the project is actually about as they get used to the production and they can focus more on the brilliant lyrics that Staples is rapping.

The second track, “War Ready,” continues the tone set by the intro. Staples is known for being a “gangster rapper,” where a lot of his subject matter is derived from.

This track sets the tone lyrically, as Staples has some excellent wordplay, such as “woke up feeling like the walls caved in. Fought to the death, never gave in. Write that on the grave that I get laid in. Heaven, Hell, free or jail, same s–t — county jail bus, slave ship, same s–t.”

Staples’ delivers lyrics like this consistently throughout the project and keeps his dark subject matter consistent with each passing song.

The listener will get a better listening experience, and a greater appreciation for what Staples is talking about, from this EP if they read the lyrics as they listen to the songs. One arguable weakness of this project is that the beats have a very electronic, noisy feel to them. This can be interpreted as off-putting to some, possibly taking away from Staples’ lyricism.

“Prima Donna” may not yet be played on the radio, but Staples’ fans should be very pleased with this project as he sticks to the roots that built his following.

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