Natural charisma is all he needs
“Move your body if you came here to party,” Vince Staples orders over skeletal production and staccato beats. The capacity audience doesn’t need the prompt: they’ve been bouncing since the moment the Long Beach rapper was revealed, silhouetted against the stage-wide orange screen during the opening bars of ‘Party People’. “How I’m supposed to have a good time when death and destruction’s all I see?” he continues to the sea of phone screens bobbing violently before him.
The mood is celebratory in spite of the gritty lyrical context, but then issue-driven bangers are Staples’ forte. And never more so than on his latest album, ‘Big Fish Theory’, on which he tackles institutional racism, gentrification and the dark underbelly of fame over the muscular, industrial production and fractured beats courtesy of Sophie, Flume, GTA and Jimmy Edgar.
From the first play, the frenetic, minimalist ‘BagBak’ felt purpose-built for live shows, so it’s unsurprising that it’s greeted like a classic tonight, with hundreds chanting, “Tell the president to suck a dick, because we on now.”
Staples himself cuts a low key presence during his 70 minutes on stage, switching between prowling the stage and cooly surveying the audience’s adoration during ‘BagBak’, and remaining static at the mic stand, head bowed, throughout the instrumental breaks of ‘Birds and Bees’. There’s no DJ, no hype man, just Staples rapping over a thunderously loud mix of his tracks.
Occasionally he plays the game (whipping the crowd up to a frenzy during ‘War Ready’ and leading a call and response during ‘Norf Norf’) but he’s less an eager showman than he is a natural entertainer by virtue of his talent. There’s a sense his narratives are spun through gritted teeth, but that’s part of the appeal. From the bone-rattling subs underpinning ‘Lift Me Up’ to the car engines that announce set-highlight ‘745’, this is a purposely abrasive party set and all the more irresistible for it.
Vince Staples @ O2 Forum, London on Wednesday 30 August 2017