If Long Beach, California rapper Vince Staples was not making a living as a rapper, he could, without a doubt, stand out in a world of stand-up comics. He is impeccably and instantly responsive during interviews, displaying a wide breadth of knowledge.
Staples brought that same zealous demeanor to Columbus on Wednesday. The Def Jam artist displayed an equal amount of dynamism and wit that kept the sold-out crowd at A&R Music Bar engaged for his set. The condensed venue size provided an intimate setting for Staples to share his extremely personal anecdotes.
A majority of the visions that Staples painted on Wednesday night came from the 22-year-old rapper’s double LP “Summertime ’06.” The album was, fittingly, one of the most critically acclaimed projects to drop during the warmer months of 2015. If it was not for Kendrick Lamar’s rare gift (“To Pimp a Butterfly”) to hip-hop that same year, “Summertime ‘06” may have claimed the title of most well-received rap release.
Before the California artist greeted the stage with his presence, the ominous deserted beach soundtrack/interlude that introduces and breaks up the album creepily echoed throughout the concert hall. Thirty seconds passed before Staples stormed out onto the stage, energetically opening with the brash statement that is “Lift Me Up.” The crowd immediately reacted with charged bouncing at the sight of Staples, something that was absent during the set from opener and Columbus rap staple Copywrite.
The only moment of the concert more hype than the LBC emcee’s entrance was the show’s outros: “Señorita” and 2014’s head-turning single “Blue Suede,” a track that his most-tenured fans constantly called for throughout the night. However, before the beat to “Señorita” was queued, Staples ordered the crowd to free their limbs. The plea resulted in an outbreak of chaos highlighted by a mass of bodies swarming the stage.
The crowd was responsive to Staples’ demands because of the conversational and familiar tone he established from the onset. Like the Louis C.K.s and Kevin Harts of the world, the early-20s emcee was impressive when creating comical commentary and banter with random concertgoers. From poking fun at a couple in the crowd with a few slight, yet harmless, jabs to preluding his performance of “Loca” with dialogue concerning post-International Women’s Day, Staples treated his stop in Columbus personally.
A reason why Staples may have gone down the path of rapping instead of veering off into another entertainment medium or living a low-key life is his rare ability to translate foreign stories to listeners. The rapper often mentions that “Summertime ‘06” provided him the platform to relay the description of a lifestyle that only himself and a few others can provide first-hand accounts of. Performances of “Norf Norf” and “3230” told stories of gang violence and survival, while the seriously animated facial expressions of Staples added to the surreal and serious nature of the content he was purveying.
There were few songs that he performed outside of “Summertime ’06,” but pre-debut-album tracks sparked just as much excitement in the audience as ones from his latest LP. Early on in Staples’ set he performed “Nate,” another 2014 release. The widespread reaction was further proof that those in attendance knew of the rapper’s roots before he completely surfaced from the depths of the rap game.
For the most part, Staples maintained his visceral veracity throughout the show, but as the concert approached its end around 10:30 p.m., the rapper opened up about a personal health condition. Earlier in the show he kindly asked the audience to blow smoke away from the stage on account of his asthma, joining a list of rappers (Lil Wayne, Tyler, The Creator) known for sharing the same chronic disease. With a few tracks left in his set, Staples, out of breath, covered his face and took a puff from his inhaler. This was necessary if the LBC spitter wanted to finish the concert on a positive and boisterous chord, which he unquestionably did.
Staples is still only the age of many Ohio State seniors, yet when he addressed Columbus on Wednesday he displayed wisdom far beyond his years. The horrific events that he experienced firsthand would make most people desensitized to the world. Instead, Staples made it his mission with “Summertime ‘06” to shed light on the truth and debunk the rumors of gang life. That lifestyle is relatively unknown to most of his fans, but the deep connections he made in Columbus on Wednesday allowed the message to come across clearly.