In a year where hip-hop kicked up tufts of multicolored chalk while celebrating Chance the Rapper’s fluorescent fun house of swelling choruses and syrupy intonations, we almost forgot about the yellowed sidewalks and hallowed Jordans of Vince Staples. Chance squawked over gospel melodies, slung dizzying rhyme structures over effervescent beats, and aligned his walking stick with Kanye’s divisive path. The Chicago emcee, whose oversized hats and slinking posture grabbed America by its soul, was finally recognized with the warbling horns of Coloring Book. It was an album that cleansed popular hip-hop’s palate of vociferous, sometimes overindulgent, theatrics. Chance was laid back, and he enunciated with self-effacing glee. The artist appeared on SNL and flashed his skill, engaged with the audience, and eruditely shuffled around the nationally televised stage with confidence and conviction. Dude eschewed acerbic posturing in favor of watercolor reveries and children’s choirs. The zigzagging delivery and overcast production of Coloring Book was what 2016 needed: Levity, reflection, and fun was in short supply.
On the other side of the wall Chance the Rapper had constructed out of balloons, hushed vocals, and lamentations about lost friends, was a Long Beach rapper with the exact opposite aesthetic. Digging his cleats into monochrome landscapes, Vince Staples dropped Prima Donna on the unsuspecting public in 2016. An EP comprised of shark teeth thronged with newly torn flesh. The polar opposite of Chance’s Coloring Book, Vince stomped the pavement with a crown made of broken concrete, Outkast samples, and dulcet volleys of pain. As a storyteller, the lyricist from LBC uncorked beats that sounded uncompromising, gritty, and stung with California coarseness. Vince Staples’ flow on Prima Donna has West Coast punctuation. It’s both dirty and slick. The EP hits hairpin turns with adrenaline lacquered abandon. Here’s an emcee that uses early ’90s cadence, emboldens his structure with gallows humor, and speaks of mortality with a direct sense of fearlessness and resignation – Vince Staples sits on a teetering throne with one hand dangling in a tiger’s jaws.
Where Kendrick Lamar left off with 2012’s confessional masterpiece Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, Vince Staples picked up with 2014’s Hell Can Wait. The oozing, Daz Dillinger-like production, engulfed every Roman candle lyric. It was a debut that felt of MC Ren and the squid ink Raider black of yesteryear West Coast hip-hop. There’s an authenticity here that supersedes the superfluous antics of Tyler the Creator kickflipping over acid vats with clown shoes on. Wily, shock rap has been usurped by textured anthems of celebration and of pain. 2016 delivered two entirely different spectrums: the rainbow splotched hymns of Chance the Rapper and the muddied shoes and distant stares of Vince Staples. And it goes to show that the world needs both, especially with tumultuous uncertainty on the horizon.