In The Lab with Vince Staples

Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)

He might not have made the XXL Freshmen 2014 cover, but Long Beach, California rapper Vince Staples is most certainly one of the up-and-comers worth watching for this year. Since we first took notice to his talents on the Alchemist-produced posse cut “Elimination Chamber,” Vince has dropped a handful of high-quality joints, such as his Mac Miller aka Larry Fisherman-produced project Stolen Youth, and his most recent release Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2, which features a bulky amount of production by No I.D., and a duet with his Def Jam labelmate Jhene Aiko.

But regardless of who’s making his beats, it’s Vince’s value as a lyricist that deserves attention. His bars are potent and honest, with a non-fiction, no bullshit approach to songwriting, and a laidback, West Coast delivery made for low-riding. Just peep the flow on his collabo with Boldy James “Give Me a Reason” for proof. Vince Staples got skills, and he’s got a story to tell with them, too.

To find out more about how Vince cooks up his product, we connected with him recently for our latest In The Lab feature to discuss his first time recording, how he selects his beats and writes his rhymes, and his work-mode preferences. Turns out that it’s all a pretty chill and effortless process for Vince, but his vision is clear, and his daily goals are laid out and focused. Find out more below, and stay tuned for the next batch of dope Vince Staples music dropping soon.

First Recording

Vince Staples: “First time I ever rapped was with a homie, he had a studio downstairs at his grandma’s house. I was over there every day kickin’ it. She wasn’t in the house at the time, and I just did it one day. It wasn’t like, ‘I’m about to start rapping,’ it just happened. I didn’t give a fuck about no raps at the time. I was like 15, 16. You know when you’re young and you do what your homie do? It was one of those type of situations. I know one of the first songs was [over] the ‘More Milli’ beat with Drake and Birdman.”

Studio Set-up/Preferences

“I got a location where I record at in The Valley. No I.D. works out of there, Common works out of there. It’s called Bay 7. It’s a big studio in terms of the equipment they have, but it’s not an overbearing situation. I don’t like nobody being around when I record. It’s needless. Nobody needs to be there if you’re not doing something. I prefer it to be that way. Sometimes [the producer’s not even there]. If I already got the beats, they can go home [and I just work with the engineer].”

Daily Routine

“I don’t be focused on [a routine]. A lot of people probably do, and they be stressed out, like, ‘I gotta rap every day, I gotta record.’ It’s not really like that [for me]. I don’t like to be [in the studio] for a long time, so whatever time period I have set, I try to get the most done that I can. Most of the time, we have a certain producer coming, or a certain agenda. I always go in there with a plan of what I’m about to do. I like to knock a lot out at one time.”

Writing

“I’m not writing on no paper, I just put it in my phone. [Laughs.] It don’t really matter [where I write], it’s wherever it comes to me. I don’t really try to stress it. You don’t ever just find me sitting down trying to write a song. There’s no need to force it. It’s always been easy to me. You just gotta know how to work it. It’s about confidence. If you have confidence in what you’re saying, it’s gonna come out [easily]. No one’s gonna be as critical of you as you are of yourself. But if you feel it’s gonna be hard, then [the listener] is gonna be able to tell you had a hard time writing the song.”

Studio Essentials

“It just can’t be too cold. Studios be cold as fuck for no reason. But I’m simple. As long as I got some type of food and it’s not too cold, I’m straight.”

Inspiration

“I don’t wanna hear nobody [else’s] music [as inspiration for my own]. I don’t wanna listen to nobody’s shit. If anything, I’ll listen to something that I’ve done in the past to figure out where I should go next. [Rapping from my perspective], that’s it. That’s my purpose. People depict certain pictures and stuff, but I don’t really gotta do that. [My music is] based on the way I look at certain situations in life.”

Picking Beats

“I always have a specific direction I want to go when I’m making a project, so I just try to explain that as well as I can to the producer, and let him figure it out. Because if I’m picking the beats, someone else might hear something differently than the way I hear it. So if I give them the vision, and help guide the vision, they’ll probably end up giving me something better than I would’ve picked in the long run.”

Recording Vocals

“I just got to the point where I can do different type of shit in the booth, as far as inflections go and shit like that. I’m getting better at that, but I’m still learning. I hate ad-libs, but everything is important. I’m starting to understand what’s what.”

Winter in Prague

“That was Michael [Uzowuru's] idea, as far as what the sound was going to be and what he was trying to pull off. Most of the beats were already done. That could’ve been an instrumental project, and it still would’ve [been laid out] the same way. I just stuck with the plan as to what he wanted to do with that style of production [during] that time period.”

Working with Mac Miller on Stolen Youth

“I got asthma, and Mac smokes a shitload of cigarettes, so that was crazy. Besides that, it was cool. Mac has more of a relaxed [studio environment]. Recording with Mac is mostly conversation-based, like talking about what you’re about to do. Speak on what direction you’re gonna go. A lot of those songs [came from] conversations.”

Working with Earl Sweatshirt

“I’ve never been in the studio with [anyone else in Odd Future other than] Earl and Mike G. It’s a good time [being in the studio with Earl]. We be having fun. You don’t ever feel stressed out, like you’re recording an album. You’re just chilling and recording songs, [vibing with your friends].”

“Elimination Chamber”/Alchemist’s Studio

“I be chilling. I don’t ever do the extra shit. [With ‘Elimination Chamber’], they asked me if I wanted to be on it, and I said, ‘Yeah.’ All of Alchemist’s [beats] are crazy. When you go to Alchemist’s house, you’re gonna hear some crazy shit, and you’re gonna lose it. He’s not gonna even know what you’re talking about if you try to bring it up again. In that environment, there’s a lot of good music being made. He got chronicles. So you gotta really pay attention [if you hear something you like] because you might not be able to find it again.

“[Action Bronson’s] the homie, I see him all the time. Action really care though. He cooks when you’re in the studio sometimes at Alchemist’s house. He’ll make lamb and shit.”

Working with No I.D. on Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2

“No I.D. wasn’t in the studio when we recorded Shyne Coldchain. He wasn’t there until afterwards, because he was working on Jhene [Aiko’s] album. He just gave us the feedback. We did that [project] the same way we do everything else. He was definitely involved in hearing the songs, but it was more of a conversation thing, giving me advice and what not.

“No I.D., he just wanted to work. He asked me if I wanted beats, and I said, ‘Hell yeah!’ So he gave me the beats. [Laughs.] It just happened to be a plus that he was over there [recording at the same studio I was working out of]. He wanted it to be as pure as it could be, [that’s why he left me alone while I was recording].”

Collaborating with Jhene Aiko

“I wanted her to do a hook for me, and she wanted me to do a verse [for her], so we just exchanged. Jhene’s nice. If you don’t like Jhene’s shit, you’re a loser. She’s too nice for people to not like her.

“I had the whole [‘Oh You Scared’ song done], I just wanted her to do the vocals. It was supposed to be layered, but I told her I just wanted her to do it by herself. Then she added ad-libs, and harmonies and melodies in the background. That was some stuff I wouldn’t have known about myself, adding vocals [in places other than the chorus. And with her song ‘Vapors’], I just tried to stick to her vision as much as I possibly [could]. You don’t want to be the motherfucker that [comes on someone else’s song and] does some completely different shit.”

Working with Childish Major

“I met him through a mutual friend, and he said he wanted to work, so we ended up working [on 'Oh You Scared']. He’s a cool kid. I talk to him about regular shit more than I talk to him about music. He’s got a good head on his shoulders, he’s gonna go far. A lot of people don’t have ideas of their own, they’re often [told what they should] do, but he knows exactly what he wants to do.”

Outside the Lab

“I be kicking it at the house. I got the same friends I’ve had since I was in third grade. It’s easier now when you’ve got a little bit of bread to stay out of trouble. I’m just chillin’, appreciating this shit, and the opportunities I have.”

What’s Next

“I’m just making songs now, and we’ll see where they go later. We definitely got [enough songs] to put some shit out right now, but we don’t really got it all figured out yet. But we got songs. We’re doing the same things [as before], just on a higher scale, with more creativity. We’re trying to reach as many people as possible without compromising anything.”

Photos via HypetrakKnockSteady, Vince Staples’ Twitter account, and Mac Miller’s Twitter account.

Previously: In The Lab: Blu on the Making of Good To Be HomeIn The Lab with Sean C & LV | In The Lab with Harry Fraud | In The Lab with RATKING | In The Lab with The Alchemist and Evidence (Step Brothers) | In The Lab with Thelonious Martin | In The Lab with Troy Ave |  In The Lab with Marco Polo |  In The Lab with Black Milk | In The Lab with Oddisee | In The Lab with Pete Rock | In The Lab with Party Supplies | In The Lab with Mac Miller | In The Lab with Roc Marciano


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