Blue Moose Tap House — Monday, Mar. 7 at 6:30 p.m.
“What is the ‘little village?’ ” Vince Staples asks. We’ve only just begun our interview, and he’s beaten me out the gate with the first question. He seems a bit trepidatious and, once I’ve fumbled through an awkward answer about the song from a local musician that gave the mag its name (hey, I’m in this game so I can ask questions; I have no on-the-spot eloquence!), he explains that Little Village sounds like “some kind of creepy, M. Night Shyamalan” thing. We laugh. “Well, you’d better not visit our offices then!” I say.
“OK,” he says. “Now you’re freaking me out.”
“I’m going to use this, you know,” I warn him.
Staples is quick, and it’s not just his dry humor (although he’s been rising to a different kind of fame on Twitter, with 251,000 followers and a reputation for being cutting and on-point). The 22-year-old from California self-released his first mixtape in 2011, and has been pushing forward ever since, with mixtapes, EPs and guest appearances on more than 30 recordings since 2010, with everyone from fellow young Californian breakout Earl Sweatshirt to Ghostface Killah. It was last year’s Summertime ’06, though, his first studio album, that really rocketed him into the spotlight.
The ambitious, sprawling, 2-disc project was released in June of 2015, and has been raking in the praise ever since. Staples says that he “basically had the first 10 tracks” ready to go when he started working on it, and just kept building. In his mind, there’s “no reason to hold back what you give to the fans.”
The writing comes easy to him, “most of the time,” he says. “Once you understand what you’re trying to convey, the writing is easy.” It’s all about self-awareness, something that, despite his youth, Staples has in abundance. The key to writing, he says, is “figuring out how you feel before trying to explain how you feel.”
That self-awareness, in Staples’ case, comes mixed with a strong dose of humility. I ask him about the heavy topics covered by Summertime ’06, and where he’d place himself on the continuum of entertainer to activist. He holds back from assigning a sense of purpose to his work. “I feel like I don’t know enough to really be an effective activist,” he says. “I’m speaking on how I feel about life — everything else I can kind of figure out along the way.” Staples says, of activism through music, “I might not be ready for who I want to be.”
So what does he want for his legacy in the music industry? “Just my music,” he says. “I feel like the best thing for me to be is myself … At the end of the day, that’s what we care about … As long as your music is a reflection of who you are as a person … I can relate to you, I can share your path.”
Staples’ path may not stay directed towards the music industry forever. He’s dabbled in acting (in the 2015 Rick Famuyiwa flick Dope), and tells me that before he started making music, “I wanted to go to film school.” He may make his way to that world yet. “You can’t rap forever,” he says. “Rap is a young man’s sport.”
For now, though, he’s thrilled to be where he is, and happy to be returning to Iowa City. When I ask what was bringing him back so soon (he performed at the IMU Ballroom this past December), he says that it was “partly the very good show I had there … It was just fun to be around those kids [in Iowa]. It means a lot to me.”
You can catch him again — or find out what you missed — on Monday, Mar. 7, when he comes to the Blue Moose Tap House. Tickets are $15-60. Doors are at 6 p.m. for the all-ages show, with Tha Fut opening. The show starts at 6:30 p.m.