GQ

Vince Staples Chops It Up with Desus Nice

, Author

My first introduction to GQ was back in the ’90s, when I was a clerk at the New York Public Library. My job was to check books out to people, and I would grab a bunch of issues from the magazine section to read in my downtime. I remember ripping out the cologne samples to rub on my wrists before going on dates because I was broke. (Don’t judge me.) To me the magazine represented a fantasy world: thousand-dollar sweaters, watches that cost more than my mother’s house. Just a world I never imagined I could take part in.

Fast-forward to 2021, and I’m in a much better place now. So when GQ reached out to see if I was interested in interviewing my guy Vince Staples, it was an easy yes.

I’ve known Vince since he was 25. The first time I met him, he was a guest on the show I cohost with The Kid Mero, Desus & Mero, and Vince and I ended up having these long, meandering conversations: about the difference between L.A. shootings and NYC shootings (drive-bys versus walk-ups), about his hometown of Long Beach, and a whole bunch of other hood stuff that ended up being cut when the episode actually aired, probably for legal purposes.

Jacket, $950, and pants, $495, by Homme Plissé Issey Miyake. T-shirt, $7, by H&M. Sneakers, $60, by Vans. His own socks, by Uniqlo. Necklace, $7,900, by David Yurman.

Vince is a bit younger than I am, but there’s something special about talking to him. His viewpoints are always so contrarian, and yet when you stop to think about what he just said, he always makes perfect sense. It’s like talking to a knucklehead nephew and an older, wiser, all-knowing uncle at the same time.

It’s been three years since Vince dropped a new album (2018’s FM!). For a minute he was everywhere—constantly on Twitter, grinding through viral videos, doing interviews—and then he took a little time off to work on himself. It seems to have paid off. When I spoke with him in early March, Vince, now 27, seemed happier. Excited about the future. We met over Zoom for several conversations and ended up talking about everything: his new self-titled LP out this summer, the influence of Nipsey Hussle, and not fucking around when it comes to raccoons. With another full-length album (Ramona Park Broke My Heart) and a Netflix show bearing his name on the horizon, we’re going to get a whole lot of Vince Staples, and the world will be better for it.


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DESUS NICE: The first track on the new album wasn’t poppy, but the beat was kind of upbeat. And then at one point, you’re just like, “I want to shoot a n-gga in the head.” And I was like, “Okay. All right. This is Vince Staples.” Your lyrics are hardcore. There’s hardcore gangster rap, but it’s not over-the-top like your stuff, which still somehow feels light. How do you find that balance?

VINCE STAPLES: That whole verse is just based on feelings that I had when I was younger. Certain things that I’ve seen or that I’ve experienced where I grew up on the Northside. So it never comes across, to me, as showboaty or glorifying. It might seem like it’s stark, or that I’m trying to make it scary, but that’s not what it is. A lot of the time it comes from a positive space. From a then-and-now kind of perspective.

You’ve said that you do the same thing every day. Walk us through an average morning as Vince Staples. 

In the pandemic or out of the pandemic?

In the pandemic now. 

I wake up early. I watch either First Take or Undisputed, depending on who I’m trying to hear. I’m not watching live sports or anything like that right now. That’s all I need: First Take or Undisputed. Start making coffee. I’m trying to get off the coffee, though, so sometimes I’ll make tea. I brush my teeth like a psychopath—to be honest, way too many times a day. It’s probably not healthy. Then I’ll drink my coffee, go through these emails I try not to respond to, and brush my teeth again.

Jacket, $1,550, and pants, $730, by Salvatore Ferragamo. Sweater, $995, by Ralph Lauren. Sneakers, $60, by Vans.

What was your gym schedule like? Because I found that everybody I know, they were either people who were working out before the pandemic and they stopped or people who started working out wild after the pandemic started. Which one were you? 

So, look, it’s going to sound crazy. But it’s cool. We family. Before the pandemic I was doing six workouts a week. I was doing three days a week lifting. And I was on three days a week doing, like, boxing stuff—like karate-type shit. I’ve been doing that with my friends since we was kids. Boys & Girls Clubs kids. Your mama would make you go learn karate when you’re young. And then, when the pandemic happened, I couldn’t do that anymore, obviously. So I was trying to work out a little bit here and there, and I fell off a little bit.

I hear you. 

My friends had me on NBA 2K like a madman at the beginning of the pandemic. I couldn’t do it. I had to quit.

Are you a PlayStation person or an Xbox person? 

I got both. It’s two diverse communities, though. Xbox is way more competitive. Sometimes I want to play Overwatch with the Korean kids, so I might have to get on the PlayStation. I played PlayStation for a long time, and then one of my homies got me to get on Xbox just to play with him, and then I learned about the toxicity that is the Xbox. I literally recently just got a PlayStation 5 because I was like, “Look, man, I need something to do so I’m not working all day.” It’s a little bit calmer. That Xbox life—they ready to die for that.

Jacket, $2,125, and pants, $695, by Versace. Shirt, $320, by Acne Studios. Sneakers, $110, by New Balance. His own socks, by Uniqlo. Bracelet, $325, by David Yurman.

They don’t play around on Xbox. I put BLM, Black Lives Matter, as my [gamer] tag, just because I was like, “Let me see what happens.” Bro. 

Bad mistake.

Then they don’t want to say the N-word because they’ll get banned, so they’ll hop in your DMs and they’ll send you the voice mails that be like, “All lives matter!” I’m like, “That’s not exactly the same, but I feel what you was trying to do.” 

On Call of Duty all day. People is crazy on Xbox.

You’re right. It’s toxicity. Do you ever interact with the people? Do you turn your mic on? 

I usually be in the party with the people I know. One of my homies, he has friends on Xbox that he’s had for 10 years. People who he’s never met in real life—they be talking about each other’s kids. It’s just an interesting thing. Just seeing how real stuff ties into social media now. We really have a digital life that we can live.

That’s like people’s new families. 

Yeah, it’s crazy.

It’s kind of like on Twitter. Sometimes you’ll see people on Twitter who had kids when it started, and now their kids are graduating and stuff. You never met them, but you’re like, Okay, that’s little Reggie. He’s in fourth grade now. 

It’s crazy, because it’s the world now. The world’s changed so much that it’s to a point where, to a lot of people, social media and the internet almost hold more weight than real life. It’s just the way that we digest things. When I started making music, there wasn’t as much social media interaction. There wasn’t Instagram. There wasn’t even streaming. It was uploading stuff on MediaFire, or trying to get DatPiff or 2DopeBoyz to write about you. For it to completely turn to where it’s in your hands in the span of, what, 10 years? It’s a crazy thing to just even think about.

Shirt, $825, by Caruso. T-shirt, $125, by Levi’s Vintage Clothing. Pants, $1,200, by Dior Men. Sneakers, $180, by Salomon. His own socks, by Uniqlo.

If you were a new artist coming into the game right now, how do you think it would work for you? Imagine you had to come into the game and you had to make your name off a TikTok. 

I was talking to my friend DJ Dahi about this earlier, who produces a lot of my stuff. He produces a lot of good stuff just in general—his biggest one was probably 21 Savage’s “A Lot.” He always talks about music being so time-specific. Certain things come out at certain times. We all know what a good song sounds like, but timing is what makes something unique. When you think about Donald Glover dropping “This Is America,” I remember he had that song recorded for years before he dropped it. But the timing made it a cultural shift, because of all the things that were happening politically. If he dropped that song a couple years before, I don’t know if it does what it did with everything around it. But it was still a great song, no matter what. You really never know.

This is something I’ve always wondered about recording music. Before an NBA game, you’ll see Steph Curry shooting, and the average person will never know what it’s like to be able to just put the ball up in the air and have it land exactly where you want it. Now, as a rapper, when you first start rapping, it’s A, B, C, whatever. Easy stuff. Then you get to the point where it’s you and it’s super intrinsic: You’re rhyming fast, you’re doing styles. Do you ever stop and think, Oh, shit, I didn’t realize I got nicer than the last album? 

Literally, I didn’t start making music until I started making music. When I was 15, 16, and I met Earl [Sweatshirt], Syd, Mike G, Matt Martians… Just so many people that helped me. I didn’t know anything about music or what I was doing. So at the beginning, for the first four, five years of just me trying to learn how to rap, I was just doing what everybody else was doing. If you’re rapping like this, I’m rapping like this.

I remember I was on tour with Mac Miller. He and his security guard used to always say, “Oh, make sure you say your name, because no one knows who you are.” That’s such a thing that you don’t think about. So it was mostly learning about introductory steps of making music. I remember going on tour with Schoolboy Q and him going, “I hear you rapping, but it’s too slow. Make it faster.” People would tell me how things work, and I’ll just keep asking questions along the way. People will remind you. I’ve always been detail-oriented as far as how I wrote, because I used to speak really slowly or I’d start stuttering.…

Really? 

I always had to make sure that my lines could convey something, because I wasn’t going to be able to do a bunch of crazy flows. My asthma was fucked up too when I was a kid. It was worse than it is now. So I try to make sure that I have specific things [to say] that stand out. I try to write certain things based on the beats I was getting.

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Oh, yeah. 

I learned that the listener is coming to you because they want you to give them a break away from normality. This dude named SAINt JHN—he’s a great musician. Two years ago he said to me, “[Your music’s] good, but no one cares.” I was like, “Explain that.”

“Everyone’s busy,” he said. “Because [the listener] just got off work. They might hate their wife. They might hate their husband. They might hate their kids. They hate their job. They hate the car. They hate the house. Life’s not perfect. They don’t have time to try to figure out what you’re trying to tell them. You’re just supposed to make them feel better and make them feel good. Put them in a specific space.”

And that’s just something that I’ve been thinking about a lot. Something that I learned from him. I’m just learning how to have a balance of everything within the same space and just not necessarily put a lot of pressure on what we create.

I’ve known you for a couple of years, and you seem more relaxed now. You seem comfortable. You seem more at ease with yourself. You were always happy. You’re a happy dude. But you had to learn to remove the pressure that you were putting on yourself. 

I’ve grown up in a specific type of environment my whole life. And I was in that environment nonstop with no breaks for 20-something years.… Then I was constantly putting out music, constantly touring. But I hadn’t been able to have a mental gap or space to really live an actual life outside of that environment. So it’s getting out of that. And a lot of relieving myself of that goes to helping the people from my environment, my community. Like my older homies and my younger homies. I show appreciation for them and the things they do. I’m trying to right some wrongs and help people.

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Right. 

It’s something that’s taken weight off my shoulders. Pressure, tension. I feel like it’s important for me to try to mend relationships. Of course, some things aren’t forgiven, but I’m just trying to make sure that I’m becoming the person that I’m supposed to be. In a perfect world, more than anything musically or more than anything creatively, my goal in life is to be able to live in Long Beach peacefully. And for everybody else to be able to live in Long Beach peacefully. That means a lot to me.

It’s also like, how do you have that constant growth while giving back and not forgetting where you come from? It used to be a stress for me. But it’s been done before, and by so many other great people. Now it’s all about how you carry yourself. And I learned that from just watching Snoop, watching Nip, watching YG, watching Ice Cube—watching these people navigate all these things and become something greater.

That’s good to hear. Did you have to learn to use external validation to your advantage? I know in my case, I never really cared. I was always like, “Whatever, if n-ggas fuck with me, n-ggas fuck with me. I don’t need that. I have to be successful regardless.” But then you actually see people were rooting for you and what you’ve done for them—they remind you where you’re coming from. And then you start being like, “Yo, this means something.” 

When I was younger, I used to like that people didn’t like me. That was the identity of my neighborhood. Like, we don’t got no homies, we don’t clique up. It was a “we beef with everybody”-type thing. Maturity changes that. So now it’s like, I want the people who we didn’t get along with growing up. I feel like music is an outlet, right? When you’re going through certain things and certain time periods in the community, you can hear it in the music. We hear Summertime ’06 and it wasn’t that friendly. I mean, it wasn’t about unity. It was “Northside Long Beach.” Not anything else. In my specific part, we run this side. Little stupid stuff that we said when we was kids. Right?

And then I realized something. At first I thought I was just picking myself up along with where I come from. But you can do that without putting others down. That’s something I didn’t know when I was younger.

Leather jacket (price upon request) by Lanvin. Jacket, $670, by Homme Plissé Issey Miyake. Pants, $25, by Dickies. His own socks, by Uniqlo.

With Nipsey’s passing, that was huge—major—across the whole world. And you’re someone who comes from a similar background. You’re not Nipsey, but you’re a successful rapper. You still be out there. How does all of that make you feel? 

I think it all depends on what you stand for. If you look historically at people in leadership roles—especially leadership roles in Black communities, especially in urban communities—there’s no connection if you’re not physically there.

Right. 

From John Huggins and Bunchy Carter in Los Angeles to when you think about what Ralph Abernathy and Fred Hampton and all these people did from all the different places. Huey Newton, Angela Davis. People that have touched people. They had to touch people physically on a local level. And to me there’s no difference from these people and Nipsey Hussle. I mean, Nipsey Hussle is Gil Scott-Heron. Nipsey Hussle is James Baldwin. He hears these people that had a message.

Crazy as it might seem, Black leadership is something that’s always different in hindsight. You know what I mean? I wasn’t there for Malcolm X. My mom, she’ll tell me about Black Panthers being in L.A. and Compton. She saw how things transitioned and how things turned out afterwards. She saw the whole thing. The end of the story is just as important as everything else. So I can’t say if it makes me feel any other way, except motivated and inspired, because, you know, Nipsey Hussle died doing what Nipsey did. It’s not like he died doing anything else. He died in that parking lot taking pictures with kids, giving them money.

I remember when Tupac died, all of a sudden we just started getting all types of demos and shit leaking. And it was like, some of the stuff he clearly did not want hitting the streets. And I was wondering, are leaks something you think about? Like, what happens to the songs in the Vince Staples vault when you don’t use them?

I think, nothing? Back then, with Tupac, recording music was such a different process. It was an ordeal to really record something on tape. To do punch lines and ad-libs and things like that. It was different. Now it’s a little bit easier. Everything’s on a computer, digitized. Albums have got a little bit easier to create after people pass. You could have a Pop Smoke [album], and they’re able to make sure that they still have a good body of work to use. So things that came out since Pop Smoke’s passing all sound great. It’s all about the people you have around you. My people, they’re not going to let nothing come out that they know I wasn’t going to want to come out.

Oh, wait, I wasn’t trying to get dark like that—like what’s going to come out when you die. I meant, like, what are you going to do with the songs? [Laughs.]

Oh, no, no, no. I mean, I don’t know. But that was a good question. We got a lot of them. They sit around and become a “This Is America” situation. You never know when you might just have something that becomes timely.

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Are your people excited about the vaccine? Or are you having to talk to people and convince them to get it?

Oh, no. Look man, my mama took us to the hospital. We get our shots, man. We went to public school. You go to public school, you got to get some shots. I just feel like there’s so many people who’ve passed away from COVID, they had to do something. I’m just happy that they’re trying to make sure it’s accessible and that the people who are high-risk get it first.

Have you had to stay confined at home because of your asthma?

Oh, yeah. It’s crazy. I got to stay at the house. I mean, it’s not that bad. I’m here a lot, anyway. I need to furnish it. My house has been empty for a long time. I’m trying to get my house in order. I’m good at pieces, but I’m not good at room dynamics. Sometimes the room be looking too empty or too cluttered. That’s a big problem I got.

I have the same problem. I have no art on my walls or nothing. I don’t know where to begin with that.

This is my thing. I’m fake bougie. Right?

Right.

It’s like, if I’m going to spend some money on some art, it needs to make some money for me later. I’m not going to just put a poster on my wall. I need stuff for real. But then real joints down at the Martin Lawrence Galleries, it’s too much money. I don’t got thousands to let a painting sit on the wall. I’m cool. I’ll make my own artwork if it comes down to that. I could still pick up a paintbrush.

You told me once that home repairs aren’t your forte.

I’m not handy at all, bro. I’m not handy. I don’t even have a toolbox. I got one wrench. I buy stuff at the Home Depot as I’m needed by my mama. Or I’ll call my little cousin to handle that. But my mama be on me. She said, “You can’t be a homeowner, not knowing what’s going on.”

Being a homeowner, it catches up to you.

And the animals! That’s my problem. It’d be animals outside, and I didn’t think of that. When I bought a house, I got a yard. And something wanna live in it, and you’re going to have to get it out. And with me it’s like, “All right. You mind your business, I’ll mind my business.” But the animals be getting a little too close to the house sometimes. You know what I mean? I remember there was like a giant rodent. I don’t even know what it was, but it was by the south side, by the garage. I just had to leave it there. And man, I kept calling people to try to take it out of there for like five, seven hours.

And then they told me to call animal control, and animal control is controlled by the police department. [Editor’s note: Animal control in Long Beach is actually under the parks department.] And Black people feel a way about calling the police to the house. I was scared the whole time. That was my personal hiccup as a homeowner. Eventually they came to the house to remove the rodent; they was cool. But I was like, “Man, I don’t know if I want you all to come over here and be looking at me like, ‘Oh, look at this n-gga; he can’t get a rodent out of this house.’ ” I got to stand strong.

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That happened to me when I was taking care of my parents’ house. It was in New York—we got these big-ass raccoons, like the size of dogs and shit—and a car hit a raccoon. It died, just in the middle of the street. And it starts rotting—the cars are driving around it. I called the city, and the city was like, “That’s your raccoon.” I’m like, “N-gga, I don’t own the raccoon. What do you want me to do here?”

Long Beach raccoons are famous. A Long Beach raccoon will chase you to the death. And they never by themselves. It’s like 5 to 10 in a pack. They running around the Eastside. They running around the beach, and they look up at you. I remember it was 2017 on the Eastside, kind of by the beach. It was like a specific gang of raccoons that was just terrorizing people. They didn’t want no food. They didn’t want to play. They was like, “We see people, we own them.” And it was on the news and all that. But they just let them run free.

Raccoons is scary, too, because they got—

They got thumbs!

Yeah! And they’d be walking on their back legs. I don’t trust that.

They can open the door. They can get into your house.

They could lift the lid off your garbage can. They literally just use both hands like they’re humans.

That thumb changes a lot.

That’s a game changer. If dogs had thumbs, they would not be pets.

That’s a fact. They’d be in the wild.

Where’s the first place you’re trying to go when it’s all safe to travel again?

I’ve never been on vacation, so I might just do a vacation. But I don’t even know where I would go.

You’ve just never been on vacation? So every time you’ve been on a trip, it’s been for work?

Yep.

Oh, wow. Damn. Yeah, you definitely need to take a little time out for yourself.

I feel like I’m missing out.

Desus Nice is a comedian and the cohost of Showtime’s ‘Desus & Mero.’

A version of this story originally appeared in the May 2021 issue with the title “The Mellowing Of Vince Staples.”

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PRODUCTION CREDITS:

Photographs by Tyrell Hampton

Styled by Erica Mer with Mobolaji Dawodu

Hair by Jacki Brown

Manicure by Natasha Ray at Noir Grooming Lounge

Tailoring by Yelena Travkina

Produced by Camp Productions

Special thanks to Palihouse Santa Monica

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