"I'm a loser," bemoans Vince Staples. And although not quite accurate - the 22-year-old's debut album, 'Summertime '06', was critically acclaimed and ranked favourably within many a Best Of 2015 list - Staples is correct, however, in that he nowhere near resembles the definition of a 'winner' as rapped about by Ludacris, Rick Ross, and Snoop Dogg on DJ Khaled's 'All I Do Is Win'.
The Long Beach native is unlike any other human I've ever met before, let alone any other rapper I've interviewed. It's high-Summer, but Staples is sniffling rather pathetically. He's also asthmatic - three out of three times I saw him live on the 2016 Laneway Festival circuit, he had to pause on-stage to sit down; huff and puff - and is tremendously terrified of possums and raccoons. Within a few dizzying breaths, he's just as likely to go from praising his favourite Pokémon (it's Snorlax, FYI) to analysing his personality traits according to Hogwarts Houses, than he is to criticise the glorification of gang-culture or expound on his belief that the American Dream enslaves believers to consumerism. If it wasn't so entertaining, talking to Staples would be exhausting.
Staples is also Sprite's #1 brand ambassador. Before posing for some polaroid photos, he asks, "Do we have a Sprite? Because they paid me a lot of money." When I laugh, Staples looks me in the eye and very earnestly says, "You don't understand the situation though. Like, Sprite changed my life. I'mma buy a house on Sprite... Trust me, Sprite is very frivolous with their money. I will love them forever; I'm about to buy a house off of Sprite." And if you had any doubts as to the sincerity of his love for the lemon-and-lime-flavoured drink? Staples leaves Laneway Auckland for his hotel, with our bottle of Sprite firmly in-hand.
"...grown-up 21 and up people really probably don't need my help as much as an 11-year-old child."
COUP DE MAIN: Welcome to New Zealand! Here's a lolly lei to thank you for the present of your presence.
VINCE STAPLES: Okay, pineapple lumps. Is this a Ferrero Rocher? What's these milkshakes? Oh, this is fire! Thank you. I will remember this.
CDM: We saw your shirt got torn off during your set at Laneway earlier. We felt like you deserved a treat.
VINCE: Yeah it really hurt my feelings. I really, really liked that shirt. But it's cool, I'll get another one.
CDM: Was that an asthma inhaler you had on-stage?
VINCE: Yeah, I almost die all the time. <calls to manager> Corey! Did we get my inhaler off the stage? Did you get the extra thing?
COREY SMYTH: I've got both of them.
CDM: And that's why he's your manager.
VINCE: I love him.
CDM: When you first posted the artwork for 'Summertime '06' on your Instagram last year, you accompanied it with a caption about love tearing people in your life apart, "Love for self, love for separation, love for the little we all had, love for each other, where we came from." Do you think that love is the strongest human emotion?
VINCE: Probably. That's the only one. There's love. And then you've got hate, which is like lack of love. You've got happiness which comes from love. And you've got sadness which comes from lack of love. So yeah, pretty much. It's the root of all.
CDM: A lot of your songs also examine the power of fear. Do you think fear or love is a more powerful motivator?
VINCE: Fear? I don't know. It's pretty even; it's crazy. That's a deep question. You should have let me prepare. I don't know... It depends. It depends on the kind of person.
CDM: For yourself personally?
VINCE: I'm not really scared of a lot of things. I'm scared of possums. And I'm scared of raccoons sometimes, it depends on how big it is - I'm scared of the smaller raccoons because the bigger ones are slower. But I guess, love - but I'm really scared of possums and raccoons. Like, terrified.
CDM: Okay, we will try keep the New Zealand possums away from you.
VINCE: <whispers> Y'all got possums?!
CDM: Yup. Sorry.
VINCE: <whispers> Fuck.
CDM: In 'Summertime' you say, "My feelings told me love is real / But feelings known to get you killed." Do you consider yourself a sentimental person?
VINCE: I'm very sensitive, I'm a Cancer.
CDM: Do you believe in Zodiac Signs?
VINCE: No, people just tell me I'm supposed to be sensitive, and I'm not. But I think I'm very emotional. I'm very caring. <yells at The Internet> "Love you, Syd!" They just talked about me. I'm very caring. Do you think I'm emotional, Corey?
COREY: For sure.
VINCE: I'm mad emotional. But my emotions are-- I don't really get just like sad, I get hyper, and I be like mad, and I get hungry - that's like my main emotion.
CDM: So you wear your heart-on-your-sleeve?
VINCE: Pretty much.
CDM: In the week leading up to the release of your album, you drove around Los Angeles and Long Beach in an ice-cream truck, "Giving out free flavours for the children." Why did you choose ice-cream over sprite?
VINCE: Because kids like ice-cream and I wanted to keep it pure and organic. I think Sprite wouldn't have been as from the heart. We tried Sprite-flavoured ice-cream, but that would have took too long.
CDM: You should have made Sprite Spiders - it's like an ice-cream float drink. Pour Sprite over ice-cream in a glass.
CDM: So that you can continue to rep your favourite drink, we got you a vintage Sprite bottle-cap pin badge.
VINCE: You guys are crazy. That's dope. I am for sure putting that on something. Corey, make sure I don't lose this?
COREY: No way!
COREY: That's really nice.
VINCE: Thank you guys.
COREY: That is super sweet.
VINCE: I love you guys so much. We like things.
CDM: Your song 'Lift Me Up' comments on racism and the racial divide in America, exploring the idea that the black community is still enslaved in modern America - that they're slaves to money. Do you see any way out of that chicken-and-egg cycle?
VINCE: It's more money-based than anything, and it's gotten to the point that it's past race. I mean, it is based on race, but it's locational. Like if you live in one of these communities, you're part of that community, so you get treated like the other people in the community. It's a lot we got to do. But I live in a pretty liberal place, so it's a lot of hidden racism and things like that. If you really look up California, it's a really shitty place when it comes to things like that. So I think it will just take time. Old people have to die. Once the generation right under my Mom dies, we'll be fine. Some ideas are cemented, but we've got so much to learn about and so many different ways to gain information that there are certain people who just can't be lied about. So many things come from people's parents lying to them about the truth about things. I feel like, once those ideas die with people, we'll be good in a couple of generations.
CDM: You can't teach an old dog new tricks.
VINCE: Yeah, you can't teach an old dog new tricks! My Grandmother is very racist, but I'm like, I can't really be mad at you. You've been through some shit.
CDM: Do you think the 'American Dream' is achievable for any person of colour in America?
VINCE: It depends what the American Dream is. They trick you into thinking money's important. So if you're chasing something that's controlled outside, that's controlled by someone else, you'll never be able to achieve it. But if they say tomorrow, 'Money doesn't mean a thing. Now you have to do this, or do that,' you have to look internally for certain things, for your sense of happiness or success or whatever you want to call it. Fuck the American Dream. The American Dream has a lot of money. That's all it is. But what if you don't care about money? I personally don't care about money, so that will never mean anything to me.
CDM: What's the Vince Staples Dream?
VINCE: I want two kids. I want one to beat the other one up a lot, until one day, one of them really fucks the other one up. Boys or girls, you gotta let them fight. I want a decent house, one storey, preferably.
CDM: Because of earthquakes?
VINCE: Yeah. And because when kids walk up the stairs, when the kid be like, 'Fuck you, I'm going to my room,' and walks up the stairs, he's a piece of shit. So a one-storey house is better for the kids. And a nice little electronic car. Y'know, make it fun.
CDM: In 'Lift Me Up', you also mention the Hogwarts house, Gryffindor. Which house do you think the Sorting Hat would put you into?
VINCE: I wouldn't have been a wizard, I would have been a mechanic. I would have been a janitor at Hogwarts; they wouldn't have fucked with me.
CDM: So a muggle?
VINCE: No, no, I'm cuter than a muggle. I'd be like, half. I'd be like half, but I wouldn't have any powers because I would be lazy. Oh, no! I'd be the Quidditch Coach!
COREY: Which house or which character?
VINCE: Which house would I live in?
COREY: Which house did Harry and them live in?
COREY: And what's the house with the mean kid?
COREY: He'd be in Slytherin.
VINCE: What's the other one?
CDM: Which is for loyal hard workers. And Ravenclaw, which is for the witty and wise.
VINCE: I'd be in Ravenclaw because I got good grades but I fuck everything up, and when I get kicked out I'd be Hufflepuff.
COREY: No, he'd be in the mean one.
VINCE: <offended> I'm way nicer than Snape!
COREY: You'd be the nice one in that crew.
VINCE: I would make them save people, because that's actually my life. I'm a gang-member, but I'm like the nice one. And I dress funny. They been making fun of me my whole life, they still haven't let it go.
CDM: A lot of other rappers glorify gang-culture, but you criticise the harsh reality of living in such a violent world. Why is it important to you to be 'real' about gang-culture?
VINCE: Because they're not real gang-members. That's why they think it's fun. That shit sucks! Do you know how much it sucks to not be able to go places for no fucking reason? I love Louisiana fried fish, but it's all Martin Luther King, I can't go over there. Great place. Beautiful. Can't go over there! They gonna fuck me up. I like going places. Being a gang-member's stupid. It's fucking so stupid. But it's fun sometimes. If you didn't hurt people, it would be a perfect set-up. It's like the Boy Scouts. You ever seen-- what's the movie where it's the kids and they find the dead body? The little white kids. What's that movie? They find a dead body at the railroad. 'Stand By Me'? It's like 'Stand By Me'. We wear Yankee hats and we walk around and we got like one fucking gun; it's so stupid. Gangs is just like 'Stand By Me'.
CDM: You've obviously been thoroughly educated by the school of life and are very street-smart. What do you think are important things you learnt, that school doesn't teach young people?
VINCE: That you have to be nice to people. You have to be able to hold a conversation. School has a very fraternal-ish nature, it teaches you to not like people based on where they live. School helps the gangs, like, "Fuck them, they go to this school." Watch 'The Outsiders'. It's a movie and it's a book by S. E. Hinton - you should read the book and then watch the movie because the movie is horrible, but Tom Cruise is in it before he got his teeth fixed, so it's funny. But, school doesn't teach you much. School teaches you how to follow directions, that's what school is for. And in life, not necessarily following directions helps you get certain places - because you go to the right school you can learn the right things, and you go to the wrong school you can learn the wrong things, so it just all depends. But school doesn't really teach you how to interact with people properly, you learn that outside of school.
CDM: How long do you spend writing your lyrics? How much thought goes into your phrasing and rhymes?
VINCE: Now it's a lot, but before it didn't used to be that much. <to The Internet who are walking past> Love you, bro! Beforehand, I used to just write a song real quickly, but I'm real specific nowadays. I'm just getting old; I'm an old man now.
CDM: You're only 22-years-old, that's not old. I'm 27; I'm old.
VINCE: I'm getting old! My back hurts, I got asthma, I just been listening to Amy Winehouse, trying not to cry. Life's crazy.
CDM: Next thing you know, you'll be listening to jazz records.
VINCE: Fuck no. I fucking hate jazz music. I don't - I would hate Vince Staples jazz music, that would be horrible.
CDM: The real-ness of your life, and the real-ness of how you portray your experiences in your music, seem to be important themes to you. How do you tell the difference between a wannabe and a real person?
VINCE: If they lie or not. A lot of people lie. Just be nice to people - that's my whole thing. I don't even care if you pretend, you could be the fakest motherfucker on the face of the earth, just be nice to everybody. It really hurts my feelings when people are mean to old people, or when people yell at their little kids. Just ask them what's wrong, bro. I think we all just need to be nicer.
CDM: Yet you want your future children to fight each other.
VINCE: Because your children have to fight! If your children don't fight, they won't love each other when they get older! It's a common thing. My sister once, she hit me in my face and she slashed my eyebrow, so I pushed her down the stairs - that's when wrestling was really big - and I hit her with the Chris Benoit headbutt, and then she cried. And then we just sat there and hugged each other and we cried.
CDM: It's character-building, I guess.
VINCE: Yeah! And I remember, once, my sister used to tell me that they found me in the trash-can when I was younger, so one time I pushed my sister into a trash-can - I put it over her head and pushed her down the street. And then after that, we been close ever since.
CDM: Older sister or younger?
VINCE: They're all older than me. They thought they could bully me 'cuz I have asthma.
CDM: And 'cuz you're little.
VINCE: It's more about me being asthmatic. They used to run, and I can't really run that far. My brothers used to beat me up, but I used to fight my sisters 'cuz I couldn't hit them back, so I had to find specific severe ways to punish them. I remember once, my sister she sleeps really heavy; she's a sleepwalker, and we used to get in trouble for peeing in our beds when we were little kids, so I threw these noodles called Top Ramen; it smells like piss, so I made a cup and then I threw it on the bed and then I told my Mom she peed on herself. And then she got grounded. So, I think that was the best thing I've ever done as a child. After that, she knew never to fuck with me again.
CDM: What do you think is the worst vice a person can be addicted to?
VINCE: Drugs. Drugs are horrible; I say no to drugs. I've never done drugs in my life.
CDM: Do you think addiction is psychological or physical?
VINCE: Both. It depends who you are. Different strokes for different folks.
CDM: If V.I.N.C.E. was an acronym, what would it stand for?
VINCE: Hmmm... Corey, I need help!
COREY: Violence. Intelligence. Nationalism. Creativity and Energy.
VINCE: Hmmm... It would stand for Vice Interviews Never Correct Everything.
CDM: That was shady. There's a Vice journalist next door, I think.
VINCE: They love me! They call me every fucking day, I can say whatever I want about Vice.
COREY: His is better. Mine is not as good as his was.
VINCE: Do you know how many Vice interviews I have? You know how many times they didn't correct something? There's always at least one fucking thing. And they didn't send my magazines to my house. I'm so mad.
CDM: Do you get misquoted a lot?
VINCE: Hell yeah, I get misquoted a lot. Somebody told me I was going to retire, somebody told me I hated 90s hip-hop, somebody told me a gang of weird shit. I fucking hate getting misquoted.
CDM: Is that what you hate most about this?
VINCE: I hate when I lose my voice and then people try and talk to me and I seem like I'm being rude and then I hurt their feelings. That sucks. And I hate when little kids have to come to the show with their Moms and they have to leave early, and don't get a good seat. I try and move all the children to the front. And I hate when a show has an age limit. Like a little tiny child is standing outside, like, 'Hey, I wanted to go but I couldn't.' That sucks. Those are what I hate the most about music.
CDM: So you try and do all ages shows, if possible?
VINCE: Yeah. There was this little kid... fuck, what was his name? Corey, what's the little kid from Austin's name?
COREY: That we met on-stage?
COREY: I have his Mom's name somewhere. Hold on, let me see...
VINCE: Well, long story short, we forgot his name - but I remember his Instagram though because he's hilarious - but he came to my show and I was being nice and just talked to him and stuff, but his Mom said that the kids at school kept telling him to kill himself and that he's a loser and blah blah. He told his Mom, 'Do you think I should kill myself?' Not knowing any better, just being young. Now he's my friend and I talk to him all the time. But when kids can't come to my show, I feel bad, because grown-up 21 and up people really probably don't need my help as much as an 11-year-old child.
COREY: His name is Patrick.
VINCE: His name is Patty! Or Project Pat. That's his new name.
CDM: It's nice to hear that stuff like that is so important to you, when some pop artists are charging fans thousands of dollars for a meet and greet.
VINCE: I feel the thousand dollar meet and greet, because, get your bread. But I feel like, I walk down the street and stuff and I live in a regular place, so you can come up and talk to me. I'll be nice to you. I would for sure do a thousand dollar meet and greet because literally every single person knows where I live. So, it would be fine.
CDM: Is your Twitter header picture your address?
VINCE: I don't live out there, but my Mom does. I go see my Mom, and people drive past her house and do weird shit.
CDM: If you could pick any five people - living or dead - to be in your entourage, who would you choose?
VINCE: Entourage? Let's go. Hmmm... five people to hang out with, shit. I don't know! I'm a loser. I would hang out with Amy Winehouse, back when she was 'Frank' Amy Winehouse, when she was chubby and had jokes. Love her to death, she's the best.
CDM: Did you watch 'Amy'?
VINCE: Yeah, I don't know why I did that. I'm really mad at him [Corey] for making me watch that. That shit is fucking stupid. I'mma kill, what's his name? Blake. If I see Blake out in public, I will kill him and I want it to be on record because I want to go to jail for it. If I see Amy Winehouse's ex-husband, Blake, I'm going to murder him. Like that. Around everybody. It will be so quick too. It won't even hurt, I just want him to be dead. And I will turn myself in. But who else would I hang out with? I would hang out with Bobby Hill from 'King Of The Hill', love Bobby Hill. I would hang out with Teh Bey, he's my friend, he's cool, love Teh Bey. I would hang out with my nephew J.T., he's the man. He's moving soon. He's seven/eight-years-old, one of those two. He's dressing kind of trash right now, but he lives in The Valley, so he wears sideways hats and stuff that's kind of corny. But the fifth one? I'd hang out with Mom. My Mom is hilarious. When I was younger, my Mom was like 35 or 40 - my Mom was the shit, she was crazy.
CDM: And lastly, if Vince Staples were a Pokémon, which one would you be?
VINCE: Snorlax - I'd be asleep. I paid $95 for a Snorlax Gold Pokemon card when I was in 4th Grade; I stole it from my Mom. It was the ones from McDonalds, that were like real gold-plated, and I loved him. That was my favourite Pokémon.
CDM: I liked Abra.
VINCE: You suck.
CDM: But psychic powers!
VINCE: But Snorlax was just fun. And Togepi was cool. And Jigglypuff, he was the man. He was a boy, nobody knows that.
VINCE STAPLES REVIEWS NEW ZEALAND SPRITE...
VINCE: Sprite really does taste different everywhere! That's like a fact. Because of certain regulations, you can only put so many sugars... It's already different because it's called lemonade, that's why it's different. It has more carbonation than the ones in Europe, and less sugar than the ones in the United States, and it's not as spicy as the one in Mexico. I really do this Sprite shit.
HOW I FEEL ABOUT BEING IN NEW ZEALAND...
IF I HAD A DAY OFF IN NEW ZEALAND, I WOULD BE...
MY FAVOURITE SUMMERTIME '16 MEMORY IS...