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Google “Vince Staples” and you’re likely to be fascinated by the headlines for hours: “Vince Staples to retire in 2017” “Vince Staples started gangbanging to kill people.” Click a couple pages in and “Vince Staples is the ‘Anti-Rapper’ of our time,” or “Vince Staples has 100,000 points at GameStop,” or the viral video of a [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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Google “Vince Staples” and you’re likely to be fascinated by the headlines for hours:

“Vince Staples to retire in 2017”

“Vince Staples started gangbanging to kill people.”

Click a couple pages in and “Vince Staples is the ‘Anti-Rapper’ of our time,” or “Vince Staples has 100,000 points at GameStop,” or the viral video of a mom crying at the profanity in his lyrics. The rabbit hole is endless. Ask him about only a few of those “results” and the response is nonchalant, perhaps his personal rebuttal to “fake news.”

“You can Google a lot of weird shit these days,” the 23-year-old California native says in the middle of moving from one Los Angeles address, to presumably a more comfortable Los Angeles address. “That doesn’t mean any of it is true. I never said I would retire. That’s something that was taken in the wrong context.”

Welcome to “Trump’s America.” In a few short weeks that sarcastic sentiment has become as much a part of the nomenclature as the two-way shrug of “Thanks, Obama.” Leading up to my brief, but complex, interview with Staples—and even in the seconds before I spoke with him—Def Jam made it explicit that there were to be no questions about the current clown-in-chief and politics.

It’s apparent that Staples doesn’t want to add to the echo. He’s not supposed to have the answers. That’s not what he’s paid to do. “BagBak,” the lead single from his sophomore album, released to coincide with his headlining “Life Aquatic Tour,” tells both the president and the government to “suck a d*ck,” if you need his position made any clearer.

Twenty-fifteen was as big a year for Staples as it was a contentious year in hip-hop. Not for any feuding or lyrical scrapes, though there were a few, but for the clout to say you had one of those epic albums that people will laud, dissect, teach, bang, and talk about for a long time to come. Staples’ debut, Summertime ‘06, was one of those records, filled with the eyewitness accounts of a skateboarding, book-loving, teen dragged into gangbanging and other nefarious deeds as a generational Crip. It’s the magnification of one moment in time (Summer, 2006), one neighborhood (Ramona Park), one street (Poppy), spoken in cinematic vignettes, and matched with gritty, dystopian beats.

By being more Faulkner than Public Enemy, but with the same sharp scope of a beat-reporter’s bluntness, Staples created monolithic mirror pointed at any oppressive systems with the same no-filter as Ice Cube in his prime. Which has now posited him as a “working-class rapper,” or “starving artist,” something that’s he’s had trouble wrestling with on the brink of stardom.

“I mean we are all working, right?” says Staples. “So we’re the working class. There’s no government aid for rap. It’s not a trade, you know? We make music. I’m not sure what I’d do if I didn’t do this … probably be a cameraman in the movies or something. I never really had a dream.”

Indeed, the ruin of Ramona Park didn’t produce dreams. But Staples’ rise wasn’t the textbook escape from the streets. It was pure accident. Releasing mixtapes in the company of Odd Future and Earl Sweatshirt, he still had no ambition for a life in rap until Def Jam took notice in 2012, signing him to a lucrative deal as their next superstar.

His deft mix of dark humor, conscious observations, and the edict that there’s no glory in the gang, makes him unique among contemporaries like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. Staples’ art exists in a balance where he can spout ghetto braggadocio (the aforementioned First fellatio) and raise the conversation of the inner city at the same time. Behind the mic, he’s a firecracker live, injecting the usual hip-hop show with the catharsis of an aggressive punk set, something he’ll be ratcheting up on a larger stage.

But over the phone, he’s quiet and modest, and would rather talk about how the “pistol-popping” Poppy Street of 2006 is much different in 2017. Investing in the local YMCA, his civic pride has had substantial results.

“It’s much nicer to live in that area now,” says Staples. “I’m very excited at all the changes that have happened there. The people that live there have much more pride in the community now than when I was growing up there.”

That “change” runs parallel with Staples’ upward climb. For those urged to resist “Trump’s America,” it’s been underlined that progress will be achieved one neighborhood at a time over the next four years. Staples certainly doesn’t want to be a role model, but his constant barrage of unspoken truths in his words and the magical realism of his art is becoming increasingly inspiring with each new venture. That’s something that’s not lost on a true man of the people.

“I’m always doing new things,” says Staples, when asked about the immediate future. “I’m always working with new people and trying to make things bigger and broader. Always pushing forward.”

Staples’ “The Life Aquatic Tour” stops at the Newport Music Hall on Wednesday, March 22. Visit vincestaples.com for more information.

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Arts & Culture

What’s Open: Venues slowly start to roll out live music

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When it was announced in mid-May that wedding venues and banquet halls would reopen at the beginning of June, the next question became: When will music venues be next?

Although the rollout has been slow and will be gradual, Columbus venues and attractions that regularly house live music are making their comeback. When the high-spirited, good-feeling cover band Popgun graced the Natalie’s Music Hall & Kitchen on May 27, many people’s greatest fears of being robbed of live music for the rest of the year were eased maybe a little.

The only way for us to get currently get down to live music is to sit down, which is a fair trade-off given the times.

Check out a few Columbus venues that are set to reopen or have reopened under strict coronavirus guidelines.

  • The Forum Columbus -- The Forum welcomed back live music on May 29 with a tabled RSVP DJ showcase. For this event, guests were required to come in groups of no more than 10, be seated six feet apart from other groups, and remain seated unless you have to use the restroom. There are no future events planned as of this publishing.
  • Otherworld  -- The immersive art installation that took Columbus by storm in 2019 is set to return on June 11, according to the venue’s webpage. Otherworld will be operating at a capacity of one visitor per 160 square feet, or around 20 percent of the regular admittance. It’s unclear when the next time Otherworld will host live music, but this is a giant step in the right direction in terms of venue re-openings.
  • South Drive-In -- It’s not a venue in Columbus that traditionally holds music, but it’s become one and may stay one for the time being. Viral DJ Marc Rebillet will be bringing his sold-out drive-in show to the South Drive-In on June 14. With these types of performances popping up all around the country and the South Drive-In owner getting plenty of event requests, we will hopefully be seeing more shows of this nature in the warmer months.
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Community

Music industry designates Blackout Tuesday as time of pause

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To honor the memory of George Floyd and fix the injustices surrounding his death, the music industry has designated Tuesday as a time of pause to collaborate on ways to better support the black community.

Businesses and organizations within the music industry have been asked to pause regular work to reflect on how they can better serve the black community, according to a report from Variety. In general, businesses and organizations across the board have been asked to use Tuesday as a way to focus on the effort.

The message that circulated around social media quickly on Monday stated that “Blackout Tuesday” is being used as “a day to disconnect from work and reconnect with our community” and “an urgent step of action to provoke accountability and change.”

The movement has been gaining momentum under the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused. Major labels such as Capitol Music Group and Warner Music Group announced their alignment with the “Blackout Tuesday” cause. 

Companies have also announced practices such as pausing social media activity throughout the whole day.

Spotify and ViacomCBS have already announced an 8 minute and 46-second moment of silence for Tuesday. The time reflects how long the Minnesota police officer dug his knee into the kneck of Floyd.

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Community

Curbside Concerts brings live music, hope to those in need

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Can’tStopColumbus took a quick pause when the pandemic shut down the world and asked two questions:

  1. Are we sure we're solving the needs of everyone in our community during this time? 
  2. Are we not just coming up with ideas based on our own experiences?

Our elder community was one of the major demographics to have stricter socially distancing guidelines suggested to them. Holidays and birthdays went by without hugs from grandpa or grandma’s cookies.

Out of the need to fill that missing love in the life of American seniors, the idea of Curbside Concerts was born. Anyone is able to jump on the Curbside Concerts signup page and request a concert for an elder, sick people not able to leave the house, or a simple celebration.

Sending a concert telegram is free, and you can also leave a message for a loved one and suggest what type of tunes the organization-selected Columbus-area musician.

So far, the feedback has been inspiring. 

“People cried. I cried. We cried. It was beautiful,” said Zach Friedman, one of the service’s founders and creators. “We had a powerful idea on our hands, and the amazing power of the #Can'tStopColumbus community to scale it and bring it to life.”

To date, Curbside Concerts has had over 50 volunteers. Their job is to drive around a Columbus musician and their equipment with trucks provided by Ricart Automotive. It’s a road trip around the Columbus area, delivering concerts to those who may just need their spirits lifted. It’s like a non-depressing version of Inside Llewyn Davis.

Support has come from all ends of the Columbus creative community, including The Columbus Foundation, Greater Columbus Arts Council, Streetlight Guild, and What? Productions. Through these organizations, musicians are able to be paid for a route that usually lasts five to six hours. 100 percent of the donations they receive on their route also goes to the musicians.

Friedman is asking people to keep requests to older audiences.

“Working with local musicians to perform curbside at people's homes is the vehicle or medium, but the real thing we are doing here is connecting those to older people they love, with an authentic and emotional experience to send love over,” Friedman said.

We found out pretty quickly how much as a collective that we take live music for granted. Live streams have been a temporary, dulled-down replacement. You realize how long people have been robbed of the experience when you see a musician pull up in a pickup truck, set up in five minutes, and serenade neighborhoods with songs like “Lean on Me” and “What A Wonderful World.” It starts off with a message to one house and then resonates down the street, like the citizens of Gas Town rushing to The People Eater for even a drop of water.

Photos by Zak Kolesar

For most people, it was their first taste of live music since mid-March. While we may want concerts to return as soon as possible, its productions like Curbside Concerts that display the emotional power of music.

To request to send someone a concert, follow the link here: https://sendaconcert.herokuapp.com/request

To volunteer for Curbside Concerts, follow the link here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040b45abaa22a4fb6-curbside

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