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‘It’s a cool fucking fish.’ A mildly weird chat with Vince Staples

Last summer, before the release of his amazing album Big Fish Theory, Henry Oliver tried to go deep with Los Angeles rapper Vince Staples and failed, so asked him about basketball and cartoons instead.

Vince Staples is young, very skilled and very, very chill. He raps fast, but talks slow. His records are loud, but he is quiet. He grew up in gangs, but now, he says, all he does is tour. When he’s home, he likes to be alone or hanging out with his manager’s kids. He doesn’t drink, smoke or do drugs. He likes basketball and cartoons. He doesn’t like the internet (though he’s on it for promotional reasons) or interviews (though he does them for promotional reasons).

I knew he didn’t like interviews. I’d seen him on CNN and Pitchfork and our own Pop on the Couch. I knew that blank stare he gives the camera to tell the audience how much he doesn’t like talking to them, how he thinks this is dumb, but is doing it anyway. I imagined him staring at me like that for 20 minutes.

Still, I knew he was a long-time Los Angeles Clippers fan, so, when the opportunity to interview him came up, I thought I’d just ask him about Chris Paul and Doc Rivers. His manager wanted to make sure I’d ask him about music, so I thought I’d do that first before asking for some NBA hottakes.

The interview takes place at bFM, before he’s interviewed on the radio station. I’m set-up in the office of the programming assistant whose name I can’t remember and who worked on her computer throughout the interview. Sometimes Staples asks her a question, sometimes she just interrupts. Also in the room is Staples’ manager, Cory Smyth, who Staples refers questions to when he is either unsure of the questions or just doesn’t want to answer. It’s a little weird and mildly uncomfortable.

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Vince Staples at his temporary bFM base

The Spinoff: How much of your life are you on tour?

Vince Staples: All of it.

All of it?

Yeah, all of it.

You never at home? You’re not going home for Christmas? Or just chill?

Nope. I won’t be home for Christmas.

Do you care?

Why would I? It’s just Christmas. I’m not a holiday person, so it’s not really my thing.

What did you before you toured? What was your life like?

Nothing really. Just hanging out, down and around.

Just making music?

Yeah, sometimes. I’ve been touring as long as I’ve been making music.

In that time, do you feel like the proposition of making music, and making a living off music, has changed?

In what way?

People used to make a lot more money off record sales. Now, there’s much more of an emphasis on touring, because it’s better revenue source, more people are living on tour like you…

I wasn’t around when people were making money off record sales, so…

You never had that expectation?

No. It’s just money. You can always find a way to make money, if that’s what’s important to you. It’s just money. You’ll always find some. Money’s less about how much you make, and more about what you want to buy. If you want move into a cabin in the middle of fucking Dakota, you don’t need to make that much money. If you want, like, a 15-bedroom, $5 million house, then yeah, then you need to make a lot of fucking money. It all depends on what you want from it.

Do you feel like you need to make a lot of money?

Nope.

bFM programming assistant: That’s good, because no one needs 15 bedrooms.

Staples: Depends. You might need 15 bedrooms.

bFM: I hope not.

Staples: Hey, what if you got, like, five kids, and you have people that work in your household. You got a chef, a trainer, a nanny. What else, Corey? An assistant?

Corey Smyth: Maybe you just got 15 people that live with you.

Staples: Family.

Smyth: Yeah. Maybe you got cousins.

Staples: Cousins, your mom. You got 10 sisters. My friend’s a actor. She has a big-ass house, but her whole family lives with her. It’s party all the time in that place.

bFM: That’s pretty cool.

Staples: No. I like to be by myself. When you go over there, and they have a trampoline and a dunk tank in the backyard, there’s some shit going on.

You’re not motivated by money? What are motivated by?

Staples: I just think I should do what I’m told. You got this guy, he says, “We’re doing this.” I’m like, “Okay.” It’s never been a why, I just do it.

Do you think of yourself as an ambitious person?

Historically, no. It was never really my thing.

But, increasingly?

Yeah, I would say so. I would definitely say so. I like small things.

What do you mean, small things?

I’ll be like, “I really want this couch.” Then, I’ll say, “How much are we going to make this month? Can I buy this couch?” Then, I’ll be like, “Damn. We need to make more money, because I really want this couch.” Then, I’ll be like, “Hey, Corey. We should do, like, one extra thing to get this couch.” Then, we’ll find something to do. That’s the ceiling of my ambition. I don’t know what ambitious even actually is. Just live your life. You’ll be fine.

What about creative ambition?

What is that? If you’re creative, you’re creative.

Some people have a sound, or a artistic vision, like a long-term aesthetic project…

Then, it’s just there. You don’t have to be ambitious about it.

Are you a perfectionist?

Am I a perfectionist, Corey? I don’t think so.

Smyth: A perfectionist would be an extreme term. How about getting things right. You want them to be right. Staples: Yeah. I’m not a perfectionist. Sometimes, things don’t work out.

Are you a political person?

Not at all.

Not at all?

Not at all. Not even a little bit. I have zero percent of me that is politically-driven, but I do like cartoons. You ever seen Clarence?

Clarence? No.

You should watch Clarence? You’d learn a lot from Clarence.

Last time you were here, you did an interview for us, Pop On the Couch….

Corey: Where we sat in that room, and then we sat on the couch, and they showed you the music videos.

Yeah. I remember that. That was fun. That was actually very fun.

It was just after B.O.B. had said something about the world being flat, and it taking off on the internet. You had this cynical stance towards the internet, which was prescient because in the election year, there’s been all this concern about fake news.

What did I say?

First, that he shouldn’t be saying dumb shit on the internet, because people will actually believe him. He’s not recognising his power. Then, people shouldn’t be on the internet so much.

Yeah. I still feel that way.

Have you been conscious of that becoming a big issue, after the election?

We’ve been on tour. I don’t even know what the fake news thing is about. That sounds crazy, though. Imma look it up when I get home.

You’ve got a radio show on show on Apple now, what attracts you to doing something like that?

They asked us if we wanted to do it, and we were like, “Sure.” We got some songs, we got some commentary. Why not? It’s just filtering and facilitating the way that you do things. Why not?

Apple’s becoming a big player in music, investing in artists, getting exclusive albums. Is that something you’re interested in doing?

That’s what regular labels do. If you sign to a label, you’re their exclusive artist. You could always just buy their music. If you were buying their music, they wouldn’t be exclusive anywhere. You could just buy it.

True. Increasingly, people don’t want to buy music, though. People just want to, like, hire it.

I don’t want to buy music, but I want to tell you where to put it. Fuck that.

Fair enough. What do you play on your radio show?

We playing a lot of Whitney Houston. We’re playing Lil B. Every episode, there will be a Whitney Houston, or a Lil B song, or a Brandy song.

What’s your favourite album of this year?

I like Frank Ocean’s album. I like Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge’s [NxWorries] album. And I like the Blood Orange album. It’s one of those three.

Favourite song of the year?

Nope. New songs come out everyday.

You’re a Clippers fan, right?

Yep. I like Kilo Kish’s album. Yeah. I forgot that came out this year. I just had it along time ago. Yeah, I like the Clippers.

Did you grow up a Clippers fan?

Yes, sir. The tickets used to be very inexpensive, and they were very nice people, so I gravitated to it.

So not the Lakers? Is LA dominated by the Lakers?

Well, Kobe’s a mean man, so I didn’t really like Kobe growing up.

The Clippers had an incredible start to the season, but they’ve collapsed over the last couple of weeks…

No. It’s just been 10 games, 15 games. It’s 82 games in a season. We can’t collapse. We’re like, fucking third in the east. We only lost, like, three games more than the Warriors.

Are you concerned that their window is closing?

They don’t have a window. It’s impossible. The only time they couldn’t win a championship was last year, because everybody was hurt. It didn’t happen, because Chris Paul and Blake got hurt. They would’ve won last year, if nobody would’ve got hurt.

What did you think of the whole DeAndre Jordan thing, over the summer?

I think he should’ve left.

Do you say that as a DeAndre Jordan fan? Or, as a Clippers fan?

I think he’s cool, but it’s just too congested in the paint. They’re not a bad team, but when it comes down to it, you need another option. Your three best players, and two of them do the same thing, offensively, almost. J.J. Redick’s playing really good this year. Jamal Crawford’s playing good this year. I don’t know if that’s necessarily enough. If Brice Johnson wouldn’t have got hurt at the beginning of the year, that would’ve been a good thing, because he was going to be really good.

What do you think of Austin Rivers?

I love Austin Rivers. I love him to death. He’s amazing. I really like Austin Rivers. He plays hard.

Are you a Doc Rivers fan?

Not really. I just don’t know what he does.

What do you mean?

I don’t know what he does. What does he do?

He seems to be big on motivating through anger…

Yeah. That’s not really a skill for me, as a coach. You need an offensive coach. You need a defensive coach. You have team-builders, you have strategists. What does he do?

He seems like he’s an emotional…

I’m going to tell you what he does. He won a championship with three of the best players ever, on the same team. Year before lockout year, with Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, James Posey, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Paul Pierce. They only won one championship. That’s what he did.

Are you a Rondo fan?

I can’t dislike him. I think he’s good at what he does. Am I fan? Am I going out to buy a Rajon Rondo jersey? No. I think he’s a good player, and he’s really smart. He knows, like, 10 languages. That’s a lot of fucking talking to not forget them.

Do you think that works against him?

Nope. He just just won too early. He knows what he wants out of a coach, and a team. He has been on a good team. He’s doing perfectly fine in Chicago. They’re doing really well. He’s hurt right now, but they’re fine.

Are you into the Golden State Warriors? Or are you more concerned with competitive balance?

I think it’s cool. It’s good for them. They still got to beat the Cavs, and the Spurs. Basketball is about match-ups. It’s not about the 2K ratings of the players. If you have a bad matchup, the Warriors, they built a good team, but they gave away two of their best defenders, just to have to play Lebron James again. If their shots don’t go in, it could get ugly.

Doing anything fun while you’re here?

We got to go to Sydney tomorrow. Imma play a show. Then, Imma go to sleep. I might watch some cartoons. We might eat today. That’s definitely a part of the plan, I think.

What’s your favourite cartoon?

I like The Amazing World of Gumball. That’s my shit. It’s about this dude, his name is Gumball. His dad is a bunny, and he’s a cat, and his mom is a cat, and his sister’s a bunny. They have an adopted little brother, he’s a goldfish. They go to school.

I’ve got a three year-old who likes cartoons. Is it child-appropriate?

Yeah. It comes on during the day. It’s just about blending families, and going to school. Their teacher is a lollipop. They hang out with a slice of pizza. It’s a sloth there. It’s a piece of paper that’s their friend. They have a potato friend, a banana friend.

bFM: It sounds wack.

Staples: It sounds amazing. You should watch the fucking cartoon. It’s good for kids. What sounds wack about it? That the characters are like beings?

bFM: No. That someone’s brother is a goldfish.

Staples: They adopted him. All the people are animals. You can’t adopt animal that’s like you, that’s fucking weird. They adopted a goldfish. He didn’t have a home. He sleeps in a bowl. I forgot his name. He wears Converse and socks. It’s a cool fucking fish. And he wouldn’t have had a home. That just shows you don’t care about the children.

bFM: Okay, don’t spin this all on me.

Staples: Did you hear that? She wanted him flushed, Corey.

Corey: What, the goldfish?

Staples: Yeah. She didn’t want him to have a home. Trust me. Watch this show. That shit is sad, low-key. It’s like, you get hints of the fish being like, “I’m fucking adopted.” That shit is crazy. Look at the classroom, bro. They got a T-Rex friend on the basketball team. This is my nephew’s shit. I seen it, and I was like, “This shit is drawn very well.”

Hey Corey, I need to be a voice on Gumball!


Vince Staples plays Wellington at San Fran on Friday 12 January and Auckland at The Powerstation on Saturday 13 January, 2018. Spark have an exclusive pre-sale for Spark customers, available 10am Tuesday 26 September to 10am Thursday 28 September.

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