Flashback Week: Vince Staples - "Stolen Youth"

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Vince Staples - Stolen Youth
Release Date - June 20th, 2013
Label - Blacksmith / A.G.

Vince Staples' name tends to get lumped in with the Odd Future collective, and even though he’s the only guest to appear on Earl Sweatshirt’s landmark debut EARL besides Tyler the Creator and Hodgy Beats, he’s never been a true affiliate.  In fact, during the time his verse for epaR and a couple other appearances on Mike G’s album Ali were recorded Vince wasn’t rapping full time or even treating rap as anything more than a hobby.  A lot has changed in the last few years though, and Staples has quickly established himself as one of hip hop’s premier young talents.  Even though Staples had previously released the excellent mixtape Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1 in 2012, Stolen Youth was the first full length project that I came across from Staples.  His talent was evident on his early Odd Future guest appearances, but his unique perspective and outstanding writing ability impressed me more and more each and every time I listened to Stolen Youth.

I might not have even given the project a chance if he hadn’t released it for free, the fact it was produced in full by Mac Miller (who gets co-billing as Larry Fisherman) didn’t seem like a strong selling point at the time, but a couple of songs that Vince appeared on the year before (one with Michael Uzowuru and the other with Domo Genesis) convinced me he was a rapper worth checking for.  The album was recorded at Mac’s home studio and while I’ve never been a fan of Mac Miller the rapper, the beats on Stolen Youth are solid throughout.  Melodic and varied, but sparse enough to make sure Vince’s vocals are always front and center.  Mac lends vocals to a couple tracks as well, joining a handful of guest MC’s including ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul.  All of the guests (including Mac) do their best to keep up with Staples, but except for ScHoolboy Q the rest of the rappers are basically killing time until Vince gets back on the mic.

Staples’ vivid storytelling captures the emotions of surviving a childhood where violence and crime simply came with the territory.  At times Stolen Youth reminds me of Kendrick Lamar’s now Grammy nominated album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, not in quality or scope, but because of the way both artists offer honest accounts of how hard it can be to avoid trouble when you grow up in a neighborhood that forces a certain mentality upon its inhabitants out of a simple desire to survive.  "Guns & Roses" is the album’s standout song and one of my favorite songs of the year.  He says more in this opening passage of the third verse than some rappers do in their entire careers-

I had it all in my home but mother never noticed
The neighborhood where I roamed was known for countless encounters
Of people pressin' they line, I try to stay in my boundary
When bounties placed on your head for shit you never had did
You just conform to survive

Vince consistently displays an uncanny ability to make a foreign perspective intensely relatable.  His wordplay is subtle but clever and rewards repeats listens.  Most of all Vince Staples makes it sound easy, both in his ability to keep his content fresh and to seamlessly adapt his flow to any song he happens to rap on.  Since Stolen Youth was released, Staples has seen his profile raise considerably thanks to his show stealing performance on Earl Sweatshirt's single "Hive" and he seems to be on the verge of a big 2014.  Stolen Youth was released in a summer filled with great rap releases and hasn't received the critical acclaim it deserves to this point, but I have a feeling that in a few years it's an album that a lot of heads are going to pleasantly rediscover.


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