Vince Staples is cold-blooded by choice. Most gangster rappers are – at least they succeed in pretending -, but Staples is the first artist in a while to support that stance bar for bar. His first solid effort, Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1, shows a youngblood completely numbed by poverty, a faulty mother-son relationship and the destructive wages of California gang culture.
On that project, he raps in a calm deadpan but with the clear intent to get per diem by force; he relays “sellin’ tablets like Toshiba” and make his enemies “slow dance with this Desert Eagle.” His faith, or lack of, also solidifies his primal yet pragmatic outlook on life; “We ain’t had no God, but we had hammers.” Most teens his ages surely would worry about stacking ends more than eschatology, but rarely with the same stride.
Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 shows Staples’ toning down his no-bullshit persona a smidge and further fleshing out his life and convictions over No I.D. production. It’s a project that benefits greatly from his personal maturity and experience with beat choice. Tracks like “Progressive 3” and “Humble” more or less tow the line for what’s considered a street pharmacist, but what Staples can do that a Gucci Mane can’t – aside from articulate – is analyze his current situation, breaking down how the world views him and what he feels in response.
His content is not intellectual or abstract, but simply striking enough that it comes from a place of truth: “I’m apologize for breakin’ up your happy home/and lookin’ like my daddy, all them arguments were overblown,” Staples spits on “Humble”. It gives pause to the otherwise standard display of gun and gore in his rap and, in the case of “Nate”, a song depicting a longing for his ne’erdowell father, is so sociologically pertinent that it could merit use in a Black History lecture. Whether or not Staples actually toted a 45 at some point in his life is debatable, but his flow’s usually solid and his rhymes rarely disappoint. It’s Ross without the belly and betrayal.
The beat department holds up just as much as Staples, although they sometimes falter. No I.D. produced six out of ten tracks, working with faded samples and crisp drum patterns. But most of his productions, in comparison to Childish Major’s swaggering shift of “Oh You Scared” or Scoop Deville’s deceptively soulful work on “Nate”, simply just make the cut. It’s a noble resumé booster, for sure, but not the best accompaniment for an artist hell-bent on never wavering in pitch. Granted, it’s a small gripe.
As said before, Staples has the benefit of finding something to say amidst his nihilistic lyrics. Even if the motives grossly outweigh the reasoning behind them – the phrase “I still have slaves hanging from my family tree” ought to be the last thing a person delighting in truancy might say – it’s nice to see someone use rap so willingly to work through familial problems and social ills with such an alarming threat of violence. Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 runs like a loose connection of letters from a man too busy banging to write them.