Words by Lily Mercer
Meet Earl Sweatshirt and Vince Staples, two cult Los Angeles lyricists that stand out amongst industry peers jumping on trends to capitalise on rapid success. Or as Earl poetically describes it, “Fishy niggas stick to eating off of hooks.” Both MCs are dedicated to the art of rap with lyrics far beyond their years. Although their back catalogues almost go back to the last decade, 2015 has seen them fully get the hang of creating music to be proud of. In March, Earl released his latest album, ‘I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside’, an impressive body of work, entirely self-produced with the exception of one song. Later this year, Vince is expected to release his debut album following his 2014 EP, ‘Hell Can Wait’.
Now aged 21, the pair first met at the age of 15. Currently touring together, with support from Remy Banks, Nyku and the Fucking Awesome skate team, the ‘Not Redy to Leave’ tour makes perfect sense for the pair who are two of the most influential in the rap scene. Having collaborated on several songs, including ‘epaR’, ‘Hive’ and
2015’s, ‘Wool’, they maintain that their friendship is priority, and good music is just a bonus. Even when Earl isn’t featured in the song, he still pops up for a faux battle with Vince, most notably on Kilo Kish’s ‘Trappin’,’ which features classic lines including, “me and J.Scott ain’t scared of the dark” and “me and J.Scott get ribs from the vegans.”
Taking a break from the tour, Viper speaks to Earl and Vince via three- way phone call from Los Angeles. Vince’s manager Corey announces, “Hello Party People” to which Earl snaps, “Who just said “Hello Party People?” As Corey states, “Me nigga!” Both Vince and Earl respond with a chorus of, “You gotta chill” and “Corey, chill.”
The tone is typical from the pair, regularly switching from a playful tone mocking anything and anyone, to a serious, critical perspective addressing their peers and surroundings. Both artists have maintained this approach in their music, knowing how to maintain and push a reactionary style accompanied by an immature sense of humour.
Is it easier to work with someone you have a friendship with?
Vince: It’s funny though cause we haven’t really worked together that much. The funniest shit about this whole situation is we rap together but we’ve got three songs out in public and we got less than 10 songs recorded ever. We got bars though, if you ever see me and this nigga rap together, there’s definitely bars for you.
You must get daily requests to collaborate on an EP together.
V: Fans request an EP with everybody with everybody. It’s like, “Hey, Alchemist, Action Bronson, Vince Staples, Los and 2Chainz should do a tape.” You’d be surprised how many tweets like that you get per day. Earl: Like, “You know who should do a tape? Childish Gambino, Rick Rubin and Vince Staples.”
V: “And Mac Miller should produce all the beats.” What would be your dream random collaboration line-up?
V: I literally do not have one. I honestly don’t like collabs, it kinda ruins the song sometimes, especially nowadays. I would’ve thought that a Portishead x James Blake one would be kinda good.
Your album with Michael Uzowuru was a good collab album though.
V: I feel like I hold music to a higher regard than a lot of people. It’s funny, motherfuckers hit me with, “Your best shit is your first mixtape,” or “Your best shit is ’Stolen Youth’.” That’s not true in a general sense of what music should be on the scale we’re trying to create within.
E: Yeah, niggas really be trying to hold you to whichever is most easily digestible in their system V: You can sit here and say Kanye’s best album is his first one, everything else is trash. I feel you, but how likely is it that that is actual truth? As far as getting budget, understanding your music, your earliest shit should not be your best shit. If your earliest shit your best shit then you a lump of trash.
What drives you to create music, is there a message you offer that no one else does?
V: The fact that every single person I run into thinks that I smoke weed, I’ve been to jail or have tattoos based on the place that I come from; that’s the reason I make music because that shit is disgusting. It just shows that there’s no respect for humanity if it doesn’t come from a place that [you] come from. Even people from where I come from. If you aren’t the most ghetto motherfucker on the face of earth, if you step wrong, people in my area won’t fuck with you. And people that have never been to this place will question your validity based on things they’ve seen that you’ve probably never seen. I feel like that’s the problem with music and just life in general nobody gives people a chance to be themselves and I wanna eliminate people from the equation.
E: A lot of niggas are preoccupied with doing a whole bunch of shit that isn’t rapping. Like at the root of this shit, we rapping bro’. We know how to rap and I’m speaking for me and this nigga Vince, literally knowing how to rap is going out of style.
Do you have a favourite song of each others’?
E: This nigga Vince verse on ‘Plottin’ is real crazy. The A$ton Matthews song, I think. I’m a fan of Vince Staples’ music though, straight up. The other one I love is ‘Fire’. I think it’s safe to say that we both fuck with each other and we come with new flows.
V: And people be taking flows, flow thievery at an all time high.
E: Inventing a flow is crazy.
V: Me personally, I don’t care about lyrics or trying to bar out on niggas. I feel like overall music is a complete package, I don’t wanna hear someone just rap all day.
V: That’s just corny to me, if you’re not saying nothing that relates to life, then it doesn’t matter. In that sense, Lil Boosie is real hip hop because he speaks to a person’s life. Just like Lupe Fiasco will speak to a person and when I was growing up, I was listening to Lil Bow Wow. That’s just reflecting what’s happening to you in life, so is that not important? E: You ask an old nigga about hip hop, he’ll tell you that shit died a real long time ago. To be honest, it low key did. If you’re talking about the definition of the culture and the energy and the things that niggas were doing that were classified as hip hop, niggas stopped dancing to the records a long time ago.
V: Nobody in their right mind can tell me Kurtis Blow can rap better than Lil Wayne.
E: Kurtis Blow? Is better than Lil Wayne? No.
V: Nobody can say Kurtis Blow can rap better than Lil Wayne. Nobody can tell me Run DMC did some shit more complex than Gucci Mane’s “Toni Braxton sniper rifle, make you never breathe again” type shit. They weren’t dropping that back then so it’s all relative at the end of the day but what I’m saying is the artistry and musician shit is what we lack the most in hip hop today.
E: It’s a weird state right now but it’s good because it’s a turbulent stage for rap music, it’s mostly a free for all.
V: Also these kids aren’t buying the bullshit no more.
E: Kids aren’t buying bullshit?
V: Not in the sense of money but if they find out you’re full of shit…
E: Yeah, 110%. There’s machines now, people that have turned themselves into machines, like whole package ass people. Cause that’s what it takes now for you to be regarded as the type of artist that Vince is taking about. I feel like with dudes like Kanye, that’s why I be making my own beats, to be as goddamn self-sustaining as I can be. You’ve got to be a nigga like Vince to not make your own beats now. To not be in charge of your entire aesthetic, your word has to be your bond, your world has to be real valuable.
V: Definitely cus now they’re buying you more than they’re buying the music
E: And if you’re not making your own beats now and you’re rapping, you’re not coming with your own sound. You’re coming with whoever that’s making the beat’s sound. Because now producers are a machine, niggas like Diddy did it before but they were way more rare. Producers are a thing now like rappers.
V: You always have the Just Blaze’s and the DJ Premier’s and J Dillas and Madlib’s, and the other guys, they’ve always had names, it’s just social media has them more at the forefront.
Rap’s very over-saturated these days, thanks to the Internet.
E: Rap imitates the world though, the world is over-saturated. Everything that niggas are into is over-saturated right now from basketball to skateboarding, music, weed is over saturated. It’s over populated.
V: Do you mean over-saturated or over broadcast? E: I’d say over-saturated, the line between the consumer and the artist has been blurred, it’s one and the same now.
V: That’s because it’s been over broadcast through the Internet. There was a point in time when you did not know what Jay Z was doing right now. Niggas know what outfit Beyonce had on yesterday.
E: Right, you know where Kanye’s at.
V: That’s what fucked everything up. Millions of people could rock with it, there’s nothing wrong with people liking it, but there’s something wrong when it becomes more about stating what you like than supporting and embracing it and that’s what we’ve come to now. We’ve come to people wanting to like things for their own credibility, it’s not about the music or the food or the clothes, they wanna listen to the music because nobody likes it but then what happens when somebody likes it; it becomes overrated it’s mainstream. Why is that a bad thing? Everyone wants to be mainstream. What does that even mean, are we on a boat? That doesn’t mean shit but we pretend that it does so we can be cooler than the next person.
E: The same people that don’t fuck with mainstream music are the same people that don’t fuck with things that are new. It’s hipster shit.
Besides talent, what do you feel helps you stand out amongst the millions of rappers with Internet access?
V: I don’t feel like I stand out honestly, Young Thug stands out, J.Cole stands out, Kendrick Lamar stands out, my name is not amongst those people. To stand out, you’re at the forefront, I’m not at the forefront.
E: Also it’s coming down to the instruments and the tempos you use to talk to people over. Niggas say Future is nigga’s Beyonce, because it’s the most palatable. If Future was saying the shit he’s saying over some other music it might be questionable or it wouldn’t have the same effect.
V: I definitely see what you’re saying. Future is the closest relation to current culture. Current culture is drug culture, party culture, urban glorification.
E: I feel that one thing Future’s got that helps me is the honesty that he throws in the mix of crazy shit he talks about. He’ll turn his whole eye on himself.
I’ve heard people say PartyNextDoor is the new R. Kelly.
V: There’s no need to be a new anybody, let motherfuckers be themselves. People [are] so stuck in the past and 9/10 of these people saying [they’re] the new R.Kelly do not remember when one R. Kelly song came out. Because these kids were not listening to black people’s music when they were growing up, it’s just the truth. These same kids that know so much about hip hop, I’ll drop a fucking Snoop Dogg or Ray J song at a show and they won’t know what the fuck it is it, is but it was the biggest song out at the time. Everyone’s pretending to be part of a culture they don’t know anything about, but are just embracing the current.
Generalising a new artist can be insulting too, like they’re not unique if you can compare them to someone else.
V: I understand it but there’s no need to put down current culture due to respect, admiration or whatever. When you do things like that, you’re missing a whole generation. You’re comparing new rappers to Nas like there was no 50 Cent or DMX or Cam’ron era. You can’t forget that part of music and the transition period. We’re not coming from breakdancing, backpacking, vinyl, that is not the generation before us. There’s actually more substance in today’s music than there was when I was growing up in 2000. You had Kanye and Lupe Fiasco, the conscious wave but that was it, there was no one else speaking like that. It was like post Talib [Kweli] and Mos Def, that’s the time that people are forgetting. Dem Franchise Boyz, those were the biggest rappers at a point in time. That was a real era of music. So we are in a good place, compared to where we were before.
E: Hell yeah bro. The 2000s were so crazy because rap suffered from success and the craziest part is, I love that music.
A silent pause leaves me wondering if the line went dead, but leads to some insight into Vince and Earl’s background behaviour during the interview…
V: I think everyone should know I’m doing this interview while overcoming the 24 deficit on 2K. I’m the best player of all time.
E: Man, I was doing some other shit at the beginning of this interview… [Laughs]
V: I just need people to know that I’m the best probably ever, in the entertainment industry, ever and I’m willing to put money on it, I’m willing to bet whatever.
E: I was getting into some real nasty shit in the beginning of the interview.
V: I believe you bro.
With a tweet following the interview, Earl revealed that the “nasty shit” in question was, “got #top while i did a damn phone interview earlier lol.” Blissfully unaware of Vince’s oral activities during our aural union, the two take a moment to praise their shared passion.
E: What’s up with rapping?
V: It’s rapping.
E: Rapping is crazy.
V: It’s a beautiful thing. It’s a gift and a curse like ‘The Blueprint 2’.
Going back to comparisons in music, I ask if they’re ever bothered by New West Coast tags?
V: There’s no such thing as coast, everybody’s from the Internet, we all from the Internet, SoundCloud, Vine and shit like that. It sucks ‘cause I would love to be a new West Coast artist but it’s no use, there’s no Dogg Pound Gang videos no more. Half of these people can’t even go to places they claim they from.
This is the Conflict issue of Viper. What’s the biggest conflict you’ve faced in life?
E: Myself, that’s the only that nigga I’m scared of. Word to Coach Carter.
V: The biggest conflict I’ve faced in life is probably overcoming stereotypes and rumours that have been in place for years.
How do you feel about the conflict in America right now?
V: No one cares about this shit that’s happening. Nobody cares in America, probably in the world. As people, it’s cool to care about things when we’re told it’s a problem. It’s crazy that we pretend we care about police killing people but it’s cool to bomb schools in other countries because they’re terrorists. What does that even mean? If we’re told there’s a problem with the police, there’s a problem with the police. If we’re told there’s a problem with drugs or gangs, there’s a problem with drugs or gangs is a problem. None of this shit is new.
V: If someone doesn’t like your music that is not a big issue, the last thing I’m worried about is if someone appreciates what I’m saying, I wanna say it because it’s relevant to me and where I come from. I feel like that’s lacking to me, people aren’t understanding in the personal way before anything else. I try to get across my perspective on my life ‘cause when it’s all said and done and you die, who were you and what did you do? No one cares about how many records you sold. No one speaks on those types of things, they speak about who you were and what you did for culture. We made ‘Hands Up’ a year before that kid [Mike Brown] got killed by the police. There’s a video on YouTube of the police shooting a kid down a set of stairs in Long Beach down the street from the college, and nobody cared. Because you hadn’t been told to care about that incident. But I saw it, I’ve seen that happen because it’s my environment that I come from. That just shows how ignorant we are about the world, I just feel like be true to my environment and be true to myself, of course we’re gonna speak on those topics because we’re all the same at the end of the day.
E: There’s a certain human thing that is in all of us.
How do you feel about sharing the cover of Viper?
E: Its a 2-4-1 deal, get one, get the other. Real shit.
V: Real shit, I fuck with him.
E: Real shit, I’m focused.
You’ve got one of the strongest fan bases in rap, you agree?
E: Real talk, we got one that’s not moving.
V: I definitely want girls at my shows.
E: Yo, real talk man! What’s wrong with that? That’s a problem straight up. The ratio of virgin males to grown women….
V: And that’s why I say we’re not standing out because J.Cole is standing out.
E: He got ‘em!
V: He got ‘em!
E: Right. The Weeknd got ‘em.
V: The Weeknd got ‘em. That’s hip hop right there.
E: We started making music before we started having sex.
V: That’s not true, not for me.
E: Nigga, I had one bitch when I started music and she let me hit six months after it took off.
V: You started on this way early though. It don’t really count, you can’t speak for the generation.
So what’s wrong with the ratio at the shows?
V: We need more girls at the shows if we going to survive, for my own health. I’m sick of dudes trying to smoke weed with me after the show. E: Yes! Like I don’t wanna smoke weed with none of y’all.
Vince, you’re currently recording your debut album right?
V: Yeah, but what’s a debut album? I don’t know. I’m just making songs.
E: This nigga Vince’s stuff is heat, he’s lying to you. I don’t got shit! ‘I Don’t Like Shit…’ was my first and last album. I’m out.
Earl, you’re retiring?
E: Yeah, peace. V: Don’t be like that nigga
E: It’s a weird one though I’m not gonna lie. It’s been weird to figure out which direction to go in after.
V: There’s only one direction to go. Shout out One Direction
E: Shout out One Direction though, cause that’s definitely a direction.
Maybe you should do your collab album with them?
E: You said a collab album with Rick Rubin, One Direction, Vince Staples and Yoko Ono? Damn. That’s what’s up, I’m proud of you for that bro!
V: You got me all fucked up.
E: [Laughing] Oh man.
V: I can’t be collating with people, one man hair band. This shit is real.
E: How would you be if I fell through with a gorgeous head of white man’s hair?
V: The hair’s in the music, the hair isn’t in the appearance.
Have you got any questions for each other?
V: Why are you so lazy?
E: Why are you so lazy?! The homies call me James Brown, because I’m the hardest working man on earth. So many people call me James Brown, I be working so hard.
Any final words for Viper?
E: I’m going to the gym right now because fucking around with y’all might make me miss my gym shit. ‘Cause Earl is about to gain 15 pounds right now. I love the gym.
V: Make sure you put in that I’m a 2K warrior, I’m a champion.
E: Vince, come fuck with me nigga, I got beats! Put this in the article… tell Vince to come to my damn house.