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In Promising To Go Away, Vince Staples Reveals Another Strong Play To Stay

Vince Staples released "GTFOMD" after a masterful marketing rollout presented in the form of a GoFundMe campaign.
Theo Wargo
Getty Images for Panorama
Vince Staples released "GTFOMD" after a masterful marketing rollout presented in the form of a GoFundMe campaign.

Editor's note: This song and its title contain explicit language.

Vince Staples possesses a particular kind of black genius so shrewd, humorous and antagonistic that it can be hard to translate his POV into confectionary pop. Thankfully, he's immune to oversimplification. Instead, the Long Beach native has spent most of his career since his 2015 Def Jam debut (Summertime '06) applying an almost experimental approach to hip-hop that has drawn acclaim, but also plenty of naysayers critical of his creative complexity.

He's excelled at striking back; on Twitter, he dispenses a steady mix of quick-witted snaps. But his newest song, "Get The F*** Off My D***," released today after a comical marketing rollout, synthesizes the best of both sensibilities.

"GTFOMD" is Vince putting his twist on rap's most enduring trope: the middle-finger manifesto. More than stereotypical black rage, this is Miles Davis turning his back on the crowd mid-performance.

"I don't f*** with fame / you don't see me in no chains / ain't no f*****' slave," he raps on "GTFOMD." The song feels like a creative breakthrough for Staples. That sardonic humor and wit — a signature element of his image and even his brand endorsements for the likes of Sprite — is, often, harder to identify within his music. It's not that it's lacking, but it's often buried. Perhaps the biggest critique of him, especially over the past year, has been that his interviews actually slap harder — to borrow one of Staples' staples-- than his music.

On "GTFOMD," he abandons the electronic, industrial-leaning soundscapes that powered his latest album Big Fish Theory. Instead of competing with those raucous sounds, the DJ Dahi-produced "GTFOMD" is so sparse that Staples becomes the noise.

It's a dis to outward expectations and a declaration of his artistic intentions. But it's also about being free and black, and expressing that as explicitly as possible. Demanding it, in fact. When Staples says, about halfway into the first verse, that he's swearing off interviews, he even calls out NPR in a shot that seems to be directed at all media — from hip-hop pubs to legacy press.

"Press is tryna block my blessings / No more talking to Vince / NPR or XXL, I can't tell which is which," he raps.

If we were thinner-skinned, we might take it as a dis — and maybe it is, or maybe the call letters for National Public Radio just fit his flow. All of that is beside the point. Staples is so artful at mediating his message and manipulating audiences that he doesn't need traditional media to be his foil. And with "GTFOMD," he's learned how to synthesize art and hype.

When Staples unveiled a GoFundMeon Wednesday, he turned the tables on his critics once again.For a goal of $2 million, Staples has promised "to shut the f*** up, forever," as he says to the camera. "And you will never hear from me again." No interviews, no social media, no music.

It comes on the heels of criticism he's received for recent performances: "It's time to talk about how bad Vince Staples was live. Like it was straight up painful," an apparent attendee said via Twitter the morning after his Washington D.C. stop in co-headlining with Tyler, the Creator in February. Another user screen-named Taylor retweeted, adding, "can confirm that this is NOT fake news."

Never one to be out-trolled, he explains on-camera via GoFundMe, "We've gotten a lot of complaints about our recent show performances, energy on stage, production choice," Staples says with a smile. "I think one person said it sounds like we're 'rapping on robot video game beats.' We would like to apologize for that."

More performance artist than performer, Staples keeps the audience at arm's length. "Yeah, it's just not about them, and I think that's a relief in their sight," he told me while discussing his stage show last November. "When you think about a museum, the best art is going to hang on a wall on its own." Instead of breaking down the fourth wall between his audience, Staples seemed to find new ways to construct it during his performance at Anthem in Washington. Behind him, a wall of LED screens projected images and bright white light out into the crowd. Dressed in black with a matching bulletproof vest, he maintained a distance on stage that felt like an attempt to shield himself from the illusory pitfalls of fame.

By Thursday, it was revealed that Staples' GoFundMe campaign was really a tease for this new song, with cover art — a condom inside a wrapper — that perfectly complemented the title. In effect, it was a masterful marketing scheme, one so deceptively simple that the scheme itself is an integral part of the art. When I spoke to Vince last November, he talked specifically about this being the biggest challenge he felt he faced, creating the synergy between his music and the marketing of that product.

"The hard part of music is designing the product and marketing the product — figuring out what it looks like, what it sounds like, what it feels like, who to sell it to and how to get them to believe that it's more important than themselves," he said. "When you've figured that out, that's when you become a star."

From the sounds of "GTFOMD," he just might be ready.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rodney Carmichael is NPR Music's hip-hop staff writer. An Atlanta-bred cultural critic, he helped document the city's rise as rap's reigning capital for a decade while serving on staff as music editor, culture writer and senior writer for the defunct alt-weekly Creative Loafing.