WORDS

Half way through Vince Staple’s sold out show at the O2 forum in Kentish Town, he drops the track Homage.

Illuminated only by a single red screen behind him, Staples is just a silhouette. The chorus of the track is directly cribbed from the Rick Ross track Hold Me Back. The crowd screams back the lyrics of Ross to the faceless figure on stage who remains captivatingly motionless. The deconstructor of the way we expect a modern rapper to behave, awash with the words of a man who did as much as anyone to set the template.

As a spectacle, it’s unsettling yet totally riveting. Somehow, it seems like Staples is learning more about us than we are of him.

Despite a catalogue spanning a number of critically acclaimed projects, the focus of the show is very much on the recent Big Fish Theory: an aggressively blunt commentary on class and race that rattles through at 36 minutes. That directness is reflected in Staples’ minimal setup. The experience is blinding and he’s caught in the glow with the rest of us.

When the gig starts, he emerges from the shadows to the pounding synths of Party People. A self-proclaimed club-hater and straight edge guy is demanding “Party people move, I like to see you groove.” The extent of the real Vince Staples on show is unclear. A far cry from the joker poking holes at the rap ecosystem, he is exposing it from the inside out. As he parades around the stage to the Major Lazer remix of his track Ghost, he loses himself in the incandescent silhouette.

If Big Fish Theory was shining a light on the rapper’s pedestal, the live show reflects it back on the audience. As the lighting scheme continues to render Staples faceless, the blank canvas on which we project our expectations becomes much more emphasised.

It’s a party as much as it is an experiment. The lines continue to blur as pop choruses and thunderous productions from the likes of SOPHIE, Jimmy Edgar, and Flume are met with rapturous reactions. Throughout his rap career Vince has consistently claimed that rapping to him is a job and nothing more. Separated from the wider world of hip-hop, this show demonstrated that keenness to play a different kind of role.

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