By Lily Mercer, photos by Mike Miller. 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.
Earl Sweatshirt, Vince Staples & Casey Veggies – Hive (Official Video) (2013)
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.