Q&A: Vince Staples redirects offbeat impulses from familiar territory of rap to new Netflix series

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Although Vince Staples has been in the limelight for more than a decade, he still thinks fame is a weird thing.

And while the Southern California rapper isn’t necessarily concerned with “making the best thing” or reaping critical praise, he’s willing to endure the publicity machine if it means he can continue to find creative fulfillment through whatever art form calls to him.

That’s what propelled the 30-year-old to make his first foray into filmmaking with “The Vince Staples Show,” a kind of autobiographical, genre-bending, dark comedy series, hitting Netflix on Thursday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the artist talked about his love of surrealism, religious references and why he misses kids messing up his restaurant orders. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

AP: One of the things I loved about the show were the elements of surrealism that you have in it. I was curious if that’s something you’ve always been into?

STAPLES: My first couple I guess, introductions to cinema, as we see it, would probably be “The Twilight Zone,” “The Wizard of Oz,” those kinds of things, watching them with my grandparents. And I’ve always liked the idea of the unknown or just a perceived reality down to something as simple as “Toy Story” or “A Bug’s Life,” dealing with perception, especially as a child. As you get older, you learn about David Lynch, you learn about the Coen brothers, you learn about Roy Anderson. You watch “Donnie Darko” and you’re like, okay, “What’s happening? What’s not happening?”

Those kind of things always were interesting to me. Especially because I grew up in a place where you have two different sides of how people view the city and it’s like, “Oh, I don’t want to go right there.” And it’s like, “Why not?” You know what I mean? Like, it’s always been an interesting kind of contrast within our environments. And I think I digested that at a young age. And as I grew, I grew an affinity towards it, so to say. So I definitely wanted to make sure that the show had a lot of elements of surreal cinematography, as well as storytelling and making sure the audience in the show will probably perceive certain things to be real or not real, and it’s honestly all over the place. Like there are a lot of Easter eggs.

AP: I noticed too a lot of Christian imagery and symbolism. I was wondering why that attention to detail was important for you.

STAPLES: Well, I feel like religion directly affects perception and it directly affects what we deem to be real or not. So, I think when you add signs of religion within specific framing — like the way that you frame things in contrast with iconography helps you see it without saying it. And we’re playing with the idea of reality and something being perceived or something being felt and not seen.

And when you’re doing that, I think that the easiest anchor that you can use, especially like in something contemporary in American — and specifically Black American — contexts is religion because it’s something that everyone understands.

AP: You poke fun at the idea of fame a lot and you seem to be cognizant of how weird it is. Is that something you were thinking about?

STAPLES: I think it’s extremely weird. I don’t necessarily think it’s real, but I feel the need for it is very selfish — not even in a negative sense, but in a practical sense. It’s necessary because we look for ourselves within other people, and the success of others gives us a sense of accomplishment or sense of just being seen.

And I think we utilize that like, “Oh, I relate to this person. I feel like this person, I look like this person. I talk like this person. I’m from the same place as this person. So since they are special, I’m special too.” … And it just grows as we become more and more consumed with the Internet or visual mediums or just the idea of fame as fame changes. So it’s definitely something that deserves commentary.

AP: I know a lot of people know you primarily from your music. But you strike me as somebody who’s really aware of and interested in so many different types of art, like film and visual art.

STAPLES: Music is always going to be there. But just trying to go as far as possible — I might learn how to trace or draw or something like that. Get some decent handwriting. My handwriting is terrible. But I feel like, based on what you’re saying, I 100% agree that I’m a person who — I try things. Lack of resources or lack of understanding yourself does things to you when you’re younger. So as you get older and you have this opportunity, I have a “Why not?” approach to the way that I view things. So anything I’m willing to lend myself to, if it helps me process life differently or better, or just kind of lend itself to creativity.

AP: Do you think that requires a kind of humility because you are willing to do things that you’re not necessarily going to be an expert in right away?

STAPLES: I think it definitely takes humility. And I don’t mind the mistakes. Even from the beginning, I just wanted to make sure that I was able to write the show and I was able to help produce the show because it’s not about making the best thing. It’s just about making the thing, to me. And I feel like if you have the best intentions and you really stick to your vision, it’ll come out as good as it can for that specific moment, and then you get another moment, you know what I’m talking about? So I feel like for me, I appreciate the process and the ability to do these things for a living. Like, this is highway robbery.

AP: You’ve talked before about concerns you had with artificial intelligence and art.I wondered if you’re still feeling pessimistic?

STAPLES: Yeah. I mean, is it’s less about AI and art and more about how we view each other as humans and our lack of appreciation for one another. If I appreciate you and you appreciate me and we both we both know that, then we bring value to the world that we wouldn’t possibly want to replace. I think we’re limiting human interaction and showing how we feel about each other.

You know, I might be old, but I miss the old lady at the checkout at a Ralphs. I miss kids messing up your order at a restaurant. I miss those kind of simple things. Speaking to somebody at a register because people matter, and I feel like, I just want us to get to a point of where human existence is prevalent and important, and we have an understanding and a value for one another’s lives. I think we’re trying to replace us and if we appreciated us more, we wouldn’t have that urge to do so.

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