In GQ’s new story “Creating While Clean,” musicians like Ben Harper, Jason Isbell, and Steven Tyler share their reasoning for sober living in a field best known for wild parties and excessive habits. However, Long Beach rapper Vince Staples presents an alternative perspective at the end of the piece. Where some of the musicians detail kicking addictions and fighting to maintain their sobriety in the music industry, the reality Vince depicts in his response is worlds away and paints a chilling picture of a life that isn’t often presented to the mainstream with all its jagged edges intact.
Although Vince typically semi-jokes his way through the first part of the response, poking fun at the stereotypes young, Black men typical of the music industry and wider pop culture mindset. ““They don’t expect this from a young black musician my age from where I come from,” he says. “Like, how could you end up being in the ghetto, went through this, went through that, and not experienced drugs, not experienced alcohol?”
However, he points out that although he “just never wanted to [try drugs]. I’m not the kind of person that will do something that I don’t want to do,” there is also a more serious-minded reasoning behind his refusal to dabble in mind-altering substances:
“I am very sure that I’m gonna think different answers than Steven Tyler or anyone involved in this piece. I’ve lived a completely different life. What I’m saying is: The drug usage was the last thing on my mind. When you’re surrounded with death and dismay and poverty and all these things that happen every day, I didn’t have time to worry about using or partaking in certain things. People where I come from don’t use drugs in a recreational sense. We’re not at a party, or at the rock show, or at the rap show, doing lines in the bathroom. Where I come from, life comes day after day after day, and people use these things to cope. People use drugs as a coping mechanism, and I’ve always held that reality. Reality hurts, but so does addiction — it’s just which pain you choose. That’s the reality of my situation.
I don’t know if my father doing or selling drugs affected me not doing drugs. I don’t know if the dozens of friends I lost in middle or high school affected me not doing drugs. I don’t necessarily know. All I know is that it’s not just one thing. Life isn’t one-sided. We all have different things that we go through, and different things that we see, and these things collectively go together to make us the people that we are today. I’m a hundred percent sure it played some part, but I never had time to think about whether my father’s addiction issues led to me not doing drugs, because I was too busy trying to cope with the reality of people dying and people trying to kill me every day. That was really where my focus was. When you have to think about your next 15 minutes — you have to think about the walk to the store, you have to think about how you’re getting to school, you have to think about the bus ride home, you have to think about how you’re going to sneak a gun into the football game — the last thing I was thinking about was getting high.”
This fits with the occasionally tragic reality Vince addresses on albums like Big Fish Theory and FM!, where anything can happen and staying alert can be the difference between life and death. Where some artists have to choose to take the long, hard path back to sobriety, for Vince — and other young, Black folks like him, entertainers or not — the decision was to never get on that path in the first place, because life is hard enough as it is.