Vince Staples And The Art Of The Rapper-To-Actor Transition

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Teamed with that incisive, instantly recognizable drawl and riveting bars on the perils of life in the LBC, a crucial component of Vince Staples’ journey to hip-hop’s upper reaches has been his authentic personality. Reiterated through nearly every onscreen appearance during promo runs, jovial appearances on popular web-series’ or his Snapchat collaboration with Uproxx, his drollness and amiability has yielded no shortage of quote-ready soundbites since he came to the forefront with 2014’s Hell Can Wait EP. Fresh from placing his oar back in the choppy waters of the rap game with the concisely conceptual west coast bounce of FM!, his unimpeded rise up the ranks has also led to Vince undertaking a bold career maneuver in recent times.

A tale perpetuated throughout the genre’s history, the Norf Side rapper has opted to enlist that natural charisma for more than the conventional press obligations or high caliber music videos and has made tracks towards another ravenously competitive industry — the acting world. Three years on from a tentative dabbling with the art form as one of A$AP Rocky’s entourage in Dope, Staples has now taken broader strides forward with not only a voice acting role in the manga-indebted MFKZ but by signing on the dotted line to take top billing in Richard Hughes’ Punk.

The amalgamation of a first-time director and a debuting leading man, the indie flick will see Vince undergo the on-screen transformation into Peter; a jaded individual who embarks on a road trip and fatefully finds himself in the snare of a gang of fugitive bank robbers. On account of his aforementioned gravitas, it would be safe to assume that Vince has all of the requisite tools to shoulder this burden and turn in a stellar performance. However, removing this segue from an ahistorical vacuum and contextualizing it in the wider canon of rappers in cinema displays the move as more of a calculated risk than any assurance of further success.

In a broad sense, the transition from rapper-to-actor is a three-pronged issue, with each of its distinct pathways having diametrically opposed effects on the artist’s career. In the best case scenario, the artist in question will be lauded for his brazen decision to step out of preconceived comfort zones to transfix audiences with their performance, adding a new dynamic to their lore as a pop culture figure and leaving the door open for sought-after roles should they wish to place an increased onus on the film world.

Striking a balance between the allure of Hollywood’s trappings and the pursuit that brought them into the cultural glare, an early adopter of this approach would be Ice Cube with his turn as conflicted gangbanger Darrin ‘Doughboy’ Baker in John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood. Released in the interim period between his first post-NWA album Amerikkka’s Most Wanted in 1990 and its seminal follow-up Death Certificate, his portrayal of a man that’s been discarded by society and even his own mother before realizing the cyclical heartache he’s contributed — only when it’s too late — unveiled a dramatic range that couldn’t have been anticipated. Epitomized by the unyielding social commentary of his final monologue, this foray out of the booth simultaneously elevated Cube’s profile above his former cohorts such as Dr. Dre & Eazy E while also setting the stage for a largely prosperous career down the road.

Far from the only rapper to have embellished their cultural footprint by lending their services to cult films, Cube’s route was retraced by everyone from Nas and DMX in Hype Williams’ stylized New York crime chronicle Belly to Tupac utilizing his classical training in Juice and Method Man’s surrealist appearance in Zach Braff’s Garden State. Although Vince’s stature in the rap game is yet to equal that of such legendary predecessors, his continued prescience and popularity could make Peter his equivalent of Bishop (Tupac in Juice), Buns (DMX in Belly) or Sincere (Nas in Belly) in years to come.