Listening to albums is a full time job. Every day, new bodies of work flood iTunes and your favorite mixtape sites. I love the process of giving an album a spin from start to finish. It’s like test driving a car: wavering back and forth between committing and seeking alternatives with every turn. After a few listens, I tend to pick out favorites I religiously quote, place on playlists and recommend to friends.
The Standout is here to highlight one record from a particular album that fits the criteria above.
Album: Vince Staples’ Prima Donna EP.
Song: “War Ready”
The 411: If I was Vince Staples, my next merch set would include a shirt that reads “Don’t retire, Vince Staples.” Why? Because it seems to be the message every time he releases new music. After stating he wanted to be in hip-hop for just a couple more years in 2015, the sentiment is echoed with his latest work, the Prima Donna EP. We can’t lose Vince to a life after rap. Not this soon at least. For what’s offered on the EP, a 22-minute body of work, Vince makes sure we’re getting our money’s worth and then some. It’s that satisfying episode of your favorite TV show.
Like that episode, there will always be a moment that is your favorite. On Prima Donna, that comes as soon as Andre 3000’s sampled passage from “ATLiens” blows through the speakers on “War Ready.” The section lifted from Outkast’s classic is an undoubtedly genius idea, because it sums up Staples in a nutshell: “Put my Glock away I got a stronger weapon / That never runs out of ammunition so I’m ready for war, okay.” As a Long Beach native who came up around gang activity, Vince’s life could’ve turned out vastly different if he continued on that path, but he realized he had a gift. His strong weapon is his lyrics, and he takes it to another level through the concept of this EP.
Prima Donna is meant as a story told from end to beginning; a rap career, presumably Vince’s, where he ends up depressed and hopeless, which ultimately leads to him ending his life. “War Ready” is the second to last piece in his story, so it’s clear that his mind is made up. His thoughts are clouded with sorrow.
The song is almost a contrast of itself. Vince’s subject matter doesn’t fit the tone of his delivery. Even using the Andre sample backs up this theory. As Staples spits, he sounds confident, and the hook is full of promise. However, his mindset is drastically removed from that as each verse shows. He’s giving us glimpses into his personal feelings, telling us he’s need a breather or his brains will be on the ceiling, or by masking them behind Edgar Allan Poe’s bizarre death. The headstone that will eventually cover his grave already has a quote attached to it: “Fought to the death, never gave in / Write that on the grave that I get laid in.”
Part of this depression is influenced by the way America views him and blacks across the country. His imagery is based around what happened to our ancestors with lines like “life gives you lemons, n***a hang from a tree.” He also distinguishes no differences between heaven and being free, or hell and being locked up. This means that even in death lies the same fate as being on Earth. There’s no escape in the mind of someone so far gone in the direction of abjection.
“War Ready” is an absolute roller coaster as it combines the makings of a banger with lyrics that weigh heavy on the heart. It’s the type of record that gets played on the radio — but unlikely since Vince doesn’t believe Def Jam will ever do that — and enjoyed because of a strong hook. Much like Next’s “Too Close,” the words might be lost on mainstream audiences in favor of a catchy hit record. But Vince doesn’t need radio and vice versa. His message is enough to spread across the internet, and while it might be a concept EP, the words are here to guide anybody going through it. Prima Donna ends in the worst way possible, but that’s why the project goes in reverse order from end to start.
The worst case scenario of depression is out of the way early, but what if the suicide in the intro is only a thought? We see Vince get better with each song up until the end of the EP where he’s normal. As much as “War Ready” might seem he’s sinking, Vince is letting his audience know these thoughts will happen. It’s how you combat them and that’s what the hook represents. It’s why Andre 3000’s sample exists. This is him telling himself that he didn’t go further down on the path of gangbanging, because his words will always be a stronger weapon. Born ready, war ready.