Although short, Prima Donna is a hard-hitting EP which proves why Vince Staples is one of hip-hop's most exciting young prospects.
Thanks to debut album Summertime ’06, one of the top projects of 2015, and some fantastic guest verses with artists like ScHoolboy Q and Earl Sweatshirt, Vince Staples has quickly become one of my favourite young rappers in the last year. He’s a real rising star of hip-hop in terms of both personality – his Snapchat stories are hilarious – and talent, so bite-sized EP Prima Donna came as an exciting prospect.
After ‘Let It Shine,’ a dark 40-second recital of the children’s song ‘This Little Light Of Mine,’ Prima Donna really gets going with ‘War Ready,’ which combines a range of topics – from the freedom of the black man in America to public perception of rap music – with a playful, skittering beat. This is Staples at his lyrical best (“They only fucking with the rapper if the rapper rich / Or got a platinum hit / A chain or two / Seems the music interchangeable”) and showing a wisdom beyond his years. He knows exactly how most people perceive a young black rapper like him, and such a pessimistic outlook contrasts with the highly charged beats throughout the EP. This hard-hitting production is definitely the main draw here, with some fantastic beats by DJ Dahi and new collaborator James Blake, someone with whom I hope Vince continues to work.
However, the inclusion of skits and interludes like the aforementioned ‘Let It Shine’ to tell the “story” of the EP means that less time is devoted to actual rapping. Prima Donna gives us his reaction to the dark side of fame: as he becomes a bigger name in hip-hop, he fears this will lead to his downfall. “Sometimes I feel like giving up,” he drones for over a minute on ‘Smile,’ and this theme helps to explains the EP’s strange cover: a picture of Staples with a massively inflated head staring blankly into the camera as though his growing status is sparking personal sadness and depression. This concept, whilst interesting, shifts the EP’s focus is away from the actual tracks. Given that Prima Donna is barely 20 minutes in length, dedicating much of its time to skits is frustrating for listeners who are simply hungry for Staples to rap over some dirty beats. Luckily, the EP’s conclusion is there to satisfy us simple creatures, finishing on a high note with ‘Big Time,’ on which Staples brings an insane energy to an electric Blake beat, switching up his flow three times and managing to sound a lot like Danny Brown. It’s very enjoyable all round, as is No I.D.-produced penultimate track ‘Pimp Hand.’
Prima Donna is certainly enjoyable, but there’s really not much to bite into. It’s a project that is strong lyrically, though it suffers from unexciting hooks (that mostly comprise a few words repeated several times) and features (A$AP Rocky is relegated to a few basic lines on the chorus of the title track). Furthermore, it’s all well and good to tell a story through skits at the end of each song, with Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city being the prime example of this, yet Staples fails to properly incorporate the story into each individual track. That said, it’s great to see him exploring new concepts, and Prima Donna remains a satisfying EP with fantastic production and a batch of standout songs that will provide a treat for the curious.
Prima Donna is out now via Def Jam