I went to the Vince Staples show at Foellinger last week. There was a certain surrealness to it- this place where I’ve come for Econ 103 lectures that I never paid attention to, now smoke and light-filled, kids cramming the area directly in front of the stage, kids nodding and vibing at first, and eventually moshing and head-banging and jumping over each other. One person actually stage-dove off the Foellinger stage. Can you imagine. And, at the helm of this weird little trip, alone on stage in a black concert hoodie, puffing periodically from his inhaler, Vince Staples.

It was definitely one of the more diverse shows I’ve been to, and everyone was friendly, and when we moshed the pit was full of helping hands, but there was something about the whole scene that was itching at the back of my mind the whole show. Maybe it was the hall, maybe it was the visuals Vince played behind him. With a few exceptions, everything on screen was from the dark depths of the sea: sharks, kelp forests, jellyfish all floated by while Vince rapped his brains out. The first thing on-screen was a betta-fish, notorious fighters, suspended in blackness.

It’s probably just tying in with the surf imagery of “Summertime ’06”, I thought, but maybe there’s something more to the underwater theme here. In the midst of a crowd freakout to “Hands Up”, I had a little realization. The blue and red lights were flashing while videos of police violence played on-screen, and somebody was yelling “Yeah Vince, go Vince!” while he put down bars about his neighbors being killed without reason, about the way his neighborhood has been torn apart from the inside out, and I realized that we were all looking in on this world most of us had never been witness to. I’m not gonna pretend to speak for the whole audience, but I think a lot of the people there probably had better circumstances growing up. Maybe that’s what the undersea imagery was about- we were looking in on this foreign environment, moshing and dancing and vibing but still outside of it, away from the sharks.

That’s what music is supposed to do: connect, tell stories, make you question, make you feel. But when he sang “Lift Me Up” and came to the line “All these white people chanting when I ask em where my n****s at” you could feel the crowd cringe a little. The accusatory questioning is built into his music. And when he finished with “Summertime”, the slowest, and probably most important, song on the album, some of the crowd was already filtering out. It felt weird, voyeuristic almost, looking in on the fishbowl. But maybe I’m just overthinking it.

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