Rapper Vince Staples is finally segueing into the final run of tracks for his 2016 fall show, and he’s just introduced “Hands Up,” one of the standout tracks from his 2014 Hell Can Wait EP, by telling the crowd “GET YOUR HANDS UP.” It’s a little jarring—while it might not be apparent to the audience, “Hands Up” refers both to getting your hands up to party and getting them up for the police. But he delivers the words with demanding intensity regardless of what they mean, and so everybody sticks them up. By the end of the first verse, the whole crowd has returned to a vaguely interested, if somewhat confused, stance, with their hands by their sides. Staples is barely paying attention, more invested in the music than in performing.
There was little excuse for the sub-par mosh pit or lack of audience participation found in Mandel Hall Saturday night. Staples brought enough seething energy to supply a crowd full of politically frustrated students, but didn’t quite get the response.
The show opened with Simeon Daferede and Christopher Good, both second-years in the College and Major Activities Board (MAB) members, who performed as SIMDEF and York Smiles, respectively. Their 45-minute hip-hop/modern dance set offered staple bangers mixed in with well-appreciated hints of psychedelic electronica.
Staples began his set with popular hits from Summertime ’06, his debut album released in 2015, then moved on to deeper cuts, before hitting the audience with a cathartic rendition of “Norf Norf.” He followed this with a two-song encore—singles “Blue Suede” and “Summertime”—though sadly, the crowd was only given the first verse of “Summertime.”
His set was laced with social commentary, which included chants and exchanges between Staples and the crowd. His subdued (and somewhat indiscernible) muttering between songs was conscious of the lone officer who’s “just trying to do their best.” Following each of these sidebars, Staples joined the audience in shouting out the universal sentiment: “Fuck the Police.”
During the performance, some attendees left early, perhaps expecting a 20-song set of “Norf Norf”’s and “Blue Suede”’s, but by the time Staples reached these songs, the theme of the night had already been set. This was not a banger-after-banger power hour, nor was it meant to be. If that’s what you came for there’s a good chance you left disappointed, and Staples didn’t seem to give a fuck. He was there to tell us a story, give us some feels, let us dance, and throw out a punch line or two (“Make sure y’all aren’t giving each other any STDs”).
Turn-up-ready attendees were confronted with unexpectedly dark tones and haunting drones at MAB’s weekend festivities. Granted, we did not walk in expecting an uplifting stroll through Staples’ Long Beach life experience, but “Norf Norf” (which prominently features the lyric “I ain’t never ran from nothin’ but the police”) alone was not adequate preparation for the social-commentary-heavy set.
Those who walked out of Mandel Hall Saturday night not feeling convicted for their ivory tower turn-up expectations, did not get the message. But that’s OK, I guess. We just tryna’ party.