‘The Vince Staples Show’ on Netflix is the West Coast ‘Atlanta’

OPINION: The series, which features Staples playing himself and dealing with the madness of everyday life, is one of the best shows to capture the spirit of hip-hop culture in the same way "Atlanta" did.

(L to R) Kareem Grimes as Uncle Mike and Vince Staples as Vince Staples in "The Vince Staples Show." (Courtesy of Netflix)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Ever since the end of “Atlanta,” the culture has needed something new. We needed another TV show that communicated the vibe of hip-hop culture the way “Atlanta” did. It’s so much fun watching the spirit of hip-hop on TV. “Dave” does this to a certain extent — I love “Dave” immensely — but now we have “The Vince Staples Show,” and some might call it the West Coast “Atlanta.” That would be high praise, and it would be accurate.  

“The Vince Staples Show” on Netflix is extraordinary. It’s draped in dry humor, Blackness, intelligence and the sort of daily craziness that Black people know all about. Rapper Vince Staples stars as himself, a well-known rapper — check out my 2017 interview with him. This is similar to the way that Lil’ Dicky stars as himself on “Dave,” but where “Dave” is about his life inside of the music industry, “The Vince Staples Show” is about Staples’s life outside of music. Like Paper Boi on “Atlanta,” he’s famous, but we never see him rap. This show gives us Staples moving through his normal life and dealing with the madness that can be way more compelling than the rap star life. 

There’s a collision between Blackness and absurdity on both “Atlanta” and “The Vince Staples Show” that I love. In one epic episode, Staples is at a bank when four Black men burst in, their faces covered in black and white makeup in a way that evokes the makeup the bank robbers wore in 1995’s “Dead Presidents.” Turns out Staples actually knows the robbers for real. They say hi, dap each other up and end up helping each other out. 

Staples’ dry sense of humor is a big part of the show. It’s the sort of show where you’ll think, “This is really funny,” even though you never laugh out loud. It’s also the sort of show that makes the mundane somehow seem wild.  

The show gives us a world where it seems like everyone is armed and everyone has been to jail at least once. After Staples gets locked up, he calls his mother, played by the legendary Vanessa Bell Calloway. He asks her to bail him out, and she refuses even though he bailed her out the week before. Even though Staples’ first episode takes us into jail, it does not feel like a stereotypical Black-man-on-TV-in-jail moment. I saw it more as an ironic comment on that stereotype. 

I love to see the hip-hop aesthetic translated into TV. Doing that is harder than just portraying hip-hop on TV. “Empire” was a phenomenal show that brought back what it was like to watch the epic record hip-hop labels of the ’90s do their thing. I loved “Empire,” but I felt like it was giving us a look at people who were in the hip-hop world rather than transmitting the actual vibe of hip-hop. “The Wire” and “Atlanta” are two shows that nailed the spirit of hip-hop culture. 

On both of those shows, even when you saw some brothers just sitting around talking, it felt like what you would see if someone took a hip-hop song, pulled out all the sonic elements and distilled the soul of what makes hip-hop what it is, then put that on a screen. “The Vince Staples Show” does that, too. 

Now, when we say “The Vince Staples Show” is the West Coast “Atlanta” we don’t mean that it’s as good as “Atlanta,” which is one of the best and Blackest shows to ever appear on TV. We have a long way to go to reach the level of “Atlanta,” but “The Vince Staples Show’s” rookie season is an amazing start. 

Touré, theGrio.com

Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of Masters of the Game on theGrioTV. He is also the host and creator of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and the animated show “Star Stories with Toure” which you can find at TheGrio.com/starstories. He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.

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